Just when they add "classless" and "goons" to the other epithets lazy paint-by-number NHL observers traditionally throw at their brand, the Islanders reel off four wins in a row (two via shootout) for the first time all season. It doesn't matter, and it's too little too late, and" yada yada filler filler. Right. We know. And yet...
Healthier -- but still far from healthy -- than they've been all season in their forward corps, the Isles are establishing some things to grow on, decimated defense and AHL goaltending be damned. This positive feeling is in part due to two recent shootout wins -- hockey coin flips, really. But it's also in large part thanks to the fact the Isles can now hope for scoring from any one of two or three lines. That's a positive thing, no?
For the fan, it's pretty fun to watch. For the GM, it must be pretty surreal to see his free waiver claim notch his 25th goal of the season. You're just not supposed to be able to pick up 25+ goal scorers on waivers, just as you're not supposed be able to create a shorthanded breakaway, botch the finish, pick up the rebound behind the net, and score on a wraparound like Michael Grabner did tonight. It was only Grabner's 10th goal in six games.
Game Notes: Brewed in Accordance with Lemieuxheitsgebot, the Hockey Purity Law
Pity Party: Andrew MacDonald took an uncalled and slightly inadvertent Chris Kelly high stick to the nose, bloodying him and sending him off the ice for the remainder of the first period. He returned wearing Bruno Gervais's cage. And as penance (or reward?), Kelly was traded after the game to Boston for a 2nd-round pick.
But the Senators had it worse, losing both Sergei Gonchar and Chris Campoli to injury, leaving them to finish the game with four D-men. In that context, the Isles couldn't be excused losing this game.
But it Took Some Work: The Isles climbed back from 1-0 (in the second) and 2-1 (in the third) deficits, and even took the lead late with Josh Bailey's first goal in 100 years. Then the Isles graciously handed that lead back, conceding with 4:04 left off an Erik Karlsson blast. The unspoken message from all lead carriers in this game: "No no, sir, I insist. Take this lead. Let's settle this like gentlemen, via coin flip."
Special Teams: Were the Islanders getting the favorable calls tonight? Do they only get that when they're playing a fellow bottom dweller? Certainly there were a few non-calls Sens fans had every right to boo. (Although the decision not to blow the whistle when Chris Neil was struggling, as the Isles rushed up ice and scored, is probably not one of them.) Of course, the Senators' first goal came off a powerplay created by the weakest crosscheck call I can remember, on Ty Wishart.
Regardless, the Islanders couldn't convert on two early powerplays, going 0 for 4 on the night; the Sens converted on both their second and fourth powerplays, going 2 for 5 on the night. Their main failure -- and it was a big one -- was in being too careless with the puck at center ice with Michael Grabner lurking...
Ribbons and Stickers All Around: What a way for Josh Bailey to end his 21-game goal drought -- with a sweet high-slot shot that chimed the iron for all in the arena to hear. Shame that go-ahead goal didn't stand up. ... Also cheers to Nathan Lawson, who had another three-goal game but also made some noteworthy saves and finished his first official NHL win with the puck in his glove, having stopped Bobby Butler (great name) in the shootout. ... And it happens so often we almost take it for granted, but what an effort by Andrew MacDonald, returning after having his nose remodeled by a stick.
Oh, and not to forget Blake Comeau, who scored a great seat-of-his pants goal from the right side just above the goal line, and then nearly duplicated the feat (minus the seat of his pants part) in the third, only to be robbed by Brian Elliott.
Minute-Muncher: Travis Hamonic led all Isles with 26:40 and handled it well. Nice to see he can do that in a pinch, but hope not to see it too much too soon. He's obviously here to stay this season, but beware the growing pains and bumps ahead which every young D-man must go through.
The Game-Deciding Breakaway Drill: Well, Alex Kovalev set the standard with some nifty sick moves to beat Lawson, and Rob Schremp dialed the slowness and the rat-tat moves up to 11 with his forehand finish. The difference was Frans Nielsen -- but not with the Danish Backhand of Judgment! No, instead Nielsen went in slightly faster than normal, acted like he might do the same ol' mov---BANG. Forehand five-hole. In the net, eliciting a series of "Forehand of Justice" and related monikers in the game thread for #51's alternate move.
The stage was set for Lawson to catch the win in his glove. Cheers to the 27-year-old rookie.
Spirit: The Isles had their rally caps (helmets backward) on during the shootout, appearing loose and together according to Denis Potvin. Even (or especially) Friday aside, it's been good to watch this group blend together lately, and Grabner's success and Kyle Okposo's spirited return certainly helps fuel that.
FIG Winner: Congrats to 19holeKC, another repeat winner in our First Islanders Goal pool.
Jiggs on Fire
Where to begin or end with Jiggs McDonald, filling in for Howie Rose? During the intermission, when he ribbed Denis Potvin and Butch Goring with their Dynasty-era nicknames? During the same, when he invited them each to pick their own scabs about the NHL playoff format changes in 1983? Or when he asked Potvin what he thought of Friday's brawler game and Potvin simply said he and many other Islanders alumni texted Garth Snow with: "Alright Islanders."
Or maybe it was this, half way through the third period about the Penguins:
"I just checked a few moments ago -- they haven't waived Matt Cooke yet, they haven't released him. He's still [a Penguin]."
Jiggs FTW. Good night.