The New York Islanders finally got a head-standing goalie performance. They finally got a couple of breaks. They finally made a late comeback with a payoff. They finally got a late-game "momentum" change to go their way. And after 10 futile road games and a tough Western swing at the worst of times, they finally got two points in the standings.
It came without any elusive secondary scoring, and it came without the much-preferred regulation or overtime win, but it's two points. An acrobatic and scrambly-as-ever Kevin Poulin provided the early heroics to withstand the San Jose Sharks' 18 first-period shots (48 overall). Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo provided the third-period and shootout goals.
The team can finally exhale for a moment. On this night, against all odds, they deserved to toss the monkey off their back. (I mean, yeah, they were outplayed. But they've been on the other end. Tonight a goalie finally kept them in it long enough to even it out.)
Notes from Bewildering Land of Victory
- Really, really good to see Calvin de Haan get so much ice time (23:55, second on the team, 1:52 PK), including during the 4-on-4 OT push with Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey. The man's career has been delayed by injuries, but once again we see his mobility, puck movement, and decision-making on display.
- What's surprisingly caught my eye is how smartly physical de Haan is though. He has been checking with regularity, sometimes punishingly so but almost always with strategic intent. Hopefully karma owes him many seasons of sustained health.
- Really good to see the penalty kill take care of the Sharks' struggling power play and survive three tough first-period penalties ... only to see Matt Carkner take a really dumb penalty in the second period that led to the Sharks' first goal.
- Oh, and speaking of those first three penalties: Don't be misled to think that explained the shot differential in the first period. The Sharks ended up far more dangerous at even strength in the first than they were with the extra man.
- Seriously, during this 10-game winless streak Carkner has seemed determined to undo his progress in the "needless penalties" department. Tonight he took exception after Brent Burns finished his check of Frans Nielsen with a rolling elbow to the head, so Carkner went after Tomas Hertl after the whistle, and was penalized.
- Carkner didn't play beyond the 3:55 mark of the third period, by the way. A 1:45-long shift, according to the TOI sheet. (That's linked after every game above, so you can find your own curiosities and share them at show and tell.)
- Brock Nelson Watch: Back at center, Nelson was fine, including even (5-5) on faceoffs. In OT he seemed unfamiliar with the 4-on-4 format, playing his lanes and angles like he had a third forward out there. Good to see him on for the 6-on-5 push late in regulation.
- Speaking of which, the Isles pushed admirably for the equalizer throughout the third period. Honestly, their effort during this losing streak has been like that more often than not, probably one reason Isles management concludes that coach Jack Capuano hasn't lost the team. Was good to see them rewarded with Okposo's tying goal with 1:37 left, off a faceoff following a timeout, where the Isles pulled Kevin Poulin. Tavares won the faceoff, Vanek provided the screen, Okposo provided the seeing-eye shot from the point.
- Seriously, those never go in for the Isles.
- Cool to see the Sharks' scoreboard tribute and long crowd salute to Evgeni Nabokov, who looked kind of young in civilian clothes.
- Poulin was really good and occasionally lucky. Which is to say he was an NHL goalie who made 46 saves. Good to see; he still scrambles and ends up out of the net way too much, but we won't complain tonight. (Really fun, all other things aside, to watch the stark contrast in styles between him and Anders Nilsson.)
- I hate the shootout for many legit, honorable and practical reasons -- I'll accept its bonus point tonight, however -- but tonight highlighted one of them in particular: Allowing a skater to rush in, then brake to a crawl in a completely non-game-like situation, and deke until he runs out of dekes, is just asking for a goalie to hurt himself after 65 minutes of hockey. Poulin appeared to strain his calf or knee on the Sharks' first attempt, a save that required lots of stretching after the third unrealistic slow-mo move.
- Thomas Vanek did his smooth and quick shootout conversion. Kyle Okposo -- awful in his career in shootouts over 15 attempts -- won the game with an excellent high American Backhand of Judgment. Frans Nielsen (forehand five-hole) and John Tavares (slow what's-a-ma-thing forehand to the blocker) were stopped on theirs.
- Let's Not Start Deking Each Other's Goalies Just Yet: Of course, as noted, this was neither a regulation nor OT win. Still have only five of those.
So here we are. That awful thing is over and the Islanders most "winnable" game of this road trip is up next Thursday in Phoenix.
Unfortunately, the damage is probably done as the Isles are nine points back of third (guaranteed playoff spot) in the Metro, eight points back of fourth (wild card territory). But as tonight showed, we don't really ever know what will happen when the confounding hockey gods have their way.
So we keep watching.