One night after a strong first period in New Jersey went unrewarded and John Tavares needed to save the day, the New York Islanders again saw a dominant first frame end without a lead to show for it. But this time a cornucopia of offense from non-Tavares sources saw the Isles get their reward as they cruised to a 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
No extra time needed, but goals from less renowned artists like Brian Strait, Matt Martin and Nikolay Kulemin -- who quietly has seven on the season, which surely isn't enough to avoid an RDS hatchet job -- coupled with more common scorers Kyle Okposo (his ninth) and Anders Lee (his 10th, on a nice breakaway) on a night where All-Star captain Tavares could be a secondary figure.
Backup Chad Johnson faced a Halakian workload of 16 saves on just 18 shots for a needed win, as the Isles again demonstrated why they have been among the league's best teams through the first 41 games, even while the most angst-addicted of their fans are really focused on who the seventh defenseman is or how many goals the injured Mikhail Grabovski has.
P.S. The Isles retained first place in the Metropolitan Division with the win. By all means though, resume pissing and moaning about something.
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All snark and flippancy aside, it was hardly reassuring when the Isles' early lead, thanks to a nice combo from Michael Grabner to Nick Leddy to a Kulemin deflection, was erased by a Blue Jackets power play goal on their first registered shot.
But the Isles stuck to the program, and as anyone who understands that the process over the result is the best long-term approach knows, to keep shooting the crap out of the opposition is the way to go most nights. The Isles, then, finished the first period outshooting Columbus 16-4, and didn't much let up in the second.
Every time Ryan Strome ends up with fourth-line wingers people think he's being punished, yet every time it happens he elevates their play as great players are wont to do. So it was that Strome's insightful pass through the slot to Matt Martin created the go-ahead goal halfway through the second period, after Casey Cizikas won the blueline and dropped to Thomas Hickey, who fed Strome for one of those "Everybody touched it! (Even Strait!)" goals.
A few minutes later, Anders Lee took advantage of Kevin Connauton's troubles at the blueline (part of Connauton's unsightly minus-4 on the night) to create his own breakaway, going rather Fransian backhand on Sergei Bobrovsky and give the Islanders an insurance goal.
Lee's goal ended up the winner, but Brian Strait scored one of the most entertaining tallies in memory, using the pitching wedge to connect with an airborne puck that landed right in his wheelhouse in the slot, where he deposited a changeup past the Blue Jackets' new $29.7 million man.
Three-goal third-period leads have been rock solid this year, right? Yeah...so when Nick Foligno scored three minutes into the third, you'd be forgiven for making like an Islanders fan and shouting to all of the Internet that all is wrong and full of doom.
Such fears didn't really reflect reality though (shock!), and Kyle Okposo restored the three-goal lead when an attempted pass to Tavares came back to him, and he slipped it through Bobrovsky to make it 5-2.
- I love Kulemin's game for many reasons -- few having to do with some ancient bloke from RDS pissing on Europeans -- but in particular I like how his post-goal celebrations are usually like, "Yes, it's nice to score, but we are always at risk of another famine."
- Seriously though, Strome can play with basically anyone, in any situation. Thank Bossy New Jersey won that lottery.
- As someone who praised the Blue Jackets in the preview for being good when they have their full lineup...tonight they demonstrated that they really, really need their full lineup. The team is hurting, in an unfair way, and you almost think the remnants shouldn't be NHL-.500-ing their way to spoil the CBJ's chance at a prime draft pick.
- Lee began the season at Bridgeport and still has more goals than Okposo. #braggingrights
- Agree with Johnson here... "For me, it was just good to get the win. Tonight felt good and I just want to build off it." ... however, the second goal -- albeit on a tough rebound -- still reflected some of his recent positioning issues. Maybe we are spoiled by Jaroslav Halak's compact composure (outside of puck handling), but you hate to see a goalie wrong-footed like that.
YES! But Leave Me Alone
In which Michael Grabner taunts some Ontario boys on the flight home.
Couple plugs sporting "yes,yes,yes" shirts!!@91Tavares got a kids large shirt #lookinggood #islesnation pic.twitter.com/Dv11NTo1lx— Michael Grabner (@grabs40) January 11, 2015
Where Are We?
In first place, but man the Metro is looking like it has four dangerous teams. Pittsburgh, Washington and the Isles won again, with the Smurfs
leading late also winning in San Jose.
And what do you know? The next game is against those Smurfs at the Garden as both teams close long road trips.
Apparently gonna need 120 points or so to win the Metro division because no one loses. Ever. #isles— MGH23 (@mikepac23) January 11, 2015
When the Devils, and two years later the Rangers, reached the finals against the Kings, I didn't worry one bit. The better team was a lot better and a good bet to win. This year I'm starting to wonder if the East just might pose a threat if they face a non-Blackhawks team in the final. Weird.
But that's for May and June. There is still (slightly less than) a whole half season to contend with first.