It wasn't a dominant win, it was far from an ugly win. It was more of a methodical, disciplined display as the New York Islanders took the first game of their Florida trip with a 2-0 shutout over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders' special teams strength ostensibly made the difference: A John Tavares conversion on their only powerplay opportunity, while two gutsy if occasionally chaotic penalty kills preserved the narrow lead.
But the impressive part may have been all the 5-on-5 points in between. The opponent is not good, and the Isles' finishing left much to be desired, but their breakouts were calm, their transitions were smooth, their neutral zone passing was sharp, and to a man the Islanders never cheated.
Brad Boyes sealed it with an empty net goal from center ice, Evgeni Nabokov made just enough lead-savers to secure his second shutout of the season, and Andrew MacDonald may have been the unsung defensive hero with several key plays to erase would-be trouble.
It was tight, it was nerve-wracking, but it was rarely sloppy. In short, it was a job well done in a victory this team had to have.
- Why, the Isles even survived an extended shift in their own zone in which the Lightning got the Steven Stamkos line against Eric Boulton (in the lineup with Colin McDonald out sick) and friends. Le pant, le pant, le pant.
- Still no production from Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey with Frans Nielsen, but the three of them played ... well, as effectively as a third line should play. Smart and safe, with a few decent stretches of offensive zone time, even if nothing terribly threatening came of it.
- Keith Aucoin returned to the lineup for the first time in three weeks. Did fine to my eyes in 14:32.
- Nate Thompson, who is from the Konopka school of faceoffs, is the lead culprit, but it was amusing how often the Lightning pushed the edge at the faceoff dot, often getting tossed as a result.
- You haven't lived until you've heard Phil Esposito on the radio. I had to step out for a bit and got to hear the Lightning radio feed on XM. Espo's favorite words are "really" (as in "He really, really tried to get it out there. I mean he really tried.") and "Wow" (as in "Wow. He's really, really good. Wow. Really good."). What's great is he has a running commentary that goes on even during play-by-play, so he'll just utter "Wow" and "Aww jeez, shoot that." like your uncle who doesn't really care if you've asked him not to go on about the Russians at the table. Good times.
- Without Michael Grabner, Casey Cizikas got some PK time and did well (1:36). The second penalty, in the third period, was a hold on Frans Nielsen (the lightweight somehow bodyslammed Alex Killorn in a battle for the puck -- this after Nielsen was checked away from the puck yet managed to keep his footing by the Lightning goal). Without one of their key PK men, it got hairy but a combination of shot blocks and compensating for each other over-pursuing got the job done.
- Radek Martinek. You forget how well he can use his body when the situation necessitates it. Still a smart hockey player.
- Time on Ice is back. As you probably noticed, Tavares saw a whole lot of Ryan Malone, Nate Thompson and Victor Hedman.
Game Thread Comment of the Night
I'm retiring my Isles
The Zippo lives!
The Isles are a point out of eighth, though the Rangers have two games in hand and the Jets have one game in hand. On to southern Florida.