The New York Islanders invaded Madison Square Garden, and it was good.
Well, it ended good. (Er, well, I mean. It ended well.)
The first 40 minutes, and particularly the middle 20, were rather shambolic. But three offseason acquisitions kept it tied through 40 by doing what they were brought in to do: Johnny Boychuk to fire bombs, Jaroslav Halak to stop pucks, and Nikolay Kulemin to make a general nuisance of himself while hounding the opposition.
Boychuk tied it with another powerplay blast from the point, Kulemin helped John Tavares tie it at 2-2 with a key interception and feed in the Rangers' zone, and Halak made 40 saves -- 20 in the second period alone -- before the Islanders blew up the Garden from the inside in the third.
Just 5:20 into the final period, a hectic 2-2 game had become a 5-2 laugher. At 6-2, the Garden fell silent as Rangers fans fled and Islanders fans stuck around to share "Let's Go Islanders" chants. A late Rick Nash goal gave MSG announcers something to hold on to, and made the final score 6-3.
The Third Period, in Brief: You know how when you survive an ugly period, then get an early go-ahead goal in the next period, you think, "Okay, we got the gift, now let's get our $@#% together, rather than blow this"? Well, the Isles chose to get their $@#% together. Kyle Okposo converted from the slot (his 100th NHL goal) on the second Mike Kostka turnover. Brock Nelson finished oh so smoothly after Strome's nice assist. Mikhail Grabovski looked for Nelson on a 2-on-1, only to have it bounce easily in off Kevin Klein. Nick Leddy's blast from the point went in off the post. The Isles widened the lead so quickly, there was never a worry.
The Penalty Kill: The much-maligned Isles PK went three-for-three but did not give much reason to dodge further maligning. The Rangers powerplay moved the puck freely and generated eight shots on goal. Thank you, Halak. Get back to work, Cronin's gang.
'Average' Strome: Capuano was asked about Ryan Strome in a "isn't he great?" kind of way, but he wouldn't take that gimme and instead called him "average" while transitioning that to a quick bit about the veterans correcting him under an overarching theme of increased accountability on the team this year. (See this video post for more, and a transcript.) But I'll play the fan and praise Strome's assist on Brock Nelson's goal. That's the second time in this season we've seen one of his good forechecks -- a Capuano preaching point -- followed by a slick assist to create a goal.
Seriously, there's nowhere to go but up for Strome, who has shown flashes of electricity on that line with Nelson. Grabovski, too, continues to impress both there and in his overlapping cameos with the Tavares line.
The Fourth Line Topic: If you have a fourth line, you have to use them some time, and these teams baited each other -- or at least came to the common truce -- by putting their fourths against each other. As noted in the plus/minus thread, that was problematic when the Islanders fourth line followed John Tavares' tying goal by allowing the Rangers grinders to hem them in.
It paid a dividend, however, when the Islanders fourth line opened the third period by pressuring the Rangers' fourth long enough to get the Tavares line back out there ... where they forced another bad Mike Kostka turnover, this time with the prize going to Kyle Okposo.
The Road to 3-0: This was the first true test of the season, after the opening weekend sweep of a (further) weakened Hurricanes squad. Or maybe it wasn't much of a "test" given the Rangers gave up six goals for the second game in a row, their defense is fragile, and Mike Kostka gaffes led directly to two Islanders goals. Thursday is a greater test with the Sharks steamrolling into town with a bunch of A's.
But all told, if hockey is a game won on the margins, by small degrees of superiority, then the Isles have seen evidence of that during these first three games. The new acquisitions are all paying off. The scoring is being spread out -- not just across lines, but across positions. The young players are contributing. The team's weaknesses are being covered for by its strengths.
There's not a lot one can read into the rest of the season based on these three games -- other than the beauty of the offseason moves -- but these factors are certainly why the Isles are a perfect if messy 3-0 after three.
Reader Prophecies of the Night
KO should try that shot again
I'd like to see him hit 100 goals tonight.
>>Torgo, in the first period
If we have 2 bad periods
Does that mean we dominate the third?
Meme-able Reader Comment of the Night
Grabovski looks like a video game sometimes.
It Is Now Safe to Talk about the Goaltending
"I think it’s a sign of a good team that we were still in the game," Okposo said. "It really helps having Jaro [Jaroslav Halak] back there. He kept us in the game and allowed us to get our legs going. Once we did, we took the game over."
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Well, the first Battle of New York for 2014-15 is over. And it was good.