The New York Islanders swept southern California with back-to-back extra-time wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles, taking the fourth point of the sweep from the Kings via shootout after a low-scoring, tactical game against the Stanley Cup champions.
It looked like it might be another high-scoring game when the Kings opened scoring off a fortuitous bounce just four minutes into the game, and Brock Nelson tied it later in the period with a sweet bad-angle shot after walking in from the corner. Both teams are giving up over 30 shots per game this season, but this game was much tighter, with shots 26-23 for L.A. at the end of regulation.
The Isles had the best chances of a fairly quiet overtime, with Lubomir Visnovsky stopped by Jonathan Quick on the choicest one, but this game seemed destined for a deadlock until the breakaway coinflip.
Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen each converted in the shootout -- Okposo with Nielsen-esque backhand chicanery, Nielsen with the old Five-Hole of Distraction -- while Chad Johnson stopped both Kings attempts to seal the win. Saw Quick stop TJ Oshie earlier this season; but Okposo wasn't at the Olympics, so how could Quick know?
The win pulls the Isles up to 8-5, still without an extra-time loss, and back to 2-2 on a road trip that looked bleak just a few days ago.
Two Teams Behaving Wisely: This was frankly a very smart,, careful-yet-speedily played game by both teams. The Islanders did not look like a team playing a back-to-back, using its fourth line sparingly. The Kings did not look like a team that took the Isles and their schedule lightly. Checking was tight, skating routes were thorough, passing was quick but generally safe.
The Kings broadcast aired a 2nd intermission interview with Davis Payne repeating a refrain we've heard before. Essentially: We know the Isles are fast, and that creates chances, but it can leave them further away from their defensive assignments. "We just need to check tight and we'll get chances." The Kings checked tight, but so did the Isles. It didn't have playoff intensity, but it had playoff attention to detail. All scoring chances had to be either quickly executed or the result of a minor slipup.
Faceoff Trickery: Interesting approach on consecutive ofensive zone faceoffs in the third period by Frans Nielsen. On both of them, at the right circle, Mikhail Grabovski lined up way across the ice, inside the other circle. The Kings read the first one but knocked down Nielsen's lob with a high stick. On the re-draw, the puck did get to Grabovski for a prime scoring chance.
Tavares WTF? Drop: If anyone has permission to do it, it's John Tavares, but still...Tavares' ill-advised drop-pass between the legs at the blueline was read by Mike Richards for a breakaway, which forced Travis Hamonic to chase him down and commit a slashing penalty with just eight minutes left in the third period of a tie game. That could have been the game.
Oh by the way, the penalty kill was much better tonight, killing off all three Kings attempts.
Golden Opp for Vis: Lubomir Visnovsky was set up to win it on the doorstep in overtime on a feed from Thomas Hickey after great movement by the Isles. But the puck was wobbling on him as he one-timed it, giving Jonathan Quick enough time to slide over and collect the fluttering shot into his chest.
The Backup: Really strong game from Chad Johnson, who did well to locate pucks through traffic, particularly on some volleys by the Kings late in the third period and in OT. The lone goal was off a tough deflection that caromed in off Dwight King. Johnson was also a deserving winner in the shootout, as he was patient against backhand attempts by Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, neither of whom is Nielsen.
Of course, the defense was also quite good in front of him, keeping shots down and rebounds tough to win.
Awful Clifford Hit on Boychuk
Here was the uncalled Kyle Clifford clipping on Johnny Boychuk, which at minimum was a guy suddenly not knowing how to skate, but realistically much worse than that:
First win in LA for #Isles since 2-15-03; had lost 4 in a row at Staples Center. 4th win in last 15 in LA since 1992.— John Kreiser (@jkreiser77nhl) November 7, 2014
Isles Capuano "one of the best games we played. Liked the way we used our speed and Chad played the puck well, was quiet in crease"— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) November 7, 2014
The other coach:
"We held a top team to one goal, and we would have liked to score one more," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
"We stuck together and played a real strong game," Johnson said. "It's nice to see our identity start to come out a bit."
"I've said it all year [that] we're not the same team. We went on a three-game skid and everyone wanted to hit the panic button, but in here we didn't because we know what kind of team we have and we're a good hockey club."
He must read the Internet.
Speaking of which:
And so the ups and downs of a season continue into the dreaded but so far harmless November. What looked like a daunting road trip on Tuesday now could end up 3-2 if the Isles are able to win the finale in Arizona on Saturday.
As you ought to know by now: Don't count on that; don't ever count on anything.