After a discouraging home-and-home lost weekend against the East-leading Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders found comforting tonic in a struggling Metro opponent who brought rival-caliber feistiness and violence to the game.
The Philadelphia Flyers opened scoring early on the power play, and the goalscorer Claude Giroux tried to stir captain-level intensity by going after Nick Leddy following an awkward hit with Michael Raffl, but it backfired and quality prevailed as the Isles opened their second quarter with a 3-1 win.
The Isles erased the 1-0 deficit with a shorthanded goal late in the first period, took the lead early in the second on a power move and needle-thread shot by Kyle Okposo, and doubled the Flyers in shots 36-18 by the time the final buzzer rang.
There were "fights" (Giroux fought Leddy in an altercation that entertained only in its obvious cliched purpose), fights (Matt Martin and Wayne Simmonds fought seven minutes later as the game became a "scrum at every whistle" rivalry match), and a dominant third period by the Islanders before Frans Nielsen finished it with an empty netter. This was the first of five meetings between the two this season, so some bad blood may build and entertain.
The win brought the Islanders back into fourth place in the Metro, one point behind the Penguins who beat St. Louis in overtime.
Leddy Hit: You totally get why the Flyers took offense to Leddy's hit on Raffl -- the team has lost players to bad hits two games in a row -- but you also totally get why Leddy reacted like, "Really? You're going tough-guy on me for that?" Leddy and Raffl were in pursuit along the left wing boards, Leddy angling Raffl off. The puck stalled, causing Raffl to turn back at the last minute, creating a collision that sent both of them into the boards in a way they'd never want. It was a boarding penalty, yes, but one of circumstance.
Giroux Mad: That said, Giroux is captain of a bad team. So he's going to step in there and earn his Messier points. He harassed Leddy immediately following the hit, then found him away from the play to start a fight in the next period. (No instigator though, because the NHL officiating gods work in mysterious ways.) Giroux also received a 10-minute misconduct in garbage time.
Big Shortie: Immediately after Leddy went to the box, Cal Clutterbuck took over. He won an interception, pushed the pace up the left wing, and made a move around point man Jakub Voracek to drive the net, where the puck caromed to Casey Cizikas for the shorthanded goal. Big response to the penalty, great timing for the goal to tie it with a minute left.
Okposo Winner: Okposo's goal was kind of ridiculous and I don't know how it found a hole through Steve Mason, who otherwise was great in stopping 33 shots.
Technicality Booboo: In the fight with Simmonds, Martin removed his helmet and received a by-the-book two-minute penalty, putting the Isles shorthanded. Don't do that. Your toughness cred ain't worth it.
Comcast Country: Gotta love it when the league and its "broadcast partners" force a game on to NBC Sports, and the announcing crew is the crew of the Comcast-tied visitors. They did a good job in not homering it up, but still. If I want to hear how the Flyers announcing crew sees it I'll tune in on Center Ice.
Third Period: Though it looked like the Isles were the better team, with many chances to extend their lead, at 2-1 going into the third period and with fisticuffs breaking out you knew it could go either way. But the Isles shut the door in the third by being aggressive, outshooting the Flyers 15-4 in the period after going 12-6 in the second. Well done.
Said Jack Capuano, on the third period:
"We played pretty well. I liked our conditioning and I think we played pretty well in the third period. But, we managed the puck. I think anytime you manage the puck you give yourself the chance to win a hockey game. We are in attack mode. And, that's what we need to do. We want the next one. We don't want to play on our heels. We want to play on our toes. We want to play fast. We want to play physical."
Aside: On nights when the Isles don't hold a third-period lead, I love it when fans complain that the coaching staff has them playing scared and shelling, as if that's what a coach wants. No, some nights are just better than others.
Said Cizikas, on the rough stuff:
"That's what we needed," said Cizikas, "a good, hard physical game like that . . . They're fun. When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that."
After the game, the Isles announced Taylor Beck had been returned to Bridgeport. A sign that Ryan Strome could be returning soon? We'll see.
Either way, happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving. The Islanders head to Florida for games in South Florida and Tampa on Friday and Saturday.