The New York Islanders entered Edmonton
one a few points off the NHL standings lead, facing the Oilers who occupy the league basement all by themselves. Even a win would not pull the Oilers out of last place, but would sure embarrass the Isles.
And so it went, to what at 5-2 looks, and feels, like a dastardly game to forget.
Hockey can be funny that way even on a normal night. Gift wrap two easy goals to the opposition though, and you're asking for hockey to laugh at you.
It wasn't a sharp night for the Islanders even without the two deciding mistakes; they started the first period flat, and were caught running around and taking penalties at the end of the second. But it was the bloopers that turned the game into a 3-1 uphill climb instead of a game where they still could and really should have salvaged at least a point.
An empty-net goal and a garbage time goal when Jaroslav Halak had checked out were what provided the blowout-looking margin.
A Most Unusual Series of Events
Slovakian Booboo of Shame
In what in retrospect was a narrative omen, Halak handed the Oilers their first goal when he whiffed as he tried to move the puck behind his net. Newcomer Col. Rob Klinkhammer provided the pressure, bursting through the
Maginot goal line to harass Halak and feed Matt Hendricks for the easy empty netter.
The Isles first line immediately looked to pick up Halak for his mistake. They spent the next shift buzzing the Oilers net, ultimately leading to a penalty drawn by Josh Bailey heading into a TV timeout. That timing allowed John Tavares and Kyle Okposo to stay on for the ensuing power play which featured good puck movement, but ultimately no equalizer.
Opening Faceoff of Disarray
So down by a goal, the Isles still had the better of play in the second half of the first period and would surely continue that into the second, right? Well, not before coughing up a second goal off the period-opening faceoff.
It was a hybrid missed read by a few culprits, most notably with Nick Leddy scooting to the middle to cover the center gap, allowing a cross-ice pass from Taylor Hall to find Jordan Eberle in excellent shooting position. He beat Halak on the stick side ot make it 2-0.
Rocket of Renewal
The Islanders got one back on their second power play opportunity just over three minutes later.
It was one of those goals where the secondary assist by Tavares was absolutely earned, and a third assist (if we lived with such inflation) to Okposo wouldn't be crazy either. Okposo had the zone entry and held the puck deep in the corner. As the Oilers tried to pin it, he and Tavares did trench work to pop it free, where Tavares took it all the way behind the net and up the side boards with checkers hacking away and looking to intercept his pass to the point.
They didn't intercept it, because Tavares makes such fine, minimalist moves to keep them away, and he sliced a backhand to Nick Leddy at the point, who fed Johnny Boychuk at the opposite point. With so many Oilers shifting to the opposite side in pursuit of Tavares, Boychuk had ample space to blast his slapper through a moving Brock Nelson screen and past Ben Scrivens.
With the exception of a good cycling Oilers shift here and there, the Isles spent the middle stretch of the period asserting their version of play, and it seemed really only a question of whether the hockey gods would reward their control or make them pay for the two costly mistakes that put them in the early hole.
But then weirder stuff started happening, and the Isles mistakes started multiplying, and oh jeez do you want to go on? You do, at least a little bit.
2-on-0 of WTF
Perhaps the best of many Islanders chances to tie it came when the fourth line set up Thomas Hickey all alone in the slot...but his stick promptly broke, eliminating the shot, keeping Lubomir Visnovsky from following it up and ... uh oh, I just mentioned both defensemen so that means...
...an uncontested 2-on-0 for the Oilers the other way. Somehow, some way, Halak...well he didn't exactly stop it, but he held firm long enough as Derek Roy and Teddy Purcell passed the puck back and forth and ultimately shirked any responsibility to score, instead watching the puck dribble to the corner.
If this was the Islanders skaters' way of getting Halak back for his gaffe on the opening goal, it was brilliant. And free of consequence!
But Visnovsky wasn't done making Halak pay. (That's foreshadowing right there. Blogger battle level still high here. No passengers.)
Slovakian Flex of Stiff, Large Pillows
This is the part where you might expect the Oilers to fall apart under the weight of their own incompetence, or at least that's how Isles fans would view a similar scenario in most recent seasons. Instead, the Oilers turned it up, having another great cycling shift, getting the Isles running around and drawing a penalty on Anders Lee.
That was followed a minute later by a foolish Casey Cizikas stray from his lane and right into Scrivens' crease, where Scrivens had the gall to be standing, meaning a foolish goalie interference penalty handed the Oilers almost a full minute of 5-on-3.
While the Isles killers played the 3-on-5 about as textbook as you can, it was several stops and stiff legs-to-rebounds by Halak that kept the puck out and finished off the "3" part of the 5-on-3. The Isles killed off the rest at the beginning of the third period, but normalcy did not return.
Slovakian Civil War
So Visnovsky was the abandoning "last man" on the 2-on-0, but he was also the first guy dutifully back after Roy and Purcell wasted it. Still, Visnovsky really screwed his countryman over when he went back to the corner to retrieve the puck just 2:33 into the third period. In truth, it could happen to anyone, but: After a dicey pass from Thomas Hickey, when Visnovsky corralled the puck it slipped off his blade, off the side of the net and served as a perfect setup for Roy score from the low slot.
For Roy, the hockey gods taketh away and the hockey gods giveth back. For the suddenly confident 2014-15 Isles, a reminder that the hockey gods are always watching.
Finishing Up Loose Ends
With eight minutes left, for the second time Oilers captain Andrew Ference put the Islanders on the power play. This time, the Isles didn't make him pay. They had the puck in the zone for most of the two minutes, but their shots were blocked, or sailed wide, or were turned aside by Scrivens.
The Isles pulled Halak for a sixth attacker with over three minutes left, but Hendricks scored his, heh, second empty-net goal of the night, this time from center ice. Halak was back in the net but already snoozing when Matt Fraser made it 5-1 with 2:07 left.
With Nail Yakupov in the box for slashing Calvin de Haan, Brock Nelson finished a rebound in the final minute to give the power play a little gimme point and make a slightly less awkward final score of 5-2.
Quote(s) of the Night
"You get the feeling they're a tough team to play against, these Oilers, wouldn't you say? Kind of unorthodox, would that be the word?
"Yeah, maybe not as...structurally sound as some teams."
>>Jiggs McDonald and Butch Goring, while it was still close
Was It 'One of Those Nights,' or a 'Passenger' Thing...?
In post-game, Jack Capuano went the angry parent route:
"I don't know if there's a positive you can take out of this one. I'm disappointed in a few of the guys." -Cappy— Keith (@KeithLHHockey) January 5, 2015
Capuano sees no positives, hints at possible lineup changes on Tuesday. Could this signal return of @grabs40, who is ready to go again?— John Kreiser (@jkreiser77nhl) January 5, 2015
Capuano: "I thought we were pretty good, just a couple guys were downright very bad. We gave them 3 gifts and an empty-netter."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 5, 2015
Capuano: "Some guys need to look in the mirror. We talk about secondary scoring, the last 4-5 games it's nowhere to be found."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 5, 2015
This was, obviously, a wasted night with blame helpfully spread all around. But the most memorable mistakes were by guys you don't want to take out of the lineup (including Halak). So we'll see what they come up with after some reflection and a flight to Vancouver to finish the Western swing of this seven-game trip.
After pitying Oilers fans and recognizing what they're going through earlier in the day, I'm reminded that I also remember nights like these while the Isles struggled in the bottom five of the league: Such wins for them don't cover up the underlying issues, but they dull the pain if only for a night.