Continuing therapy from Saturday night that addressed last week's demons, this time the New York Islanders were the team methodically erasing a first-period lead. The resulting 3-2 victory came at home over the New Jersey Devils, and required a shootout. But they'll take it. They're now 21-10. (21 and 10!)
The Isles spotted the Devils a 2-0 lead by the first intermission but got one goal back in each remaining period to force extra time. It wasn't quite a 3-0 reversal like the Isles suffered twice last week, but once they got to business, it was every bit salvation by a hundred cuts.
Long Island native (Farmingville) Keith Kinkaid took the loss in his first-ever start at Nassau Coliseum and second NHL start overall, but he was outstanding in the third period and at least can claim his first game at the Coliseum was just as much his but for a breakaway drill.
Frans Nielsen missed the opening shootout attempt (five hole), making things more nerve-wracking than the still-undefeated Isles shootout squad is used to. But Jaroslav Halak stood, spun, and waited tall, while Kyle Okposo (channeling the Nielsen backhand of judgment) and Josh Bailey (a nifty delayed five-hole) got the key conversions.
The PK Strikes Again
I'm a broken record, but once again the penalty kill approach left the Isles chasing and vulnerable. Nikolay Kulemin and Frans Nielsen had to take turns chasing the puck around the umbrella while the other stayed anchored to the high slot. This inevitably forms a straight line to the goal of would-be shot-blockers, but of course the fruitless chase means that point shot usually has lots of space.
That's what happened when Marek Zidlicky opened scoring with a shot from the point, through four bodies -- three of them Islanders -- before finding a hole in Jaroslav Halak.
All this approach seems to do is wear out the PK forwards without actually earning a clear barring outstanding individual efforts. Worse, opposing power plays appear to know it.
2-0 Hole, 40 Minutes to Get Out
The Devils' second goal was tough luck for the Isles: Scott Gomez (yes, he is still alive) fired a pass attempt from the corner and it took a fast carom off Lubomir Visnovsky's skate and under Halak. That said, it felt just given the sluggish way the Islanders had opened the game.
By the end of the first period, the Perfect World version of the Isles had returned, exerting pressure to try to get at least one goal back.
They continued that pressure at the start of the second period with an active if not very shot-producing power play, Just as the penalty expired, Ryan Strome fed Josh Bailey with a Tavaresian rear-camera pass from behind the net, which Bailey buried just inside the post.
The tying goal wouldn't come for another 30 minutes though, and from an unlikely but hot source: Fourth-line center Casey Cizikas sprang Matt Martin free down the right wing with a beautifully saucered backhand pass through the neutral zone, and Martin made no mistake with a hard far-post shot to the upper corner.
And to think, Mike Yeo said Martin only goes to that wing when he's trying to hurt somebody.
Angry Tavares Takes 2nd Bad Retaliation Penalty
It took a while for the Isles' game to fully wake up, but once Martin tied it up they controlled play with multiple lines. Jaromir Jagr (of course) set up Tom Sestito for one dangerous chance from the high slot, but that was about it from the Devils until they went back on the power play thanks to a Tavares "slash" (but really a spear that could've been worse) by on Zidlicky after Zidlicky tried to lay him out in the neutral zone.
The Isles killed the 1:49 of the power play that remained in regulation. Maybe it was time of game or maybe it's that Tavares is a star, but he could've easily gotten a harsher penalty there. #refsareouttogetusbutnotalways
4-on-4: Almost; 4-on-3: Not Even Close
In contrast, the 4-on-4 approach is refreshingly progressive. Even with chief threat John Tavares off the ice -- he earned his share of coincidental penalties by elbowing and slashing Seth, Son of Helge -- the Isles worked the puck all over the Devils' zone.
The defense was aggressive with Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey and Visnovsky each getting good pinches in, while forwards Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Kyle Okposo and Nielsen worked in sync.
Later, in overtime, it was their 4-on-4 approach that again created pressure and forced a tripping penalty by Gomez, who took Bailey down along the boards in the Devils' zone.
On the ensuing 4-on-3, the Isles were unconventional but hardly creative. They went with four forwards, but Strome, Okposo, Tavares and Nielsen did a little too much perimeter passing and not enough penetration through the interior lanes. Nelson, Bailey and Visnovsky replaced all but Strome for the second unit there, but with no better luck.
It was off to the shootout, where the Isles have yet to lose, to bring their record to... 21 and 10!
Masks: Good for Health
Two big "that would've killed a man" shots went off goalie masks in this one:
- Jaroslav Halak, for the third time in four games, took a hard shot off his mask from Eric Gelinas. It knocked Halak's mask off.
- Kinkaid had a less violent impact when Bailey had a partial breakaway at the end of overtime. He was harrassed enough and already falling down when he was able to get a lifted shot off.
Jazz Hands GIF
Halak celebrates. (via @myregularface):
Quote(s) of the Night
On your FIG pool:
"And then Matt Martin, the guy you would least pick to shoot the puck, shoots it."
-- Butch Goring, on Martin's fantastic snipe off the rush to tie the game.
There's big and then there's big:
"When you think about it though, Lee and Nelson are really big."
"Yeah they are, but they're not 'man' big."
-- Howie Rose and then Butch, discussing play along the boards.
That gives the 21-10 Isles 42 points through their first 31 games. (21 and 10!) Now the December schedule gets considerably lighter, with no games until a back-to-back this weekend in Detroit and at home to the Lightning.
We'll have to work hard to find things to gripe about all week. (Why not 22 and 9?!)