A complete team receives key contributions from all parts of the roster, recovers from in-game lulls, and wins more games that it maybe should. Those dynamics were on display in the New York Islanders' 4*-3 shootout* win over the Florida Panthers.
The Islanders really needed to bank these two points at the front end of a road back-to-back, so it was reassuring to see them sustain the same approach in a goalie's duel where they trailed by a goal for much of the first half. But after tying and taking the lead, then adding an insurance marker early in the third, it was alarming to see them take some bad penalties and lay off the gas just a bit.
That enabled a late Panthers comeback, plus any number of opportunities that could have turned the game the other way. But the penalty kill -- good all night again -- was huge during an overtime 4-on-3, with major debt to Jaroslav Halak both then and in the shootout.
Seriously, all parts of the roster:
- The fourth line had shifts in the first where they provided more of the offense, and in the third where they were the only ones doing the smart, safe things.
- The kid line created multiple chances, with Ryan Strome scoring the Isles' second goal via nifty moves on a breakaway created by a loooong stretch pass from Thomas Hickey all the way back at his own goal line.
- The first line scored the Isles' first goal, Kyle Okposo making nifty moves to set up John Tavares for the one-timer in the slot. Okposo also converted in the shootout off a great move that baited Roberto Luongo into thinking he was going backhand again.
- After swapping with Bailey, Nikolay Kulemin scored what should have been the cake-topper while playing on Frans Nielsen's wing with Mikhail Grabovski. It was such a Kulemin goal, from the Russian who won't quit and won't take a shortcut.
- The blueline was what we've come to expect, with lots of calm puck plays and good reads in their own zone.
- The penalty kill was magnificent through a string of penalties that you thought would surely catch up to them.
- And Halak, oh Halak. He was big at key points in all four (five?) periods. He made the game memorable with the insane neck-freeze save in the second, he made it still winnable with toe saves late in the third and in OT, and he won the thing by stopping noted shootout specialist and former Blues teammate Brad Boyes on the ex-Isles winger's patented inside-the-post target.
None of which is to say this was a fantastic game from the Islanders, who will have plenty of self-scolding to do. But it was a fully entertaining one, with the Panthers providing a formidable match that made it feel so messy. And in this case, messy was quite surmountable.
- Among the mistakes was Brock Nelson bobbling a bouncing clearing attempt shortly before the Panthers tied it at 3-3. Another young player, or maybe even Nelson during his probationary period last season, gets called out on that. But good players make mistakes trying to do too much sometimes too.
- And the ensuing shot that tied it went in off the catching glove of Halak, who'd surely want that back, though there was traffic.
- Strome's moves on his breakaway were really nice. (Did I mention so were Okposo's on his shootout? And Frans Nielsen's shootout backhand was of particularly exquisite roofing quality.)
- Although both teams used their "skill" units in overtime (John Tavares and Ryan Strome were paired for multiple shifts), it was a carefully played session of 4-on-4.
- The 4-on-3 OT power play came from a Ryan Strome crosscheck, one that was probably a "good penalty" considering his man was on the doorstep on the verge of winning the game. The PK that followed was patient enough to not get too drawn out as the Panthers moved the puck impressively. When a team runs its 4-on-3 that well, it's hard to do much more but hope the goalie stops the first one and then get the rebound.
- But of course Halak's shutout streak ended too soon, at 193:48, just shy of setting the franchise mark for longest shutout streak by the team. Somebody jinxed.
- They did match one franchise mark, with 11 wins* in their first 16. (*shootout-aided, of course)
- One effect late in the game: Cal Clutterbuck left after taking a shot off the back of the leg.
- Don't discount the Panthers. They played a nice game, and those weapons like Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and Brian Campbell (particularly late) were dangerous. (But I repeat myself.) I'm looking forward to the next meeting.
- And the Isles forced several good saves out of Roberto Luongo, who was only beaten on good shots, and shootout moves.
Josh Bailey was, along with Tavares, responsible for the two stick-slashing penalties in the third period. But Tavares' was in the offensive zone, mitigating a power play; Bailey's was in a 50/50 stick battle for the incoming puck -- one of several sketchy penalty calls on both sides tonight.
Overall, Bailey did good some good defensive things (and one memorable drive to the net) as he got an in-game move up to the Tavares line, while Jack Capuano tried to get Kulemin and the Nielsen line out against the Panthers' most dangerous trio.
Halak on his crazy neck/crossbar save last night: "I thought it was on top of the net and I heard the guys yelling, 'Don't move!'"— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) November 15, 2014
Okposo on the Win
"We didn’t panic tonight," Okposo said. "That’s going to happen sometimes. Florida is a very hardworking team, they are a young team and Luongo’s one of the bets goalies in the league. Maybe in years past we let that extra point slide, but tonight we did a good job of sticking with it."
So yes, this feels like a "messy" win, but that's partly because our expectations are already raised during what is now an 11-5 start and five-game win streak. The blown two-goal lead in the third wasn't a classic collapse, but a sequence of risks and errors that finally caught up to them.
Still, the Isles did a lot of good things against a team that is underrated. They also stuck with it to grab both points after briefly coughing up the second one.
Shot graphic via war-on-ice.
Now the Islanders hit the road, though at least for a short transit, upstate to take on the Lightning in Tampa tomorrow night. It's nice to bank points.