Jaroslav Halak broke Billy Smith's franchise record with his 11th consecutive victorious decision as the New York Islanders swept their home-and-home with the Ottawa Senators by spoiling Daniel Alfredsson's tribute night.
For the Islanders, it's now their 19th win out of 26 games, also a franchise-best start, but more importantly they did it with half their blueline and two other regular forwards out of the lineup.
The 2-1 result was also yet another one-goal victory for the Islanders. Depending on your view of things, that's either a nice run of fortune that's bound to even out a bit, or it represents a new team that knows how to both get leads and keep them.
On that last measure, having a trusty goalie sure helps.
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The General Run of Show
It was a low-event first period, with just two penalties and the Isles outshooting Ottawa just 5-4. The Isles' stinginess continued into the second period, keeping the Sens' shots down and preventing them from ever establishing a forecheck. They outshot Ottawa 13-5 in that period but only scored on a power play goal, Brock Nelson converting near-side on a nice feed from Frans Nielsen.
As in the first game of this home-and-home, that lead didn't last long.
With Nelson already in the box on a curious call, the officials inexplicably gave the Senators a lengthy 5-on-3 after Brian Strait's stick hit Clarke MacArthur on the follow-though of a backhand. That call got Isles/MSG color man Butch Goring uncharacteristically fired up about the call, his frustration extending into the intermission. Naturally, the Senators tied it on that 5-on-3, Mika Zibanejad converting.
Worse, the officials refused requests by letter-wearers for an explanation.
Ref Watson tells Okposo #Isles need to quit chirping from bench.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 5, 2014
It's funny, if you don't make a dumb call -- and then refuse to discuss it with the teams' captains -- you won't get chirped.
But the Isles continued to play as they have in the third period, and it was the altered fourth line that got the go-ahead goal. Just plain good forechecking by Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cory Conacher enabled Thomas Hickey to pinch down the half boards and send a pass through the slot to Cizikas, who waited and one-timed from the other side of the net.
If the Isles have let their good play get to their head, it was evident in their unbearable cuteness on a delayed penalty call in the final minutes of play. Alex Chiasson was too aggressive with his stick on Calvin de Haan and was called for hooking, but before the Sens could touch the puck the Isles played with it behind their goal line. And played with it. And played with it, tempting the anger of the hockey gods.
Overall, it was a smart approach to delay until the Sens truly forced a whistle -- there were under two minutes left, so the Isles could finish it out on the power play. But only two Islanders were in on the game, and the Isles forwards just kind of wandered around too high, with the Isles D never really attempting to get a full court game of four corners in.
The gods nearly made them pay. The power play only had one stretch of pressure in the Isles zone, the Sens were able to pull Craig Anderson for a "sixth" (but really fifth in this case) attacker, and even force the Isles to ice it. Worse, after a tough break (literally: a broken stick) prevented an Islanders clear, Hickey was cute with it one last time behind the net as the seconds dwindled. He lost the puck, the Sens fed their captain in the high slot -- and Erik Karlsson hit the post as time expired.
Technically the puck hit the post after the clock hit zero, so like a goalie who says he knew his post had it, the Isles could claim they knew there wasn't enough time. But that's too close. Too cute.
Injuries Arise, Injuries Overcome
The Islanders had even more lineup changes than expected going in: In addition to Clutterbuck, Josh Bailey also sat out with what Newsday reported as a minor injury. That meant the Isles could go "role appropriate," inserting oft-scratched Cory Conacher in Clutterbuck's spot on the fourth line, and putting Michael Grabner in Bailey's spot on a two-way line with Frans Nielsen and Mikhail Grabovski for his first NHL game of the year.
In his first game back from abdominal surgery, Grabner played 13:11 -- consistent with his line -- all at even strength. He took a goaltender interference penalty, as his brakes aren't yet aligned after so much time off.
Griffin Reinhart had a calm return to the lineup after being recalled for Travis Hamonic, who did not make the trip after a dicey hit from Chris Neil in the first game of this home-and-home. It was Reinhart's fourth career game after his brief stint at the beginning of the season.
Reinhart played 14:09, all at even strength. Hickey, Nick Leddy and Strait (18:57, 1:55 on PK) carried the load, but not by too much as Hickey was the only defenseman to eclipse 20 minutes (20:33, 2:29 on the power play).
Atop the Metro
Oh, also: The Penguins lost tonight (to Vancouver, which now has 18 wins), so the Isles finally take sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. Their 19 victories are the most of any team in the NHL.
Hey, just another day.