If the New York Islanders are to excel in 2015-16 the way they took a major step forward in 2014-15, it will be a story of depth, built in the summer of 2014 and maturing this fall, one hopes.
Saturday night the Isles' trio of threatening forward lines chipped away at a pesky San Jose Sharks team until what was once three separate one-goal deficits became a 6-3 runaway. In Jaroslav Halak's first start of the season after missing most of preseason with injury, the Isles survived his early rust and those leads to pull away in the third period.
The star line of the night was Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey centered by Frans Nielsen, a trio that erased the final Sharks lead, scored the go-ahead, and iced things with a late empty netter by Nielsen. But all three scoring lines contributed, Thomas Hickey's return -- the blueline being one area of depth concern -- was a welcome site, and now the Islanders have won three in a row in their new quirky home confines in Brooklyn.
As a little extra spice, all three wins came against previously undefeated teams. Not a bad week.
The Sequence of Things
The only goal of a fairly even first period came from Joe Pavelski a few minutes past the halfway mark. Mikhail Grabovski had a chance to tie on a penalty shot, but his move was out-waited:
Stalock penalty shot save pic.twitter.com/cX888PaBKf
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 18, 2015
But the second period opened with back-and-forth chaos. Johnny Boychuk wasted no time tying it with a ridiculous, clanging slapper from a John Tavares faceoff just 21 seconds in. New game. But no, the Sharks got their lead back 20 seconds after that through Nikolay Goldobin, whose name just cries out to be a goalscorer. It was the 20-year-old's first NHL goal in just his second NHL game.
No matter. A Brent Burns trip on Brock Nelson sent the Isles to the power play, which they cashed in via Anders Lee to re-tie the game at 2-2 before the period was 2:30 old. Lee's bank-in off a bounce from the end boards was controversial, as Alex Stalock had lost, or ripped off, his mask during the pertinent moments. (On that note, the Islanders challenged San Jose's earlier goal for supposed goalie interference, a challenge that was rejected on video review.)
When Travis Hamonic took a tripping penalty of his own 23 seconds after Lee's goal, it looked like the period might end 9-7.
Instead there was a pause in the scoring, and an end to the penalties, until Joel Ward gave the Sharks their third one-goal lead midway through the period. Really good forechecking pressure and reaction by the Frans Nielsen line helped Josh Bailey redirect a Kyle Okposo shot from the slot to tie it at 3-3, which is where things stood at the second intermission.
The third was all Islanders. Okposo got the go-ahead goal early, the Isles' first lead of the night, retrieving his own rebound behind the net after being stopped on a harassed breakaway.
Okposo said he was caught flat-footed on semi-break before his GWG. "Wanted the extra shot. Get my Corsi up." He was joking.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) October 18, 2015
Nelson created breathing room at the midway point with a slingshot from the high slot after great transition work from he and his linemates Nikolay Kulemin and Grabovski.
Finally, Nielsen's empty netter was his first of the season, the 100th of his career, all in an Islanders uniform, and on a delayed backhand in accordance with the prophecies.
It's early, of course, and there are always holes and things to improve, etc. But in the last two games' persistent comebacks, you can see the glorious beauty of depth and spreading the work.