It was 1-1 in the second period, the New York Islanders had just tied it on the power play -- every time I rant about Andrew MacDonald being overused and given too much PP time, he up and scores -- and Ken Hitchcock (a worrier by nature) gave a behind-the-bench interview on the St. Louis Blues home broadcast where he was clearly pissed off that his team allowed the Isles to dictate a healthy amount of the play and scoring chances of the first period.
"How important is this power play?" he was asked, regarding a bad penalty Matt Martin had just taken. "I think this is the game, right here."
I thought, "Oh, that's just Hitchcock hyperbole."
Then the Blues scored on that power play, on the next one, and by the second intermission the Isles were down 4-1, with three power play goals a huge part.
The old familiar sting.
I like Matt Martin as a concept -- as a community participant like Bruno Gervais before him, and as a guy who is willing to do things others won't, provide energy without being an awful enforcer-level hockey player. But that shouldn't make him infallible or uncoachable, so I was glad to see his buddy and linemate Casey Cizikas refer to events like this:
"We got a big goal from the PP, then we take a stupid penalty and it's 2-1. Another stupid penalty and it's 3-1. It drains your emotions for sure."
Yes, stupid. And yet Brock Nelson sits.
It's not the Nelson scratch alone, nor the goaltending nor even the putrid, epically bad penalty kill. It's a perfect storm of factors that has this team winless in eight. But, you know, in a season where message scratches have affected half the lineup, it would be nice if the fourth line too were held to the same standard.
Oh, the Isles lost 5-1. A good, competitive first period followed by things falling apart on the penalty kill the rest of the way. You know that drill.
Other Emo Notes
Omens: Michael Grabner had a nice shorthanded breakaway fed by a smart Frans Nielsen interception. In this season of misfortune, naturally Grabner played it well but hit the post while Alex Steen hacked at him. That's how it's going, and on this night that was your first sign that "it's not gonna be tonight, either."
The song remains the same: The Isles and Blues came out hitting, trading scoring chances, and mutually trying to figure out what on earth the referees were seeing. Patrik Berglund had a legit, carving hook on Matt Martin that put the Isles on the first power play. But Andrew MacDonald extinguished that by carrying in low, making a risky pass, and having no coverage at the blueline. The shorthanded chance for Alex Steen was eventually broken up by a backchecking John Tavares, but not before MacDonald took a hooking penalty.
The Isles were later gifted a power play on a soft Brenden Morrow trip of John Tavares, but did nothing with it. Next it was the Blues turn for a gimme power play, when Thomas Vanek was sent off for keeping his position at the blueline to receive a pass, having the nerve to let a backwards skating Kevin Shattenkirk fall over him.
Naturally, the Blues converted on that one. Naturally, it wasn't until the power play was two seconds shy of being killed off. Jay Bouwmeester's point shot went through bodies -- including a Jaden Schwartz screen right on top of Anders Nilsson -- to put the Blues up 1-0 at the first intermission.
Vicious but Gentle? David Backes tried to line up John Tavares early in the corner, but Tavares ducked just enough and Backes pulled up just enough to tumble over Tavares and into the boards. I was wondering if we'd see an encounter where Backes would rough Tavares enough to elicit a response from Backes' Team USA teammate and sometimes linemate Kyle Okposo -- and if Okposo would do it -- but that never arose.
Off with his Head: The Isles tagged Jaroslav Halak in the mask twice with shots, eventually drawing some blood in the second period on a Tavares slapshot. Gotta try something, I guess.
Trivia, online data variety: The first period, for a fleeting moment, featured the first coincidental head butting penalties -- at least for a moment -- I had ever seen, without actually seeing, in my life. So that was cool of Alex Steen and Andrew MacDonald ... except that they were actually holding penalties, as clearly announced and signaled by the ref on one of those rare occasions when the ref's mic works. (After seeing the boxscore, I had to go back and replay the sequence, which I remembered featuring AMac losing his helmet but not, alas, any sort of headbutting.)
Context: Derek Roy is a $4 million fourth liner with power play time, and he scored his seventh goal of the season tonight (on the power play). That's...that's as good as any representation of the gap between the Isles and the Blues.
I steadfastly refuse to chalk things up purely to payroll, as the Isles and Blues were neighbors at the bottom of the league in payroll through 2013-14. But the Blues' young players and free agent additions finally caught up to them and forced them to be a near-cap team this year, as they really go for it. And yes, yes that worries me because it's difficult to see the Isles ever taking that plunge unless what's-his-Yormark personally bankrolls it.
Now, it's off to California, against the only other non-Chicago teams in the league as scary as the Blues.
- New York Islanders vs. St. Louis Blues Preview: Closer look at a Western force
- Smart and Hard: Same words, different perceptions for Ken Hitchcock and Jack Capuano
- An Islanders Primer for Western Conference Teams and Fans
- When GM and Coach See Eye to Eye, but Not Veteran to Prospect
- NHL Power Rankings: Isles 31st out of 30 teams