Young superstar and future (if not current) best player in the world Connor McDavid brought his Merry Oilers to Atlantic Avenue to face the Islanders in Brooklyn. The Oilers were coming off a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, while the Islanders, uh, had games this week.
The Islanders badly needed a full 60-minute effort after a couple of games where they struggled to generate anything positive and consistent, and tonight, it seemed like they finally got it.
First Period: We look like a hockey team!
The curious line-shuffling... worked? Early on it did at least, with Cal Clutterbuck taking a John Tavares poke and sending a gorgeous cross-ice pass to a cutting-to-the-net Nick Leddy to put the Isles up 1-0, 13 seconds in.
Only five and half minutes later, Shane Prince was yet again the recipient of a fortunate bounce, this time off McDavid and Matthew Benning as a result of an attempted cross-ice pass from Dennis Seidenberg. Prince got the play going by carrying the puck out of the Isles’ zone off a rebound and hitting Seidenberg as they entered the zone for the controlled entry via pass. Such plays make me happy.
Things were looking good for the Islanders, until the aforementioned Benning (relative of Vancouver Canucks GM/Chaos Architect Jim Benning) snapped a wrist shot from the point that was deflected by Patrick Maroon. “No chance for Halak,” as Butch says.
Seidenberg, who earlier took Jesse Puljujarvi out of the game with a kneeing penalty, took another penalty, this one for hanging on top of Jordan Eberle, and Leon Draisatl was able to bury a Maroon point shot. “No chance for Halak,” again says Butch.
The Isles jumped out of the gate in the first few minutes, dominating the Oilers and peppering goalie Cam Talbot, but the Oilers quickly gained play back after the Isles’ second goal. Still, after the previous two games’, uh, lackluster performances, signs of life and cohesion were pleasant surprises, even if the Oilers poor defense core may have had a hand in it.
Second Period: Back-and-forth play continues
The second period didn’t start with as much flare as the first, but Maroon took a penalty performing the same motion Seidenberg did earlier - I’m not even sure what to call it - against Johnny Boychuk, who flew like a helicopter but was okay. The power play itself, well, it was a thing. They were only able to generate anything right as the man advantage came to a close, but Cam Talbot was able to get in front of the chances.
It was around this time that the Islanders announced that Travis Hamonic would not return, having broken his upper body bone. But more seriously, I don’t recall seeing anything that would have injured him, and the fear with upper body injuries (especially those unseen) is that it’s a concussion. Here’s hoping he returns quickly, whatever it is.
Shortly after this, Anders Lee drew a tripping penalty against Tyler Pitlick, and this power play opportunity had much more life to it. Tavares, in particular, was all over the ice for this man advantage, and only missed a yawning net because the rebounded puck was bouncing on him. No goal scored, but certainly more encouraging than the last one.
A back-and-forth period saw Prince carry it in (I hope you’re noticing a theme here) and hit Nikolay Kulemin with a pass across the Oilers’ zone. He spun around and fed Seidenberg for a point shot, and Casey Cizikas put home the rebound for his second in as many games.
Continuing to skate well, the Islanders seemed to frustrate the Oilers a bit after that, as Eric Gryba took a slashing minor against Ryan Strome. Strome, feeling feisty, gave him a shot himself, and ended up in the box as well, creating a 4-on-4 that favored the Oilers. After that, McDavid drew Tavares into pulling his stick out of his hand, putting the Oilers on the power play.
Boychuk, already lucky to not have been injured earlier in the game, fell awkwardly and appeared to do a bit of a split. He took a few seconds to get up, and just managed to get back into play, before a goal was scored by big free agent signee Milan Lucic. Boychuk fell to his knees after the play ended, and was gingerly testing out his leg just before the period finished up.
Another high-flying but evenly matched period took on a more physical angle, but they again went to the dressing room tied, this time at 3. The Islanders, to this point, looked significantly better than they had in the previous two games, but fear loomed for the third. Already down to five defenseman with the injury to Hamonic, they may have had to play the final 20 minutes with only four defensemen. Capuano must have been most afraid.
Third Period: Fear Subsides, Briefly
Thankfully, Boychuk was able to make it out on to the ice for the third, after a couple of big stretches. The Islanders continued to move well and generate offense in the beginning of the period as the game escalated physically, but the Oilers were creating their own chances as well.
The game was starting to slow down a bit midway through third - both teams started “playing it safe” - when Darnell Nurse’s stick caught Prince in the face, giving the Isles a chance to take another lead. They weren’t able to capitalize on the man advantage, but they had a couple good opportunities, including a centering pass from Andrew Ladd that just wasn’t able to get through. Poor Ladd, man. Dude just can’t seem to buy a point that wasn’t an assist on an empty-netter.
The Islanders new, and admittedly odd top line of Tavares between Clutterbuck and Josh Bailey, scored the first goal of the game, but were able to generate a few good chances throughout, including a beautiful opportunity down low that featured Tavares showing off his ability to “stickhandle in a phone booth” (reminding McDavid who the veteran phenom is) before dishing to Clutterbuck cutting in. Talbot just got his toe on it. Clutterbuck definitely lacks the pure offensive skill needed for him to be anything more than a temporary solution, but his speed and defensive ability were an interesting addition to the Isles frequent Tavares-Bailey combo. Not to mention, he has a pretty strong shot.
“Safe” was the name of the game for both teams in the final three minutes, preserving their loser point and forcing overtime.
Overtime: Chaos ensues
Overtime was a sandwich where the bread tastes better than the meat and cheese, which doesn’t exist but I’m going to follow through with this metaphor anyway. What I mean to say is, the first minute and the final minute were by far the most exciting, and the middle was ass.
The Islanders started Tavares with Strome and Leddy, while the Oilers countered with McDavid, Eberle and Andrej Sekera. Fireworks started early, as Eberle drew Leddy down and he and Halak had a stare down. Months passed, seasons changed, but Halak shut the door. Back the other way, Tavares dangled around everyone and very nearly snuck one in, with Talbot making the strong aggressive save.
The final minute featured the same cast of characters, swapping out Sekera for Adam “I was traded for Taylor Hall” Larsson. McDavid, who really is the best combination of blinding skill and blazing speed I’ve ever seen, first spun around Thomas Hickey at the blue line and then played Halak like a marionette down low. Luckily, Halak kept his toe to the post and kept the puck out. The Oilers managed to hold on to the puck for another few chances, with McDavid displaying the depth of his creativity. Tavares forced a chance back in the Oilers zone, carrying down by himself and managing a shot through two Oilers defenders. With twenty seconds remaining, Tavares (who had already been on the ice for over a minute this shift) slowly drifted in before pulling Benoit Pouliot out of his skates and just missing a chance at beating Talbot.
Overtime wouldn’t be enough to settle these teams; we would need the skills competition.
Shootout: Fart noise
The Islanders sent out Leddy, Ladd, and Jason Chimera, all of whom missed (Ladd, in particular, caught some boos from the crowd). The Oilers’ Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both gave Halak a couple of easy saves to make, but Mark Letestu got Jaro to try for the poke check, drawing him down and beating him high glove side for the 4-3 victory.
The Islanders managed to salvage a point tonight, but more importantly, they looked like a competitive team, something that had been in doubt recently. We’ll see if they can keep it up when they play again on Monday, hosting the Vancouver Canucks at the Barclays Center at 7:00 p.m. Given the state they’re in, hopefully we can take advantage of a weaker opponent and come away with two points.