The New York Islanders shook their worst offensive funk and first three-game (regulation) losing streak of the season with a comforting 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, who are somehow the Pacific Division's basement team.
The final score made it look easy, but the first 15 minutes looked like the hockey gods had nothing but coal for the Isles this Christmas. The win puts the Isles back in second place in the Metro, at least pending what happens when these Ducks visit the Rangers tomorrow night.
Goals: Clutterbuck, Hamonic, Nelson, Bailey, Martin; Fights: Martin, Tavares*
The Isles started a little wobbly, and Jaroslav Halak had to make a save on a three-on-one in the first five minutes. Just when it felt like it would be another frustrating night after the Ducks scored a couple minutes later -- ex Ranger Carl Hagelin checking in -- and held a 1-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first period, the most delightful five-minute sequence occurred.
Cal Clutterbuck beautifully evaded most of a Kevin Bieksa check on the left wing, then approached from the corner along the goal line and...somehow found the near top corner to tie it at 1-1. It was his seventh goal of the season, fifth-highest on the team through 35 games and one more than Ryan Getzlaf.
Clutterbuck goals are always fun because: 1) They remind you of who carries the bulk of the offensive skill on the fourth line and why it works with him there, 2) His celebrations always reflect a guy who knows scoring chances aren't frequent for his line's role, and 3) You know it pisses off the opposition and fans.
With the Isles looking a bit lethargic, Clutterbuck's goal came shortly after a Matt Martin fight with Josh Manson, which allows you to play Choose Your Own Narrative Adventure: Option A "Momentum Shift" or Option B "Now Brock Nelson is on that Line."
Anyway, then an offensive faceoff win and a nice John Tavares drop pass allowed Travis Hamonic to send a seeing-eye shot along the ice and past the toe of Frederik Andersen. It was Hamonic's second of the season, one more than Ryan Getzlaf.
So we've gone from depressed to, "hey, we got the LEAD even!" in a matter of minutes.
But it got better.
In what has become an increasingly patented move -- and one that may earn him a handsome next contract -- Brock Nelson scored his 12th goal of the season (11 more than Getzlaf) with 17 seconds remaining in the period, picking up a Tavares-poached puck in the high slot and letting go a sizzling wrister.
Now we have ourselves an enjoyable evening. Andersen was pulled at the intermission for John Gibson.
With the Ducks struggling, it took hard but not exactly cerebral work from the Isles to frustrate the Ducks throughout the second period. The score was unchanged for the next half hour.
The most notable part of the middle frame was a tussle between Getzlaf and John Tavares, where Getzlaf took exception to Tavares' interaction with Jakob Silfverberg and taunted him through the middle of the ice. No actual fight took place, and Getzlaf seemed to know he should just steal Tavares' lunch money rather than actually throw punches as he tackled him to the ice. Two minutes each for
Josh Manson, who fought Martin in the first, made it interesting for a bit when he pounced on a carom to make it 3-2 at 7:32 of the third period. But two minutes later the two-goal lead was restored at the hands of unanimous fan favorite Josh Bailey. The play began on the simplest of third-period lead-protecting moves: a soft dump-in and foreheck. Bailey tossed it in, Frans Nielsen provided the pressure on Hampus Lindholm to force a bad backhand pass from behind the net, and Anders Lee provided the third guy to deflect Lindholm's pass right to Bailey in the low slot.
A slapshot from Bailey at that distance did the trick. It was Bailey's seventh of the season, the same as Clutterbuck and six more than Ryan Getzlaf.
To finish the job, rub salt in the wound, what have you, with Gibson pulled for a sixth attacker Martin scored from his own zone. It was a risky play, but two-goal leads and an opponent's empty net invite such things. The shot was smooth on the ice, and just inside the post like Hamonic's.
This season Matt Martin: 4 goals Ryan Getzlaf: 1 goal— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) December 22, 2015
Moment of Zen
Capuano: I think Brian Strait was our best defenseman tonight— John Kreiser (@jkreiser7713) December 22, 2015
Alright, here's the fuller context of the quote, with a little more "call me crazy but...":
"I think Brian Strait was our best defenseman tonight, to be honest... for a guy that hasn't played, (he) has played well for us, but watching that game tonight, execution on our breakouts, getting into the play, and doing a lot of things, by far tonight, (Strait) was our best guy."
Five Days Off
It's not five days off exactly, but it's five days between games now. The Isles next play a game Sunday at home, part of a home-and-home with the Leafs Sunday and Tuesday.