Evgeni Nabokov turned the tables early, making some fantastic saves as the Islanders survived several penalty kills to turn a 0-0 game through one period into a 2-0 lead by the second intermission on the way to a comfortable 4-0 victory in Buffalo.
Ryan Miller stole these two teams' last meeting, at Nassau Coliseum two weeks ago, and in he made some huge saves tonight that made you think he might be able to do it again. But this time the Islanders' outplaying of the Sabres produced results, with Nabokov making sure it wasn't really in question.
In Ron Rolston's second game in charge, it was clear that: 1) the Sabres are a bit of a mess, and 2) Rolston hasn't had much time to instill whatever he plans to do to clean them up. The frustration was evident as things turned ugly in the final minute, and we were just inches away from a goalie fight.
Mark Streit (on a perfect play by Matt Moulson and Marty Reasoner), Michael Grabner (on a breakaway), John Tavares (on a "Aww sick, that's what he do" play) and Colin McDonald (on a late powerplay) scored the Islanders goals.
As you probably saw from the highlights above (when they're ready), the Islanders goals were some pretty displays of very different varieties.
- The Islanders had the better of play through two periods but it was looking like it might be a frustrating goaltenders' duel before the Isles finally broke the ice with 2:09 left in the second. Moulson entered the zone down the right side. Reasoner drove the net, drawing defensemen with him. Streit followed up the play down the left wing side, finishing a pretty diagonal seam pass from Moulson into what was a gaping net as Miller came out to deal with the Moulson-Reasoner threat.
- The Islanders would go from carving out a lead to making it comfortable just a minute later, Michael Grabner stealing for a breakaway special, fending off his backchecker long enough to use that as a delay that drew Miller out for the beginning of an attempted poke check. That created the opening for Grabner to calmly slip it through Miller and go to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
- The Isles nearly made it 3-0 at the buzzer, with Miller robbing Tavares after a great blind (but not truly blind) pass from behind the net by Brad Boyes.
- With the game almost entering a sleepy phase, Tavares went to work again and had the Sabres running in circles behind the net and low in the circle to Miller's left. When Tavares got tired of toying with his prey, he walked out in front and beat Miller high for the 3-0 lead.
- Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin continue to entertain. They are not grinders in the "all we do is hit and dump" mode. They are making smart O-zone plays and grinding opponents down. As a bonus, when Patrick Kaleta went out of his way to lay out Cizikas a few feet from the boards, Cizikas found him on the same shift and paid him back. So sorry.
- Ciizikas was rewarded with some powerplay time when the game was in garbage time. He responded by leading a nice rush down the left wing, around the net, finding Bridgeport buddy Colin McDonald for a shot into the open net from distance on the left wing side. That was your 4-0 final.
- End-of-game silliness: After the Sabres crashed Nabokov in the waning seconds, penalties were called and the benches were jawing at each other, the Sabres' frustration evident as the fans booed them in a home shutout loss. On the ensuing faceoff in the Sabres zone, Martin drove the net with the puck and didn't refuse the invitation when Mike Weber shoved him into Miller. That brought out more tussling, including Miller dropping his gloves before he thought better of it. (At that point, Nabby calmly glided the length of the ice, essentially asking Miller, "Are we gonna bark all day little doggy, or are we gonna bite?" Thankfully for both goalies' health -- though not for booing Sabres fans desperate for some entertainment -- they thought better of it and things calmed down.)
- There were many reasons Nabokov was excellent in this game, the first with Rick DiPietro off the roster. His stable positioning was huge, his glove hand was excellent as he found pucks through traffic, and it must be said his defense bent but did not break, clearly playing in prevent mode down the stretch to protect his shutout bid.
- Speaking of DiPietro, Garth Snow spoke with Howie Rose on the pre-game (and replayed during the intermissions). There will probably be video posted of that, but here's a quick take and some quotes from that exchange.
The End-Game Scrum, and Nabby and Miller Meet
Solid win for the Isles, taking care of business against a team we figured beforehand was in a fragile state after having their longtime coach fired. That's how you want it: Goaltender matches Miller save for save, and the offense steadily chips away for the win.
The Islanders are back at it Sunday night at home, where Kevin Poulin is expected to start against the Hurricanes. And that Montreal team they came back to beat the other night? They shutout the Rangers 3-0 tonight.