Faced with a "four point game" against their Atlantic rivals, the New York Islanders managed to both win and keep it from becoming a dreaded three-pointer against the seventh-place New Jersey Devils. The Isles enjoyed the luxury of score effects, using an early two-goal lead and decent first period to build a lead that withstood the Devils' rebuttal in a critical 3-1 win in Newark.
First Period: Good, Early Strike
The Islanders opened scoring just 52 seconds in, Thomas Hickey sent an opportunistic stretch pass from behind his goal to Kyle Okposo, who hit Frans Nielsen in stride to create a 2-on-1, where Nielsen administered the Danish Backhand of Generosity to Josh Bailey, who deked nicely against the grain to beat Martin Brodeur. If second assists are often gratuitous, this was one goal where Hickey would've rightly deserved a third assist.
The Isles extended that league on a gimme, with Travis Hamonic sending a sortie from the point that Martin Brodeur waved at with his glove. It was one of those plays where you assumed there must have been a screen given how poor Brodeur looked on the play.
A few minutes later, with the Devils still slogging Tom Kostopoulos tried to change the mood and paid dearly. Matt Martin threw a hard but clean check on Stephen Gionta, so Kostopoulos challenged him. Three punches later, Kostopoulos was out, Martin cradling his head and waving for the Devils trainer to provide help. Hockey is a weird sport.
Second Period: In Which the Isles Fall Asleep
The pendulum swung hard the other way in the second period, though the Isles managed to mostly dodge its blows. They were outshot 11-6 in the middle frame, as the Isles let up and the Devils adjusted to their horrid opening frame.
Eight minutes of mostly Devils pressure finally led to a goal when Mark Streit's pass through the neutral zone was intercepted. Play came the other way, and Patrik Elias turned Streit into a road cone, beating him outside and making you wonder how much Streit's contract extension should really be.
Elias fed Alexei Ponikarovsky for the tap-in, giving Ponikarovsky a goal just minutes after
he David Clarkson raised his arms in mid-play to celebrate Ponikarovsky's shot off the crossbar. The goal was one you felt was coming, even if it came off the rush rather than from the many minutes spent in the Islanders zone.
But thankfully, the Islanders maintained their one-goal lead into the second intermission, aided by a solid penalty kill of the first powerplay of the game, which came off a tough-luck Thomas Hickey tripping minor.
Third Period: Iced, Carefully
It wasn't a pretty third period, but it was an effective and much safer one than the awful middle frame. Things were at a standstill for the first half when a nice rink-length transition play by the third line created the Isles' first powerplay opportunity. Michael Grabner took the long outlet pass and fired hard on Brodeur from outside, timing it for a rebound-chasing rush to the net by Keith Aucoin, who drew the call. The Islanders scored quickly, Lubomir Visnovsky walking deep down the left wing side until he found John Tavares waiting on the far side to bury it into an open net.
It was Tavares' 22nd goal of the season, which keeps him second in the league behind some Steven Stamkos fellow and, ahem, several ahead of Brad Boyes.
The Isles soon got another powerplay opportunity but never got anything going and ultimately acted like they did in Pittsburgh during "let Matt Cooke kill it by himself" time. However, the end result was two more minutes burned, and less than eight minutes left to protect a two-goal lead.
The Isles pulled it off. With Brodeur pulled, Thomas Hickey made one great defensive play but then was too cute with the puck and got hammered behind his net, enabling more zone time for the Devils. New Jersey had a few chances that could have bounced their way, but mostly the Isles played safe and smart to kill the final 90 seconds off with the two-goal lead in hand.
- Craziest stat of the night, and a symbol of our long-lost Arbour years: Tonight's #Isles win ties Head Coach Jack Capuano for 3rd all-time in the franchise win list with 77.
- The top line continued to struggle, not generating much of anything by way of chances and looking sluggish overall. Brad Boyes memorably had multiple opportunities where he made the wrong choice, or executed that choice poorly, on the rush. They're all struggling right now -- they didn't win the battles against either of the Devils' top two lines -- and you wonder if (or when) the coaching staff will feel they can no longer give them the benefit of the doubt.
- To that end, you wonder when and how they'll introduce Anders Lee into the lineup, and whether that will be part of a larger shakeup.
- Hard to break up the Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo - Josh Bailey line right now though, the way they are going. They were responsible for both even strength goals tonight.
- And granted, the expectations for lower lines is, well, lower, but players like Colin McDonald, Keith Aucoin and Michael Grabner generally did acceptable lower-line things. (The whole team was on its heels in the second period, however).
- Radek Martinek was in for Matt Carkner tonight, and he looked more like an aging Martinek. Not the safety valve you want partnering for Streit's offensive forays.
- Kostopoulos got tagged hard. Classy of Martin to show concern for him rather than do some juvenile wrestling/sleeper/whatever gesture. But these moments always make our sport look absurd.
- We give Evgeni Nabokov trouble for his softies, so we'll give him credit where it's due: Some hairy moments, but he stood tall -- particularly in the scary second period -- in stopping 24 of 25 shots. Now, about tomorrow night at home...
Your Moment of Nabby
Quality stuff between Stan Fischler and Nabokov, who says he's ready to play tomorrow night, and he likes "everybody":
So the Isles did their part and got the big win. The Rangers also won over Winnipeg, so the Isles are still tied in points but have played one more game than the eighth-place Smurfs. Both are now two points behind the Devils. Important that they kept pace and didn't concede ground to the teams behind them.
Now it's back to the Coliseum for one more pre-deadline game vs. the Jets, which thankfully is what most of the post-game comments from players focused on.