It would be unfair to heap praise on John Tavares's hands and Matt Martin's discipline without also noting the man who made their contributions to this victory possible: So thank you, Ben Eager.
Eager giveth in the first period, and he giveth in the second, and he see not the ice for the rest of the game. The damage was done.
The Oilers came out the better team on the first few shifts, but Eager's roughing penalty opened the way for a suddenly effective Islanders powerplay (2 for 3) that gave them a 1-0 lead with an easy rebound for Tavares. The Oilers would tie it 1-1, but then Tavares went into "aww, sick, that's what he do" mode with a fantastic spin assist to Matt Moulson, whose conversion still required skill in both its receipt and release.
The other bad penalties in the game were at least from open game play, but they were by two unfortunately usual suspects: Steve Staios, from whom you expect trips and crosschecks, and Mark Streit, from whom holds have become all too common like he's Jack Hillen 2010. Those names line up on the penalty sheet so prettily.
Streit's in particular came after poor decisions with the puck that necessitated defending and eventually holding. He just looks less confident, unsure these days. Streit was again paired with Staios, who returned after missing seven games from a concussion. Mike Mottau was the scratch.
Not penalized: Andy Sutton's late, clumsy hit on Tavares, which sent Tavares off briefly for repairs. Here's Sutton coming off another suspension and talking like he plays the game with "integrity" and respect and all that, and he comes back into the play so late, so long after Tavares released the puck that he's standing still and not expecting a hit even from the Oiler (not Sutton) who was actually nearest him and in the original play. The timing was dirty, the actual delivery might have been more awkward than outright dirty. (It was hard to tell the point of contact on the replays, since the camera had ... well, followed the puck.) Just makes you wonder how many bad hits are made by guys whose physical or mental decision-making is too slow to react and correct at NHL speeds.
UPDATE: Sutton apologized to Tavares after the game, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple:
Andy Sutton stopped to chat with John Tavares in the hallway outside the #Isles locker room, apologized for late hit in game.
About the discipline of Matt Martin, who has been hitting smart all season (he must've read Shanny's memos): In the second Martin had the chance to obliterate an Oilers defenseman whose head was down trying to retrieve a tricky puck behind the Oilers net. Instead, Martin made -- get this -- a hockey play that separated man from puck but did not separate man from consciousness.
Eager, doing his own version of "that what he do," saw a job justification moment and took on Martin, goading him and grabbing his collar to try to initiate a fight. As we've seen pleasantly this season though, Martin actually does nice things on the ice and had zero reason to fight there. Bravo, Martin.
To pour salt in the wound, after P.A. Parenteau scored on the ensuing powerplay, Martin picked up a goal of his own on a bad-angle bank shot. Eager would see one more shift, during which he dutifully picked up 2 and 10 for doing what he do.
Evgeni Nabokov did his part, stopping 28 shots and only giving up a carom as Sam Gagner rushed the net. Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky in particular each created moments that could have easily been goals to sway things differently
One wonders how this game, which featured the last three #1 overall draft picks (Tavares's spin pass was around a backchecking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), would have gone without Eager's help. The Oilers outshot the Islanders 21-13 through two periods, but it felt like it was over 4:05 into the second when Martin made it 4-1.
If you ever catch "Oil Change" on the NHL Netowrk -- I'm not sure if they're still making it -- I'd love to see the episode that covers this Oilers road trip, and this game. Eager's misconduct may have saved Tom Renney the burden of benching a player he and Oilers management chased in the offseason to provide precisely this "element."
Happy New Year
Well, after missed opportunities around Christmas, the Islanders at least salvaged something by finishing 2011 with two wins. They finished December at 6-6-2, or rather with 4 regulation wins, 2 SO wins, 6 regulation losses, and 1 OT and SO loss each. It's better than November but they'll need more in January.
Still, finishing the year with a couple of wins and the Johnny T. show makes the beverages go down better.