Thomas Greiss won his second consecutive start after weathering a first-period storm, the fourth line scored two third-period goals, and the New York Islanders opened this week's homestand with their third win in the last four games as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 in Brooklyn.
The Isles also received a key buzzer-beating goal from the power play and two from the recently constructed third line that now features Ryan Strome after his return from Bridgeport purgatory. It's been an up and down November, but the Isles finish on a high note as they prepare for Wednesday's first New York derby of 2015-16.
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The Avalanche had their best period in the first, though their goal that broke the scoreless tie came on a bit of wild fortune for former Islander Blake Comeau. Doing a reverse Comeau Offensive Zone Orbit (known as a COZO back in the day), Comeau cut his orbit short and shoveled the puck toward the net as he came around going clockwise.
All Islanders faithful watched helplessly as the puck fluttered into the air, only to have Thomas Greiss pool cue it with the knob of his stick and into the goal.
With 15 seconds left in the first period, Okposo had a golden chance to tie it on a feed at the top of the crease but Gabriel Landeskog crosschecked him into Atlantic Terminal. Instead, Okposo would tie it on the ensuing power play. Yes, the arbitrary gods who enforce the NHL rulebook decided to call the crosschec, even though the Isles were already on the man-advantage, which is sometimes grounds to pretend further infractions cannot exist.
The Isles broadcast crew talked optimistically of getting the tying goal in those final 15 seconds if the Isles won the faceoff. In a sign that the hockey gods were having a fun night, the Isles actually did it, and with only a second to spare. John Tavares won the faceoff against ex-Isle Blake Comeau, and the Isles went to work. Down low, Frans Nielsen tried to force a pass across the crease that was easily blocked. But as Nielsen retrieved the rebound of his failed pass heading away from the net, he fooled Comeau -- who had broken high for some reason -- and found a backhand seam to the low slot, where Okposo snapped a shot just inside the far post.
The Islanders then came out and dominated the second period, though the rewards were fleeting. Mikhail Grabovski scored on a backhand lift after a pretty counterattack breakout and passing play by Nikolay Kulemin and Ryan Strome. (Hey, that line looks good, Strome better learn the local dish.)
However, the lead did not last long. The fourth line which appears after every goal could not overcome the power of a marvelous bounce off the side boards on Johnny Boychuk's clear. The puck bounced straight to Jarome Iginla, who equalized through traffic 41 seconds after Grabovski's goal. Despite outshooting the Avs 14-4 in the period, the Isles entered the second intermission tied 1-1. There was more work to be done.
The fourth line made amends early in the third. The Isles couldn't generate a shot on a power play to open the period, but immediately afterward Cal "I make the 4th line good" Clutterbuck scored the go-ahead on a sweet deflection from Thomas "I make the 3rd pair decent" Hickey at 1:52. Casey "hey, I do my part too" Cizikas added an insurance goal five minutes later after a good forecheck from Matt "hey, what's that make me?" Martin.
With his sixth goal of the season, Clutterbuck maintained the hot 20 percent shooting percentage of his first quarter.
Coach Jack Capuano was his usual poetic self -- and pretty much revealed his core philosophy -- when referring to his favored fourth line trio afterward:
"They're doing the right things. When you work hard, you get rewarded in life and the way that they're playing right now, they deserve to get rewarded."
"...[Cizikas] plays the game the right way, I think we have a few guys that are doing a lot of good things right now. That line in general has a lot of good chemistry. They've played together for quite some time now and they react well off of each other."
Captain John Tavares was also asked about that trio and responded with a little more restraint:
"A lot of guys played hard, did a lot of good things and got rewarded for it and certainly they were a catalyst for us tonight."
Anyway, Cizikas' goal was essential: The Isles missed a few chances to score into an empty net after the Avalanche pulled Semyon Varlamov for a sixth attacker with more than four minutes remaining. Nick Holden got one back for the Avs -- on another fortuitous bounce, this time off Calvin de Haan -- at 16:26 and the situation remained hairy. But Ryan Strome, completing an evening of nice hockey god karma for all those deserving, delivered the final score into the empty net on a turnaround shot from center ice.
Avalanche at Islanders +4.5%. Both top lines were scored on repeatedly. pic.twitter.com/x1HzAuqPiu— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 1, 2015
Varlamaov, key to any Avalanche success the last few year, continued a rough season and it was noted by his coach, who isn't hesitant to talk about the goaltending:
"It's not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn't get it," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "It's hard to win if you're giving up four goals on the road. ... He's our number one guy."
The Isles, now 6-3-1 over their last 10, climbed to third place in the Metro ahead of Wednesday's first meeting of the season -- and first-ever at Barclays -- with the Rangers. The Smurfs also won at home tonight to take back the top spot in the division. Greiss made 25 saves tonight; we'll see which European is in net on Wednesday.
Quote of the Night
"You wanna give a little love to the guys who don't get a lot of love at different times, and this is an opportunity."
--Butch Goring, ostensibly on who might be named the three stars