The New York Islanders avoided the ignominy of becoming the first team in nine attempts to lose to the Vancouver Canucks, who fell 4-2 on their visit to Brooklyn to extend their streak to 0-8-1.
(You can thank us for not mentioning Vancouver’s losing streak in our preview out of respect for all jinxes and hockey gods, who were clearly appeased by our offering.)
The win featured first goals from a few Islanders forwards who really needed it, solid smooth work by Jaroslav Halak in making 30 saves, and multiple examples of the Islanders finally looking like they meant business when entering and staying in the offensive zone.
It also ended an alarming five-game homestand (2-1-2) on a high note (oh, but the ridiculous run of home games continues with a couple more next week). Sure, it was against a terribly struggling team, but still. They’ll take it.
John Tavares was arguably the hardest working Islander on the ice, with his hands and board work creating multiple goals, but in a refreshing change he was hardly alone.
In their first game without Travis Hamonic, Adam Pelech acquitted himself well in 17 minutes of even-strength work.
1st Period Opening: Oh, this might stink...
The Canucks struck first and early (4:22) through Daniel Sedin, because it is a requirement that a Sedin score when visiting the Islanders and it is a necessity that Islanders fans feel a sense of full, collective dread even in games with comfortably happy endings.
Sedin stripped Shane Prince from behind in the neutral zone and went in all alone on Jaroslav Halak, who thought he had it but most certainly did not.
The Islanders answered five minutes later on rush by the Brock Nelson line. Nelson took the initial shot, with Anders Lee tapping a rebound out of mid-air across the crease where Jason Chimera pushed it over the line for his first goal as an Islander.
2nd Period: Do it again, but opposite
In the second period it was the Islanders’ turn to strike first, with Nikolay Kulemin scoring his first of the season at the end of some good, sustained pressure by the Islanders.
It was a fantastic play all around, from the initial the forecheck, to John Tavares not assuming a clear as the Canucks had it on the boards high in the zone, forcing a turnover and pass to Nick Leddy, who slipped a pass from tight space over to Thomas Hickey, who did well to fake around a sliding shot block and then put the puck on net, where Tavares was already there to bat the rebound out of the air toward Kulemin for the finish.
Here’s only the final third of a great sequence:
The Isles threatened a few more times to extend the lead, but the Canucks caught the next break, on a friendly Barclays endboards bounce, through a good power play zone entry that caught the Isles PK forwards stretched.
The visitors’ power play had been slumping, so the Isles PK was a good antidote, though this play required some unconventional magic. Bo Horvat followed up his own rebound off the endboards and rifled a pass across to Markus Granland from below the goal line, creating an easy tap-in.
The Canucks had a golden opportunity to compound that soon after but for the pursuit of Nick Leddy, who caught up with Loui Eriksson on a breakaway to poke the puck away before he could release a shot.
Despite some other penalty shouts, the Islanders didn’t get their first power play until 40 seconds remained in the second period. That generated a few chances before the horn, the best being what would’ve been a wide open net for Ryan Strome if only the puck hadn’t bounced between his stick and skate.
They opened the third to finish that power play with a few more chances but Miller stood tall.
The Isles got a second power play opportunity on a simply amazing diving/flopping/general loss of balance by one-time preseason Islander Jack Skille, who leaned against Thomas Hickey while both crossed the blueline on a retrieval, and fell arms-up as Hickey simply stopped applying the equal and opposite force.
Alas, that power play too produced only near-misses, with Miller being solid and the Isles unable to put that final rebound or pass together.
Nelson Goes Down
With a little over 12 minutes to go in regulation, Nelson went down hard behind the Canucks net and struggled to get up, favoring his left leg after Brandon Sutter kind of crowbarred downward on it against the ice.
Nelson was taken to the locker room and returned to the bench and ice a little under 10 minutes later, but that situation bears watching.
Clutterbuck Goes Ahead
The Islanders’ third goal of the night was the result of another instance of good, sustained pressure from all five men on the ice. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think of a team that knows what it’s doing...or maybe just a professional team facing one on an eight-game winless streak.
It was Cal Clutterbuck on a rebound, but that came after Tavares (again) worked some magic to keep possession in the zone and pass to the point from a left wing phone booth. Johnny Boychuk had a part with a point shot, fed by Alan Quine, who’d received the puck from Thomas Hickey at the opposite point after Tavares’ magic.
Leddy Dumps the Monkey
Andrew Ladd became the third Islander and second under-pressure free agent to finally get his first goal of the season from the unlikeliest of places: Not from crashing the net, but by firing from the point after Nick Leddy took a hit to backhand a pass to him on a tee.
Ladd’s shot was hard, through traffic and perfectly located to elude Miller’s glove just inside the far post.
The rest of the game was played with the comfortable conservatism and occasional offensive forays of a team with a two-goal lead against a wounded foe on a nasty losing streak.
Had they blown this, all hope would be lost. Instead, they at least bought themselves some more time — and first-goal good vibes — to work through this current angst.
Potentially Ambiguous Quote of the Night
“But Miller with the good flipper action.”
-Butch Goring, describing Miller’s pad save after Ryan Strome shot low on a two-on-one
12,514, it was said for the benefit of Canadian media keeping careful watch.
Florida Trio: It’s off to Florida for visits to the Lightning and Panthers Thursday and Saturday, before a third and final engagement with the Bolts next Monday at Barclays.