It took a stoppable goal from the neutral zone to provide the difference (see hilarious reaction from the Sharks announcing crew below), but the New York Islanders scored more than two goals for the first time in their last seven games. The result: Their three-game road trip got off to a happy -- and stunningly quick -- start with a 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
With another new line mix -- and more jarringly, two new defensive pairs -- the Isles wasted no time getting started. John Tavares opened scoring 36 seconds into the game on a rebound from new linemate Brock Nelson after Nick Leddy, now with a new partner, rushed the zone.
It was probably the best goal of the game.
Mikhail Grabovski made it 2-0 just three minutes later on a stoppable shot that chased Martin Jones from the game after three shots. His goal from the high slot came via a tireless new combo with longtime running mate Nikolay Kulemin and new linemate Steve Bernier.
In addition to those alterations, the mainstay top four defense pairs were broken up: Johnny Boychuk played next to Calvin de Haan, while Leddy and Traivs Hamonic skated together. Despite the win, that's probably not a long-term solution, but it will serve as another attempt to break some players out of their funk -- particularly Boychuk/Leddy, who were so essential last year but have struggled this season.
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Then things went quiet for quite a while, with the Sharks seeming a little stunned but pushing harder for a comeback in the second period. Certified Islanders Killer Joel Ward broke the ice midway through the second on a goal ex-Shark Thomas Greiss would like back. But Boychuk was the beneficiary of the aforementioned longshot 45 seconds into the third period to restore the two goal lead.
It was a classic Boychuk rocket, for sure, but backup Alex Stalock looked as bad on his only goal allowed as his predecessor Greiss looked on the Sharks' two goals that bookended that one.
From that point the Islanders, as Butch Goring said, the Isles were "playing like they need the next goal rather than the other way around." For virtually all of the third period the Isles kept the pressure on, kept up the "good road game" decisions of making frustrating plays to gain territory while ceding little back to a home team trailing by two.
Greiss let in another stinker to make it uncomfortable with 5:11 left to play, Brent Burns converting on an even worse angle than Ward did. But the Isles survived a few scares -- Greiss was key -- and Tavares gave the final score that extra comfortable feeling on an empty netter with under five seconds to go.
Tavares didn't celebrate -- later claiming ignorance -- but I don't know man. Guy likes his goals and can smell them from a Boychuk shot away.
.#JT91 told #isles radio that he had no idea his empty net goal had actually gone into the net. #NHL— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) November 11, 2015
Not fooling me, Johnny T.
The Boychuk Goal
See the goal in delightfully looping gif form here. But the reaction from the home announcers is also worth a listen below: "There's a goal from the blueline...arghh. Boychuk lets it rip...and it's a tough one."
Peter DeBoer called a timeout/coach's challenge to see if the goal might have been offside, but nope. Not even close. "Good hockey goal," as they say in the parlance of our times, even when it wasn't all that good.
Overall, it was not a banner night for the goalies, though Greiss did make 34 saves, many on shots that were better than what he missed. (Greiss was backed up by J-F Berube, by the way, as Jaroslav Halak got a full night's rest.)
Finally, this rumor-growth came toward the end of the game:
Some teams aware since early in regular season that SJ's Patrick Marleau may, under right circumstances, look favorably on a trade.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 11, 2015