The New York Islanders faced their first big test of the young season and passed with honors. Though the 45-23 shot total flatters them a bit -- the 4-3 shootout final is a fair result -- the Islanders did well to keep churning offensive efforts at the San Jose Sharks, usually a strong possession team.
Even when the Sharks had periods of extended zone time in the first and second period, it was the Islanders who were forcing Alex Stalock to keep San Jose in the game. The Isles outshot the Sharks 28-11 in the first two periods, raising the specter of an inverse of their win over the Rangers -- particularly when they trailed 2-1 at the second intermission after the first line narrowly missed scoring in the final seconds.
But instead of getting blitzed in the third period, the Isles acted like the best team in New York (and technically the league, as the last remaining undefeated team) should: They kept at it, got the tying goal from Kyle Okposo on the power play, then a go-ahead goal from Josh Bailey off a strong forecheck. Tomas Hertl made one of those "difference-maker" plays to sneak behind Nick Leddy and snipe the corner past Jaroslav Halak to tie it at 3-3.
The teams traded a few more chances through the rest of the third period and overtime, but this battle of undefeated teams went to the ol' anticlimactic shotout. Except with Jaroslav Halak stopping four shooters in a row and Tavares finishing it off, the boisterous Coliseum crowd participated in a fine climax after all.
John Scott Falls in the Forest, Grabovski Hears the Sound
The worst part of the game was early on, when the mostly useless John Scott caught Mikahil Grabovski with a clean but devastating hit. (GIFs: view 1, view 2). Grabbo didn't see him coming as he turned right into Scott's direction, and Scott only needed to be Scott to give Grabovski an undisclosed upper body injury. Apparently not a concussion, though:
Have heard that Mikhail Grabovski does not have a concussion. Upper body injury will be evaluated tomorrow. #Isles
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) October 17, 2014
Tavares Falls, Eventually Gets Up
Tavares, or his absence, was a direct factor on the Sharks' first goal. He blocked a Brent Burns shot off the skate, then fell face first and flat. The Sharks used the open man to re-feed Burns for a one-timer goal.
The next shift, however, Tavares was back and digging pucks from the corner, jamming at the puck around the Sharks net, and ultimately feeding the Kyle Okposo touch pass to Nick Leddy at the point. Leddy's shot was brilliantly placed in the top corner -- as brilliantly placed as Patrick Marleau's go-ahead goal later in the period -- and past a similar screen.
Halak Stands Tall
It looked like a tough night for Halak, again giving up three goals and on not many shots through the first 50 minutes. At least one was a brutal screen after Frans Nielsen's stick broke on the penalty kill and the Isles were left scrambling, while the opening goal was a tough break that allowed the Sharks to move the puck cross ice after John Tavares was felled by a Brent Burns shot.
Still, the shootout was Halak at his finest. After Nielsen missed his opening try and Halak conceded the Sharks' first attempt, multiple times he had to make the save to keep the Isles alive. He did, into two extra rounds, including a patient stop on a very tricky Thomas Hertl. Tavares slowed up and flashed more dekes than I can count before potting it home. Halak then stopped Joe Thornton to end the game.
If you lost count, that makes the Islanders 4-0 and sitting pretty (and early, yes early) atop the Metro, the East, and the NHL.
This Crowd is Ready for a Big Season
The official attendance was only 11,248, but as Howie Rose noted several times -- and anyone watching or listening could tell -- it sounded like a packed house in playoff form. They were chanting before the opening faceoff, they kept the chants up throughout the game, and they exploded after their hero converted his shootout attempt and Halak preserved the perfect record.
The good early start to the season has been key, of course, but you can tell the fanbase is pumped by the offseason moves and ready to soak up every electric moment of the final season at Nassau Coliseum. It's nice to know that each final visitor to the Coliseum should get a taste of what the place can be like at its best.