They say fights in academia are so bloody because the stakes are so low. Maybe battles between the NHL's bottom-five teams are so feisty because the frustration is so high.
The first period, which finished 3-3 on solely even-strength goals (the Isles' three by their left wings), was practically a game in itself. How crazy was it? Jack Hillen and Milan Jurcina had an offensive 2-on-1. The goaltending from Brian Elliott and even Kevin Poulin (less so) approached shamockery. Each team evidently drained by the six goals, they decided to keep the next period's sheet clean. Well, the scoring side of the sheet anyway.
Elliott was rightly yanked, and his replacement Robin Lehner was feisty as a DiPietro: Tackling Andrew MacDonald at one point and then, in the game's pivotal moment, driving a shoulder into counterpart Kevin Poulin as the two skated past each other at the beginning of the second intermission. Speaking of feisty: Throw out MacDonald's 10-minute misconduct, and your penalty minute leader on the night? John Tavares, with 6 minutes, including four for roughing in defense of linemate Matt Moulson.
None of that mentions Michael Grabner, who had another strong game creating things, with his speed (of course), persistence and penalty killing. When Tavares took a rather weak interference call, Grabner erased it almost immediately through a shorthanded break that forced Filip Kuba to take him down. That was just one example. Grabner also got a look as the latest Isles forward manning the powerplay point.
Notes of Relief
- Then & Now: Old #14 Chris Campoli had two secondary assists, his 10th and 11th of the season in 51 games. New #36 Travis Hamonic had two assists, his 9th and 10th of the season in 32 games.
- Newcomer and Dwayne Roloson salvage Ty Wishart picked up two secondary assists in his Islanders debut, his sixth career NHL game.
- Wishart was liked -- his teammates gave him the night's hard hat -- and Capuano had this to say: ""For the speedy bunch of forwards that he had tonight, I thought he played really well. He was composed, he moved the puck, he kept it simple. He was pretty impressive tonight."
- Wishart skated 15:20, most of it at even strength and mostly with Milan Jurcina to make a towering duo. Nice debut from what I saw. Bruno Gervais was the
healthyscratch on the blueline. (Edit: Apparently Capuano said Bruno had a malady.)
- Rob Schremp scored two goals (1 PP, 1 EV) to bring his totals to 9 goals and 21 points in 37 games. The recent doghouse resident was left wing next to Josh Bailey (center) and Jeremy Colliton, making for a motley line of original centers. He still doesn't look like a natural on the wing, but that may be his only choice; in any case, he's a powerplay specialist who can be an asset in that role if he can find consistency at 5-on-5.
- The Hillen-Jurcina 2-on-1: Hillen made a playable but deflected pass that Campoli must have gotten a piece of, so Jurcina was unable to convert. The Sens came back the other way and scored against a disorganized line change (Matt Martin looked lost, helping Jurcina screen Poulin) and weak stick-checks by John Tavares as the Senators gained the zone.
- Quiet game for Kyle Okposo, who was ball-watching when Alexei Kovalev caught Poulin by surprise with a wicked short-side wrist shot.
- Although they converted what felt like a critical 5-on-3 to start the third period, I wasn't terribly impressed with how the Islanders ran that powerplay. Never mind the clears they allowed (which, of course, isn't good); the puck movement around the top of the umbrella was a little too deliberate to truly take advantage of the extra space a two-man advantage affords you. Easier said than done when the opponent's PK is collapsing tight and low, but it just didn't look like they were creating any truly dangerous shots or one-timers before Schremp knocked home the rebound of Travis Hamonic's shot.
- The final minute, with the Sens on a 6on-4: First, great work by Colliton all around, including winning the faceoff in the Isles zone back to Radek Martinek on a set play, where Martinek fired it the length of the ice and just missed the Sens' open net. Next, the 4-on-6 PK wasn't airtight but was nearly so; Poulin made one big game-saving save through traffic. Finally, Frans Nielsen: Nice shot from his own zone to ice it, his fourth shorty of the year.
- John Tavares has gone nine games without a goal -- his hat trick was his last three -- and now Matt Moulson has tied him again for the team lead at 18. Their race continues, but boy do they have each other's back...
...I've never seen Moulson so mad as when the Senators PK were taking turns pounding on him after a scrum around the Senators' crease at the end of that intense second period. Daniel Alfredsson didn't impress me there, and Milan Michalek went straight into gloves-off punching mode on Tavares, who tried to help Moulson. MacDonald flew in to take Michalek off Tavares, which is when Lehner grabbed him and started throwing punches with his blocker (without penalty). The officials were agnostic on the whole thing -- four minutes each to JT and Michalek -- except MacDonald got his 10 minutes and Lehner got nothing.
In both that and the second-intermission scrum, hungry Trevor Gillies looked on, jawing with that Gillies face, but restrained like a chained junkyard dog. But the most Gillies moment was watching him bark encouragement at Matt Martin during Martin's first-period fight with Zack Smith.
Goalies Behaving Badly
In the first, Poulin allowed three goals on six shots and Elliott allowed three on 13, but Elliott's generally looked softer due to ugly rebound control. Still, Poulin had an awful moment when he went behind the net to play the puck for Milan Jurcina, made a mess of things, and then sprawled out in desperation as Chris Neil smacked the puck home to tie it at 1-1.
That decision was a no-brainer that just ended badly, but I hope Poulin adopts neither DiPietro's wanderlust nor his enthusiasm for goalie-on-goalie combat.
Then there was Poulin and Lehner's turn at center stage. Lehner and Poulin's version of events, in the AP recap:
"I was going off and came around the Islander guy - I don't know the name of the goalie - but he skates against me and starts screaming at me," Lehner said. "I put my shoulder into him and he falls easily on his back. It wasn't an elbow, that's for sure."
"When I go off, their goalie was obviously upset and had some things to say to me," he said. "He came towards me. I won't back down. That's just the way I am."
Poulin disagreed with Lehner's version of the sequence.
"The only time I screamed was after (the elbow)," Poulin said.
Both of those two characters had strong second and third periods in the puck-stopping department, Lehner stopping 23 of 24 shots and Poulin stopping all 17 shots in the final two frames.
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Okay, that doesn't even cover all of this eventful night, but that's the recap you get when I miss the live game and sift through things on DVR. With the win, the Isles hop back over New Jersey and come within a point of Ottawa. They're six back of Toronto, the next opponent on the schedule.