Steve Mason made the New York Islanders work. And work, and work, and work.
But after stopping 46 of their shots through the first 65 minutes, the Philadelphia Flyers goalie couldn't stop two of the Isles' shootout specialists, while his counterpart Jaroslav Halak kept his net 100 percent clean.
The result was a hard-fought 1-0 shootout win for the Isles, their 15th victory of the season (first time in franchise history reaching that total in just 21 games), and Halak's third shutout as an Islander.
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Things started with a shock: Matt Donovan appeared for his first game of the season after sitting the first 20, and Brian Strait was also in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 8, having sat the last six games and nine of the last 10. They were in to replace the ill Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan; cross your fingers it's not a flu bug about to wreak havoc.
How did they do? Well, other than some mistakes that created odd-man rushes on the Isles powerplay, it was hard to notice anyone doing poorly or looking rusty. The Islanders threw wave after wave at the Flyers, usually ending with a Mason smother. The fast, quick-passing, positionally sound game we've come to know when the Isles are their best was in evidence tonight. Sometimes they got a little too cute, but then when a goalie makes 15 stops per period you start to reach for ideas.
Because of Mason, this one could have gone either way -- but because of Halak, that was never a worry. The "one bad bounce" never happened, as Halak was clinical throughout the first 65 and into the shootout, where he stayed with Claude Giroux on a series of moves that ended with an impressive glove stop.
Strait did give the Flyers their first power play, which the Isles killed pretty well, including nice individual efforts by Brock Nelson and Travis Hamonic to kill the final 30 seconds. The Isles looked like they were about to pull off the double-momentum swing, both killing that one and scoring immediately afterward, but each pass and scramble was just a bit off.
Not long afterward,Cal Clutterbuck elected to pass on a 2-on-1 with Mikhail Grabovski, but ex-Isle Mark Streit broke it up. However, the puck squirted off Streit's glove enough for Grabovski to at least get a backhand chop at it to force a save from Steve Mason.
The Isles spent most of the final five minutes of the second hemming the Flyers in as if on a power play. Upon one regroup, Brock Nelson made a series of breathtaking moves to gain the zone and shake the defense, only to ring his shot off the Mason and the post.
At the second intermission, shots were 27-16 for the Isles.
The third period was more of the same. Regulation shots ended at 43-20.
Mason simply made no mistakes, and the Flyers defense kept the Isles from getting clean looks at the rebounds. There were so many mad rushes, so many Brock Nelson swoops around the net, so many John Tavares moves in tight, so many Grabovski partial breaks, I lost track of all of the threats.
Fighterly Things: Matt Martin and Wayne Simmonds exchanged wild, searching rights in a fight early in the second period. Both wear number 17, but seeing both off the ice was a good trade for the Isles.
The Incredible Halak: Jaroslav Halak wasn't tested as often as his counterpart, but he made some big saves. Of note: a clear shorthanded breakaway by Sean Couturier, where Halak stayed with the forehand deke, and a glove save on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who'd been set up for a one-timer in the slot.
Bad Hit, Martin: The fourth line had another effective, active game -- there was one point where you could plausibly see Matt Martin scoring the first goal for the third time in a row. But Martin put the Isles in a bad spot with a dumb hit from behind on Schenn midway through the third period with the game still scoreless. Martin claimed innocence after the hit, but he should have seen Schenn vulnerable, numbers to Martin.
Thankfully, Martin was bailed out by his linemate Cal Clutterbuck, who drew a high stick from Simmonds immediately after getting away with a stick to Simmonds' head on that penalty kill.
Kyle Okposo tried his forehand shimmy, but Mason stopped it. Frans Nielsen converted with the five-hole deadpan from the low slot. John Tavares finished things off with a ridiculous number of dekes finished by a backhand past Mason.
Can't say enough about Halak's stop on Giroux though. Similar to but not as frenetic as Tavares' attempt, Giroux tried many many moves, and had Halak moving the wrong way. But Halak adjusted and got his arm and glove down to cover the gap. Halak is feeling his groove.
The win means the Isles kept pace with the Penguins in a tie for first place, as Pittsburgh also won in extra time at Boston.
And there's plenty more Metro work to do this week: A home-and-home with the Capitals on either side of Thanksgiving, plus a Saturday night meeting with the Devils.