In the first period of Friday's 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames, the New York Islanders had that rare gift that is as close as the NHL gets to handing you a goal: A full, two-minute, five-on-three power play.
To the anxiety of fans, and despite winning the opening faceoff, the Isles didn't get a shot on goal until 1:11 into the advantage, when John Tavares scored. However, it was far from a bad power play up to that point.
The first minute was consumed by:
- A Johnny Boychuk one-timer that went just wide, unfortunately ringing around the boards to give the Flames a clear.
- Kyle Okposo's interrupted zone-entry bounced around until the Flames got another clear.
- On the next entry, Brock Nelson was set up for a chance alone into the slot, but TJ Brodie got his stick on Nelson just in time to prevent a shot on goal. The Isles worked to keep possession afterward.
Then came the next 15 seconds, where the Isles set up and executed the two-man advantage to perfection.
Before we get to the how, during the following intermission John Tavares was asked by MSG's Shannon Hogan about the pressure when fans yell "Shooooooot!" as the team develops a power play.
Not one to brush away with canned answers even in the middle of his work day, Tavares explained:
On the road you actually don't hear a lot of that, so when you're able to get into your set, I think you're looking to get a good look. Any time you have a two-man advantage you want to make sure it's a good shot, you have time to make some plays, especially when you have a full two minutes like that.
And the Isles made a play. The goal by Tavares came from drawing two of the Flames up high, to create space for Ryan Strome's low pass across the top of the crease to Tavares. Tavares further explained:
They started pressing really up high, that's what opened up the down-low play, and that's something where we wanted to be patient and take advantage.
There were two other key components to why the play worked:
- Kyle Okposo's fake shot from the point helped draw the Flames up as he instead passed to Strome at the bottom of the left wing circle.
- Brock Nelson had spent the previous 15 seconds battling in front of the net, ultimately carving out the space and lane needed for Strome to feed Tavares.
In the video below, you see Nelson alternating position with Flames defenseman Mark Giordano in their continuing battle, which not only wears this key defenseman down, but also serves as the long lead for what's to follow. (Importantly, with 12:11 left on the period clock, Nelson even takes the important step of looking downward to make sure he is on top of, but not in the crease).
What Nelson did after that was establish and protect his body position, using his back side to keep Giordano from regaining a chance to block the lane that Strome used to feed Tavares, whose shot after that long Strome pass was virtually impossible for Jonas Hiller to stop.
It was only one shot on goal, but it came from a beauty of a setup over the preceding 20 seconds, as the Isles used the time and space available to make it happen.