If a game ultimately means nothing for the New York Islanders in the standings, might as well have a circus* shootout.
*Technically, AP Style requires that it be referred to as a "marathon" shootout
That's exactly what the Isles and Tampa Bay Lightning delivered, 13 rounds of it, with the Isles emptying chamber of rookies for a bunch of players' first-ever NHL shootout attempts. After the teams matched each other goal for goal (for goal) in regulation, they did it again four separate times during the shootout before Sami Salo gave the Lightning the game-winning, er bonus-point-winning, advantage.
All told, Ryan Strome (shooting first, stopped), Brock Nelson (third, scored), Anders Lee (eighth, stopped), John Persson (ninth, wide), Mike Halmo (12th, whiffed) and Johan Sundstrom (13th, stopped) were among the Isles rookies getting their first crack at the NHL's breakaway drill. No Dubie situation, this: It was much easier to watch knowing little was on the line.
Evgeni Nabokov, looking so small in his net in comparison to giant Ben Bishop, was fairly impressive on most of his shootout saves. Each goalie required mostly nifty backhands to be beaten, though Steven Stamkos in the seventh round used a slow-motion spinorama (booooo) and Colin McDonald used a take-that rifle into the top corner to match the Lightning captain.
Oh, but there was also hockey played, too. A fair 65 minutes of it.
After the teams played a tight, scoreless, penalty-free first period, the second period opened with a reminder that hockey is subject to randomness at any moment. A point shot deflected in off Ryan Callahan just 29 seconds into the middle frame, and Ryan Strome answered by banking a puck in off of Bishop's back just a minute later.
The Isles continued to play a pretty strong second period, Matt Donovan giving them the lead on a falling-down shot from the slot after Frans Nielsen found him all alone.
In between, the Islanders also nearly had another goal when Travis Hamonic intercepted a DiPietro-esque pass up the middle by Bishop, who had played it from the corner. Hamonic immediately fired it into the middle of the net for a would-be shorthanded goal, however ... Nelson -- the same player who had dumped the puck in for Bishop to misplay -- was ruled just inside the blueline at the Isles bench as he went off for a change.
In the third, the Isles tempted fate by failing to convert a lengthy 5-on-3, and fate took the bait. The former Ranger Callahan scored his second of the game to tie it at 2-2, 5:50 into the third. Seeing Callahan score twice stung at first, but if you look at it as him trolling the Rangers (where Martin Trade Me St. Louis is still without a goal), then it's not so bad.
Anyway, this was a night for the rookies, and they exhibited themselves well.
- Strome was active all night -- occasionally making rookie- bad passes -- and made himself noticed in 18:24 even while playing with Matt Martin and McDonald.
- Nelson took 20 shifts, including key penalty kill and OT 4-on-4 time.
- Calvin de Haan logged 30:28 on 29 shifts, almost identical to partner Travis Hamonic.
- Anders Lee logged 20:20 in front of his old USHL coach, Michael Keaton.
- And John Persson had a couple of good plays (also a minus-1) in his first NHL game and made a nice move on his shootout attempt only to fire wide after Bishop appeared to get the slightest of touches.
- Also of note: After the refs put their whistles away when Anders Lee was tripped on a scoring chance in overtime, they brought them back out to penalize Hamonic for tripping Eric Brewer in the corner. But the Isles 3-on-4 PK was excellent, particularly Thomas Hickey making a goal-saver pass interception in the waning seconds, then pushing forward to clear the zone.
A lot of times when the number of games left is smaller than the number required to even put up a pretense of a playoff chase, we struggle for reasons to follow along. Tonight the Isles provided a few, even if you've no use for the shootout.