After a brief pause and fountain of positive buzz for the NHL All-Star Break, the New York Islanders picked up right where they left off in their mastery of the Metropolitan Division and their historic rivals with a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum.
It was their third three-goal victory over the Rangers in as many meetings, bringing them to 10-0 against the Metro at the Coliseum and 16-2 against the division overall. The game fell eight seconds short of a full-on scoreboard embarrassment for the Rangers, as that's how close Jaroslav Halak was to shutting them out for the second consecutive game before Carl Hagelin broke their drought.
No matter. The Isles dominated the first period and emerged with a 1-0 lead on a goal by injured Kyle Okposo's replacement on the first line, Mikhail Grabovski. They extended that lead to 2-0 early in the second when Matt Martin relished yet another tally against the Smurfs. When Ryan Strome's pass attempt deflected in to make it 3-0 six minutes into the third, the rest was academic.
The Islanders took the lead, extended it, then made the Rangers do the rest of the work. In being outshot 31-21over the final two periods, the Isles conceded some dangerous chances that required Jaroslav Halak to earn every bit of his paycheck, but that was their luxury after building the early leads. Further, by no means were they shelling up; just playing a little safe, while still taking opportunities to exploit counterattacks.
Dare say, this team has learned a lot. Dare say, Halak's goaltending has freed them up to put it to good use.
- With the win and Tampa's loss in Carolina, the Isles return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
- Grabovski's goal was fantastic -- and a nice early sign that the Isles can be alright while Okposo is on the shelf -- but the goal was a tap-in made possible by some breathtaking passing magic between four Islanders after John Tavares gained the zone.
- To be fair, with a different outcome that goal gets a SHOOT IT WHY ARE YOU PLAYING WITH IT JUST GET IT TO THE NET at Boychuk and Bailey.
- Ryan Strome was excellent again in his role -- yet I keep hearing it's a travesty not to put him on Tavares' wing instead -- including 2:04 of really good PK work.
- Arthur Staple put it best in Newsday: "Chris Kreider did nothing to dispel his reputation for running goaltenders."
- Cal Clutterbuck then did nothing to dispel his reputation by shoving a Ranger into Lundqvist for a dumb penalty late in the second.
- Tavares finished the Isles scoring on a late 5-on-3, from his backdoor office after deciding to just end the passing and pick a spot on Henrik Lundqvist.
- Lundqvist was beaten again by the Isles, but he was really good in the first period to keep the game close.
- Likewise, Halak was really the good the rest of the way to keep the game from getting close again. He really deserved that shutout; they owe him a beer.
- That goal stings more because it looked like the officials were coasting and missed an offside on the entry before it.
- Are the Isles 17-4 at Fort Neverlose this season? Correct! Correct! Correct!
- Wait, I think I did that wrong. Yes! Yes! Yes! They have a lot of games left there, too: 21 of the final 35 regular season games.
- Despite the weather, the game was another sellout and the building nearly full. Great atmosphere yet again, doing right by this rivalry that has at least two more chapters at the Coliseum this year.
- Once again, the Isles received scoring from three different lines, plus the power play for the late insurance marker.
- Depth, you are the nectar of the hockey gods.
Grabovski goal deserves its own separate clip:
What else to say? The Isles played their game yet again and played it well. Tavares was excellent, Halak was excellent, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Ryan Strome...on and on and all the figures in between. All hail depth.
It's amusing to watch the least mature of the Rangers faithful toss excuse after excuse at the situation -- and act outraged at their Isles counterparts after themselves hurling taunts in yesteryear -- but ultimately who cares? The Islanders are a joy to watch in style and execution. They are the class of the division thus far. They've passed a lot of tests without letting up. Bring on the next one.