John Tavares scored on a power play with 24 seconds left in overtime to give the New York Islanders the victory in the first half of a home-and-home with the Washington Capitals, who provided every bit the tough fight on a night when neither team was at its best.
The Islanders got both points in an uncharacteristic performance marked by turnovers, botched passes (often one in the same), shots fired wide, and two glaring moments where the Capitals' best weapon was left alone to score from his most well-known spot.
Though not dirty, the game was certainly physical -- the Isles alone were credited with 55 hits -- as the teams appeared to prepare for what they've heard about the other, while also leaving some calling cards for the return match in D.C. on Friday.
A fifth win in a row, and 16 from their first 22? Sloppy or not, the Isles will take it.
First Period: Swapping polar opposite power play goals
As they've often done, the Islanders began quickly, opening a 9-2 shot advantage on the Caps and getting the first goal from Anders Lee who took a muffed Ryan Strome shot and spun it around Braden Holtby. Just Lee going to the net and doing what he does best there. (Foreshadowing...later: what he doesn't do best.)
A chain of poor events let the Caps tie it eight minutes later. After a bad breakout pass from Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin hustled to nearly beat Jack Hillen -- no small feat, that -- to negate an icing, but the linesman disagreed. A frustrated Martin then committed a hooking foul while tangling after the ensuing faceoff, and the Capitals tied it after getting Alex Ovechkin set up for a trademark blistering one-time.
The Islanders got their first power play soon after -- Liam O'Brien, who drew Martin's penalty, going off for a slash on Clutterbuck. But unlike the Caps, they never got set up in the zone. With just seconds left on that power play, the Isles had an offensive zone faceoff and OMG WHY FOURTH LINE ON POWER PLAY -- oh. Casey Cizikas won the faceoff over to Clutterbuck, who fed Travis Hamonic, who whistled a shot in as Martin screened Holtby.
Though they outshot the Caps 12-9 in the period, it felt a little lucky to emerge with a one-goal lead after some sloppy turnovers (looks at Johnny Boychuk, Jaroslav Halak). Halak nearly gave the lead right back when he suffered from goalie-in-the-headlights syndrome, waiting too long to pass and getting stuck admiring his options, like a trust fund baby admiring the fall leaves during the workday.
Second Period: A surprise fight, a dumb call, a tying goal
The aforementioned turnovers continued in the second period (looks at Mikhail Grabovski, Thomas Hickey) and the Isles frustratingly continued to shoot a lot of nice opportunities wide. It was generally a sloppy, choppy period by both sides, and a traditionally choppy Coliseum ice probably didn't help matters there.
The period was interrupted by a four-on-four where the Capitals had most of the possession but only registering one shot. That 4-on-4 ended with the Capitals getting away with a takedown, a slash, and a liberal line change, but the officials seemed eager to just let things get back to normal.
Anyway, the 4-on-4 was created from a scrum in front of the Isles net where Ovechkin pulled John Tavares down and Hamonic responded by engaging him in a mutual headlock. Ovechkin and Hamonic received coincidental roughing penalties.
Anders Lee had his first NHL "fight" after Tom Wilson took exception to a solid check along the right wing boards. Lee took him down first -- which was good for him, since Wilson is a pugilist and Lee isn't -- and had a chance to pound him but let him back up, until they both fell again with no real punches exchanged. Somehow, the officiating crew deemed Lee should get an extra minor for roughing from all that.
Jack Capuano expressed what we all felt (via Steph @myregularface):
And lather, rinse, repeat: Ovechkin scored on a one-timer on the power play that resulted. Someone should probably cover that guy.
Halak was steady, well positioned and solid all night on everything he could see. Ovechkin laser's set up on the man advantage, those you can't really see.
Third Period: Methodical
The third period was quiet, with fewer shots (15 total) and no special teams. The Isles made a late push in the final five minutes, egged on by the sellout crowd. No, seriously, the final push was as if the Isles decided to flip the switch and shut the Caps down for the rest of the night:
(via war-on-ice, where there's lots more game data, every game, linked above in your handy recap)
That spurt was the first real Isles pressure they'd had in quite a while, and one of the few times the top line got separation all night.
Fortunately, John Tavares would get one more chance...
The Islanders got a power play in OT on a call that made Barry Trotz emulate the Capuano face from earlier. As NIcklas Backstrom battled with Brock Nelson, Backstrom went down but also grabbed on to Nelson's stick and didn't let go. Nelson might've drawn a stick foul there, but Backstrom certainly earned his part. This time it was the Isles getting the penalty luck, at the choicest time.
This power play was again not too inspiring, almost as if each tired skater was waiting for a teammate to take charge. With time on both the power play and overtime running out, Tavares took a pass from Ryan Strome, faked a shot, stepped around a diving Capitals defenseman and sent a nice, low, far-post shot past Holtby as Johnny Boychuk provided the screen.
Winning streak continues, first leg of the home-and-home goes to the Isles.
Quote of the Night
This is a team that has figured out how to play hockey...according to their perspective.
- Butch Goring, discussing the Isles' focus on team speed through the neutral zone. You get the idea.
Happy Thanksgiving! (Yeah, a month late for you Canadians, but it gets cold a little later down here.) We'll have new stuff tomorrow, but next game coverage is Friday for a slightly earlier start in D.C.