Casey Cizikas scored the game-winning goal with less than five minutes left, completely against the run of play in a game where the 29th-place Edmonton Oilers put a healthy scare into the New York Islanders.
The Isles prevailed 3-2 in regulation, but their penalty kill was victimized (again) twice, and the Oilers outplayed them throughout a third period that the Isles should have controlled against a wounded opponent playing the second half of a road back-to-back.
Seven different Oilers had at least three shots on goal. All told the Isles were outshot 36-28 overall (yet won 60 percent of their faceoffs) and 15-5 in the third period, but they had the period's only goal. Hockey is a strange beast that way.
The win puts the Islanders three points ahead of the idle Penguins, who host Detroit tomorrow night.
How It Happened: Le Pant, Le Pant
After the Islanders controlled the first half of the first period, it looked like they would play their game while the Oilers would play theirs, and the Coliseum crowd would be treated to a show. However, that "show" depends on five-on-five play...alas, penalties happen.
Ryan Hamilton opened scoring on, yes, the power play. The penalty that led to it seemed suspect -- a hard backchecking Anders Lee pinned Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stick with his own as the pass came across to the slot -- but the hockey gods disagreed. Nail Yakupov's shot from the left wing faceoff circle was tipped by Hamilton to send it bouncing past Jaroslav Halak.
The Islanders received a power play of their own immediately afterward on a puck-over-the-glass call, but two shots and a few rocky entries produced no result.
That familiar sequence seemed to reset the flow of the game, and the Oilers had just as much pressure as the Isles the rest of the period. (That would be an omen.) However, a good shift by the Isles' fourth line ended with Colin McDonald backhanding in his second goal in as many games since his latest emergency recall from AHL Bridgeport. McDonald fed Matt Martin from behind the net, whose shot was tricky enough for Viktor Fasth to enable McDonald to swat in the rebound.
Second Period: Repeat
In the second period some normalcy restored, though the Oilers still had their share of shots while the Isles hit legs and missed nets. Josh Bailey gave the Isles a 2-1 lead by deflecting a seeing-eye shot from Thomas Hickey at the center of the blueline. But the Oilers' shots-on-goal advantage was just a preview of more frightening things to come.
Josh Bailey Avenger, Not Fighter: After Matt Hendricks took advantage of a still (and puckless) John Tavares to drive him into the boards in front of the Oilers bench -- the Isles argued that was crosschecking or boarding -- Bailey responded by crosschecking Hendricks. Hendricks immediately dropped his gloves and started throwing punches, but Bailey fell before anything resembling a fight happened. Somehow, Dave Jackson and crew gave Bailey four minutes and Hendricks only two, putting the Oilers on the power play.
You know what happened next. The Islanders don't take many penalties -- and often when they do, it's a bizarre interpretation like that. But they need to deal with it. Leaving Anton Lander alone in front of the net for an easy one-timer to tie it is not the way.
During the second intermission Hickey was interviewed by Shannon Hogan and said, "We'll take that penalty all day. Those are the ones you really wanna kill, because it's a tough penalty and he's sticking up for his teammates."
Gotta kill it though! Like, all of it!
Third Period: So That's Hockey Then
The third period was where the game looked ugliest for the Islanders, but the hockey gods were on their side.
The Oilers steadily asserted the majority of pressure, and Jordan Eberle miraculously hit the post when he had half the net open on a rebound at the top of the crease. That should've put the scare in the Isles -- Edmonton was outshooting the Isles 8-0 in the third period at that point -- and John Tavares took advantage of some shift overlap time with Ryan Strome to buzz round and round the Oilers net, but without result.
The hairiest sequence in a bad third period came when the trio of Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome and Mikhail Grabovski -- three of the Isles' most responsible forwards -- were caught tired and trapped in their own zone for infinity. Given the situation they found themselves in, they handled it well: not chasing too much or losing their men, and being patient as the Oilers top line, almost drunk with time and space, passed the puck around lots but didn't get many shots on.
Grabovski ended the sequence by winning possession and lofting a smart, incing-less clear through the neutral zone. The crowd, which was restless but not quite combative, gave a healthy, supportive cheer at the release.
To reward all your hockey cliches, the Isles fourth line then "took momentum back" with a good forecheck and heads-up pass by McDonald and shot by Cizikas past Fasth. It was a fantastic play by McDonald, who was named first star, and a sharp, quick release by Cizikas. That line seemed to be out there a ton -- always a concern among some Isles fans -- but actually they got functional fourth-line minutes...and they made the most of it.
The way this season has gone, and the way the team has been, well, so good, this arguably undeserved outcome didn't come as a shock. Rather, it felt like the shoe is finally on the other foot, and the Islanders are the team other squads face and say, "Man, we had them, we were right there, but somehow they came out on top."
I'll take it.
Quote(s) of the Night
During the first intermission, Stan Fischler spoke with Shannon Hogan about Evgeni Nabokov, the former Isles goalie who is set to retire tomorrow, and who is remembered fondly for his demeanor and epic post-game exchanges with Fischler.
"We had so much fun together, post-game. Serious stuff, but also playing around while getting more into the serious stuff."
Fischler then counted down the top five song titles to illustrate that period -- Fischler would often open their exchanges with a musical reference:
5. This Could Be the Start of Something Big
4. Orange Colored Sky
3. You are My Sunshine - "He was sunshine after every interview, during every interview. He was funnier than me, I had to let him have that."
2. You are the Top - "He was the top. As far as I'm concerned he was one of the best interviews I ever did in my entire career."
1. "Nabby" Days are Here Again
The Islanders host Toronto, another weaker team, Thursday. Hold your breath.