The New York Islanders played a back-and-forth, free-wheeling, penalty-free game with the Toronto Maple Leafs that featured eight 5-on-5 goals (four for each side), one OT decider (sadly, for the Leafs), and very little significant coaching. They pulled all of this off in a rarity: a game where John Tavares and his line did not appear on the scoresheet.
In contrast, Nazim Kadri shined with his first NHL hat trick -- indeed, his first two-goal game -- in part because the Islanders don't use the home ice advantage to match much, and they also appeared to not be aware that Kadri possesses an arsenal of moves.
The winner (or loser, from the Isles' perspective) came on a nice play by Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski to spring Dion Phaneuf for a shot that Evgeni Nabokov probably should have stopped. That goal spoiled a nice comeback by the Isles, as well as a resurrection night for Kyle Okposo, who notched three well-earned points but was also beaten by Phaneuf on the goal that gave Toronto the extra point.
Michael Grabner hit the post in overtime -- it could have ended differently -- but since it didn't, we'll just share thoughts from Cam Charron, a Leafs blogger who observes from the outside to something Islanders fans increasingly believe:
The New York Islanders have talent, but no system. They could be considered the reverse of the Leafs, who have system, but not a lot of talent filling the spaces. At even strength, you knew this would be a wide-open affair since the Islanders are prone to defensive lapses, have a volatile 37-year-old goaltender, but also a lot of speed from their forward unit. Finally, we saw a game with a lot of scoring chances, and it has been a while. You begin to tire of a team that plays a clampdown defensive system each night, so fans of teams that employ coaches like Randy Carlyle can thank the New York Islanders for screwing around with the trend of the NHL.
-Jack Capuano had last change, but there was no real need for him to have it. I get the feeling he manages his bench the same at home and on the road. There were no notable head-to-head match ups, or cases where one line dominated another. Kadri's three goals came against three different New York Islander lines. I liked that Carlyle just sort of rolled with it and let the chips fall. He's not a great coach, but he's smart enough to know that Jack Capuano was going to do something colossally stupid, like end up a couple of times with his fourth line out against the Maple Leafs' first line.
-I don't think I've seen a fourth line get the leeway Capuano's did tonight. That's a line made up of Marty Reasoner, Matt Martin and Eric Boulton. Boulton's a pure pugilist, but Reasoner is a player who could have success in soft defensive zone minutes as a good face-off man, but they got caught out on the ice a lot and managed to get rung up for scoring chances against in the second and third periods. As much as we hate how much Carlyle leans on Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr at the start of games, he's never quite obtuse enough to put them out down by 1 with 12 minutes to go against a line that had already scored three goals on the night. Yes, Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov played a full shift against the Islanders' fourth line with 12 minutes to go. It lasted 50 seconds and MacArthur got a good scoring chance set up by Kadri.
Presented without further comment, because it's hardly needed. More game details below.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo displayed yet another example of why they should probably be playing on opposite wings: To open scoring, they had a nice give-and-go where Okposo pulled his toe drag ... and it worked! He almost lost it, but instead corralled it below the goal line and slipped a backhand to the slot, where Bailey was able to knock it home with his forehand.
Bailey almost made it 2-0 with a nice transition play down the right wing, but he hit the far post and the rebound settled safely in Reimer's reach.
Crucially, the Leafs struck back on a play that Travis Hamonic frankly played horribly. It threatened to be a 2-on-1, but Andrew MacDonald hustled back and caught his man -- Clarke MacArthur smartly driving the net -- but Hamonic laid out to try to sweep the puck and Kadri simply pulled up and roofed it past Evgeni Nabokov. 1-1.
Michael Grabner had a chance to make it 2-1 after he caught Phil Kessel dangling at the blueline in the offensive zone, stripped of the puck, and went off to the races. Kessel hooked him and pulled him down for good measure, weakening Grabner's shot and earning a penalty shot. Grabner shot with his forehand wide and high on the penalty shot -- a surprising non-move given that his dekes have been pretty dangerous lately on breakaways.
That one hurt, and the teams went to the first intermission tied at 1-1. But Lubomir Visnovsky eventually made it 2-1 with a slapshot in the second period, taking a nice feed from Casey Cizikas after Cizikas failed to get a cross through on a 2-on-1 with Grabner. Cody Franson provided a perfect screen of James Reimer on Visnovsky's shot.
Kadri tied it up on what has become the nightly "would like that one back" offering from Islanders goaltending. Reminiscent of Jordan Staal's goal against Kevin Poulin, this sharp but quite stoppable wrister from distance gave Nabokov's glove a tip on its way into the net.
Ninety seconds later, the wheels really come off. A weak clear to center ice by Josh Bailey and horrible change by his entire line opened up a 3-on-2 for the Leafs. James van Riemsdyk was the high man, given all the space to take an initial shot and get the rebound, which he swept into the net.
If that one stung, Kadri's hat trick goal three minutes later really hurt. Going in essentially 1-on-3, Kadri used Matt Moulson's passive backcheck against him, then completely spun Visnovsky around with an inside move before firing low and far post past Nabokov. From 2-1 to 2-4 in just five minutes, and that's how it looked as they went to the locker rooms.
In the third, Visnovsky smartly Frans-in-shootout strolled through the slot to place a shot over Reimer, which briefly brought the crowd to its feet, the play to a stop, and the horn to full blast. But replays showed it only made it as far as the crossbar.
A few minutes later, the Isles made it a one-goal game for real, Mark Streit keeping the puck in the zone delicately, feeding back to Kyle Okposo, who found Andrew MacDonald across the ice for a one-timer goal.
Okposo then keyed play again, sending a sharp gloveside shot from distance on the right wing that Reimer still absolutely should have had. Just like that, it's 4-4 and this crazy game hit another level.
- Am I allowed to suggest Okposo and Bailey have been better lately? They've been better lately. Tonight, with the Leafs answering the John Tavares line quite well, Bailey and Okposo were relied upon to generate offense, and they generally did so. Which they have to, when the Isles are on home ice but allowing Tavares' line to benefit from few of the matchups you would hope they'd see on home ice.
- Man, Kadri has gotten fun to watch. Crazy to think that as recently as training camp he was still getting gruff and "bust" talk for supposedly being out of shape. Fun to see decent talents shake off impatience and start to come around. He was excellent tonight. The Isles looked like they had no idea.
- Why call penalties in this one? It was a rush fest, just transition to transition. Not quite firewagon hockey, but definitely back and forth and fast-paced.
- Nabokov still garnered some "Nab-by! Nab-by!" chants in the third as he made some saves while the Isles pinched for an equalizer.
- The home record dropping to 2-8-1 aside, the real gut-punch here is the Islanders blew a lead and blew a chance to take two points from a tired team that is above them in the standings. I get why people go bipolar between tanking and fire everyone.
- Speaking of emotional fans, tonight I heard a Blues season ticket holder call his post-game show to announce that because the Blues "didn't show up" against a team that has yet to lose in regulation a third of the way through the season, they have "lost a fan tonight" and he "will not attend another game." Good to see passionate, irrational, confused people abound no matter how good or bad your team is.
Well, yeah. It was a day of crazy tweets, wild interpretations of how serious Rick DiPietro's depressive thoughts are, when and whether it's cool to joke about suicide. It ended with an Isles OT loss that flashed their familiar strengths and familiar weaknesses.