The New York Islanders killed four penalties in the third period to create enough space to bust open a 1-0 game and skate away with a 4-0 drubbing of the winless Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio.
The win was the Isles' fourth in a row, making for a great recovery from their season-opening home-and-home with the Chicago Blackhawks. It left the Blue Jackets, picked by many to contend in the competitive Metro Division this season, lost and adrift at 0-7. Many wonder whether coach Todd Richards will survive for the CBJ to head on their four-game trip. [UPDATE: Sure enough, the ax for Richards fell ovenight. John Tortorella is the new coach.]
Jaroslav Halak, in his second game back from injury, was solid and steady all night long, earning the 37th shutout of his career.
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First Period Frivolities
- The Isles started out pretty strongly, though Columbus was no pushover and certainly didn't look like a team at a loss for ideas in the first period. The Isles held possession on their first-period power play but never got a threatening rebound or chance from inside.
- After the Isles killed off some 4-on-3 time, Scott Hartnell came off the bench and caught Frans Nielsen looking behind himself to catch a pass from the back. (I refuse to call this "having your head down," a pejorative that implies a player is just loping along staring at the puck in his toes.) Truth be told, Hartnell was kind and let up for his hit, as you would expect a member of a union, er association, to be when catching his brother in a vulnerable position. But the "optics" looked poor, in the parlance of our times, so Johnny Boychuk confronted Hartnell and the two engaged in a very mild fight that satisfied the ritual obligations without endangering one another. Code upheld.
- The Isles opened scoring with a goal late in the first period after a strong shift from the Nielsen-Okposo-Bailey line. As that line changed, Brock Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin kept up the pressure. Marek Zidlicky's swing around the net got the puck to Kulemin, who was in between exchanging slashes and shoves with Dale Prout when he picked the puck up and rifled it upstairs in one motion.
- The Isles nearly made it 2-0 in the same minute after a Columbus icing with five seconds left in the period. Jack Capuano took the "post-goal security blanket" line off adn put the Tavares line on for that O-zone draw. John Tavares won it, backhanded to Anders Lee in the slot, whose own backhand scoop threatened and also created a decent rebound.
- Anyway, geat work from Kulemin on the goal, and amusing conclusion to Prout's revenge shoves once he realized a goal had been scored as Mikhail Grabovski came in for a hug.
Can someone gif Prout giving up on trying to fight Kulemin because Grabo came in for the hockey hug after the goal?wonderful dejection!— Rookie Example (@KeithLHHockey) October 20, 2015
Second Period Sorties
Kulemin nearly doubled the Isles lead when he sprang Frans Nielsen for a clear shorthanded breakaway, which should have been automatic doggone it. Looked like Nielsen considered the Backhand of Judgment but ultimately talked himself into the forehand of five-hole hope. Curtis McElhinney stopped that and Nielsen's rebound immediately after.
That sequence was among the best Isles plays in a second period where they relied too much on Jaroslav Halak, who looked strong in his second game back from injury. He wasn't called on to make game-savers, but he was worked steadily as the Blue Jackets held the majority of zone time.
The Isles got a little mojo back with each line's final shift of the period. No late goal this time though.
Third Period Theories
- If the Isles relied too much on Halak in the second period, they leaned way, way too heavily on their penalty kill to survive the first 10 minutes of the third. No less than three consecutive periods opened the final frame, two of them for delay of game, and two of them by Brock Nelson.
- The penalty kill was fantastic though: Energetic, anticipatory, relentless, quick-changing, and mostly efficient with its clears. Halak was good too, but it was mostly the PK forwards and defense who were keeping the puck on the outside and preventing shots from becoming rebounds.
- That brought out the boo birds in Columbus. Frustration at a high as the team with such high expectations sees everything go so wrong during the first weeks of the season.
- An insurance goal came via the unlikeliest of scenarios: A Thomas Hickey breakaway. Defending high at 4-on-4, Hickey intercepted a pass at the blueline and chased it down at the top of the Columbus zone before reminding Nielsen how a proper backhand deke is done.
- Cal Clutterbuck add a second insurance goal with one of his patented left-wing rushes where he placed a shot in stride off the far post. McElhinney had backed in a little too far, but that was partly due to Clutterbuck's acceleration on what was an even-man rush.
- In kind of a sad sign of the desperate straits the Jackets are in, they pulled the goalie while down 3-0 and on yet another power play. The extra attacker didn't help, and they only narrowly avoided conceding a shorthanded empty-netter.
- However John Tavares, always hungry for goals in any setting, outraced Prout to score the fourth after the penalty had expired.
McElhinney returned to the net after that. It was more silent than angry in the crowd at that point. For Isles fans who have seen some very lean years and false starts on the Island over the past decade, it's weird being on this side of a season falling apart so soon. It's sad, but a serious Metro rival is now critically wounded. So we'll gladly take it and move on to the next one.