They're still missing two key defensemen, and their number one goalie was a late decision to sit with a minor upper body injury. So when the New York Islanders had the better of the first period and staked themselves a 3-0 lead for the second consecutive game, you'd think it might be an impressive night. Evidence of lesson learned from Saturday and all that.
No. Nothing learned.
Instead, it was deja vu, too much deja vu, with the killer blows delivered by ex-Islanders wingers Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter while Chad Johnson lay swimming in his crease. The Isles walk out of Minnesota with a 5-4 loss, their second straight regulation loss after leading 3-0 in the first 20 minutes.
Worse, they've now twice wasted good fortune only to face two tougher Central opponents to finish out this week.
We've Seen This Movie Before...?
It was an eerily similar first period to Saturday's 6-4 loss to the Blues. Not only did the Isles take a 3-0 first period lead again, but two of the goals came in quick succession late in the frame. Michael Grabner struck first by using his speed to create a big gap on the right wing boards, then power move to the slot to wrist in his second goal of the season.
Then with three minutes left, the Isles struck twice in 32 seconds: Brock Nelson tipped in a Nick Leddy shot on a well-executed power play, then Matt Martin was credited with a goal off his skate while trying to jump out of the way of a Thomas Hickey shot toward a gaping net.
Deja vu, yes. But the difference from Saturday is that the Isles at least legitimately owned this period. No help from the refs this time; they simply frustrated the Wild, outshooting them 11-3 with all three shots coming from Minnesota defensemen, and an assortment of blocks helping the Isles' cause.
The next two periods, however, were too close to Saturday: The Isles let a wounded opponent turn the tables on them, leaving them without so much as a regulation point.
Ballard Knocks Himself Out
Halfway through an alarming second period, play was stopped for a while amid a very scary scene. Keith Ballard lost consciousness after spinning to avoid a hit from Matt Martin, only to place his face right at board level. Martin couldn't avoid the hit at that late moment and Ballard, who -- well, let's just say he's injured his share of opponents (and teammates) over the years -- was felled instantly.
At first Ballard just had the ghost hands, but soon the trainers tending to him had to pin him to the ice to keep him from getting up while only half conscious. The fans and Wild players were understandably upset, but this was clearly one of those cases where Ballard put himself in a terrible position at the last possible moment.
Though the narrative will say this moment was a "turning point" that changed the game, the fact is the Wild had already rebounded from the first period and were controlling play.
Still, on Martin's next shift, Kyle Brodziak fought him at the faceoff in a lengthy fight in a ritual airing of grievances.
The Wild Tilt the Ice
However, by that point the score was 3-1 as the Wild had gotten one back. After Ballard's exit, Mikael Granlund took an explosive run at Okposo while Okposo was stationary in front of the Isles bench. Okposo retaliated and earned the only penalty. He can't do that. But he did that.
As tempting as it would be to blame the beleaguered penalty kill for what happened next, it was simply luck. A volley toward the net was going wide but was popped up into the air, then bounced off a shoulder in front of the net, only to arc slowly over Chad johnson and into the net. What are you gonna do.
Still, that was fair fortune for how much the Wild controlled play in the period -- or if you're a Wild partisan, fair karma for the Martin-Ballard incident -- as the Wild ended up outshooting the Isles 12-1 in the period.
The Islanders lost every faceoff as they barely killed off a Wild power play, Ryan Strome in the box again after the Isles went a whole power play without registering a shot. Then with the long change, Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan were stuck on the ice well after the penalty expired. Chad Johnson finally got a freeze, and with 3:56 left in the period the period's shot clock still read 12-0 for the Wild.
Oh, but that next shot was key. Mikhail Grabovski won a speed play along the left wing boards and beautifully fed Josh Bailey breaking in the slot. Bailey made a quick backhand deke to restore the three-goal lead on the Isles' only shot of the period. The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh away.
Third Period: We *Have* Seen This Movie Before...
If you thought the Isles might use their late luck and restored three-goal lead to put the game away in the third, you were wrong. So wrong. Mikko Koivu scored 2:51 in, pulling in front from behind the net. Halfway through the period, Erik Haula made it a one-goal game with a wide shot that bounced in off Thomas Hickey's skate.
Then the true nightmares came.
Just 45 seconds after Haula's goal, a high shot hit Nelson in front, knocking him down and into Johnson. That allowed ex-Isle Thomas Vanek to simply scoop the loose puck up over a prone Johnson and into the net for the tying goal.
Then the referees inserted themselves into the game for good measure: Marco Scandella received only a two-minute minor for taking a diving tomahawk chop at Tavares' leg on a breakaway. Just 30 seconds into that power play, Jonas Brodin backed Nelson into the Wild goalie...getting Nelson a goalie interference penalty.
The Isles would get one more chance when Scandella (Yes, again. He's not very smart, but he's rich.) delivered a headshot to Nelson that was reminiscent of the headshot Scandella was recently fined for delivering on TJ Oshie. I'm sure the league will promptly review that one from the repeat offender...surely...yeah.
So in addition to frustration with the Islanders somehow repeating some of the same mistakes and the same blown lead in two consecutive games, you could sprinkle in a little ref rage for good measure. But no matter the sequence of goals, the bottom line is the Isles were outplayed for at least two thirds of the game. The result reflected the entirety of the night, full stop.
Other Notes from the ER
- One factor that made the PK's harder and the overall flow challenging: Incredibly, the Isles lost 69 percent of their faceoffs. Nelson was the team "high" by winning six of his 15 faceoffs, or 40 percent.
- Great game for Grabner. Not just the goal, which was a really nice play all the way, but also with key penalty killing work. Butch Goring mentioned that was a big reason Jack Capuano was so happy to have Grabner back. (So, once again, he doesn't hate your favorite player.)
- That said, the Isles' penalty killing approach of having one forward chase all around the top of the umbrella while the second forwards stays in the high slot continues to puzzle me, and continues to create way too much space and time for the opponent.
- Not a great game for Johnson, who continues to frustrate. Nelson was knocked into him on the tying goal, but there wasn't a good reason for him to end up on his back for Niederreiter's winning goal. While Leddy probably screened him on Koivu's goal, Johnson pulled off his post and left room right where Koivu was looking. It's no doubt hard staying in top form when your number one is getting a long run of starts; but...that's the backup's job.
- Your "hey, it's not all bad" lens: Well, it's just two regulation losses here. That happens to everyone. (But: With this overall play, the threat of two more this week looms large.)
- (Sorry, that was supposed to be a "bright side" thing. Try again: They are 19-9!)
- tl;dr: The best part of the night was Jiggs back in the booth.
Jigs: "That's one 'Howie'. I'm writing these down." Butch: "Did I call you Howie?" Jigs: "It's OK, Eddie." I #Isles @LHHockey— Steve Melvin (@Steve_Melvin) December 10, 2014