The New York Islanders won a third consecutive game for just the second time this season, pulling themselves back to NHL “.500” and evening the season series with the Washington Capitals in a 4-3 win Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
After a league-wide Christmas break, neither team looked like they were shaking off food comas or holiday hangovers, but the Barclays Center ice sure did. On a December day that hit 60 degrees in New York, the puck bounced and bobbled across the ice like it was mid-May.
Still, both teams played on the same ice, etc., and what they produced was a pretty entertaining match for a sellout crowd.
Butch Goring called it perhaps the Isles’ best performance of the year and...maybe considering the competition and the damn-with-faint-praise product this season, it’s at least a candidate. Their shutout of the Caps earlier this month had a lot to do with Jaroslav Halak, and Friday’s pre-break 5-1 drubbing of the Sabres was against a zombie opponent, so tonight looked like a solid all-around game.
Included in that was certainly some big Halak saves as the Caps fired away on two power plays and a sixth attacker in the final five minutes of the game.
Cal Clutterbuck and Nikolai Kulemin, both of whom had a good game throughout, opened scoring eight minutes in when Clutterbuck swatted at the rebound of a Kulemin shot.
But the Capitals answered five minutes later when Justin Williams put a rebound in after minor contact with Jaroslav Halak. Halak complained and gesticulated to the refs after that one, though the source of his frustration was probably more clear and unpenalized contact in his crease on a rush just before that.
‘Never want to see an injury...unless he’s a tool’
Though the Islanders could not find paydirt on four second-period power plays, between the third and fourth opportunities they did land a go-ahead goal.
That goal was thanks to Thomas Hickey storming off the bench to carry the puck down the left wing boards to the corner, then whipping a pass along the goal line to Andrew Ladd, who blocked the puck with his skates and knocked it in with six minutes left in the period.
The Islanders received a final power play opportunity with 93 seconds left in the period, but once again generated few scoring looks.
Still, it wasn’t a total waste.
Lol, Wilson caught a Boychuk shot.— Rookie Example (@KeithLHHockey) December 28, 2016
#Isles with a better PP effort, plus a Boychuk shot that appeared to damage Tom Wilson's chances of procreating, but still 2-1 after 2.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 28, 2016
Third Period: A Festivus Goalfest
So the Islanders didn’t get anything done with the 27-second remainder of that fourth power play in the opening of the third period, and naturally Alexander Ovechkin made them pay with an equalizer at 1:17.
But for a change, that wasn’t a sign of collapse.
The Isles regained the lead three minutes later with a dizzying array of passes around the Capitals zone capped off by Ladd converting Alan Quine’s heads-up fake-shot and pass to the back door for a redirect behind Braden Holtby.
As Ladd’s goal was still being announced, Anders Lee blocked a Matt Niskanen attempt and played the carom to earn himself a breakaway, which he converted with poise. With a defenseman on his back and the logical play to deke toward the backhand, Lee’ leaned that way but instead calmly slotted the puck between Holtby’s legs.
Holtby knew he’d fallen for the fake by over-anticipating, turning his face to the rafters in regret before the puck crossed the line.
But the Capitals would not go away quietly.
Andre Burakovsky, a healthy scratch last time these teams met, was on the blessed end of quick redirect combo on a Capitals three-on-two when Niskanen delayed long enough to get the puck through Hickey to Jay Beagle, who got a piece of it before Johnny Boychuk also had a touch that delivered the puck on a platter for Burakovsky.
Then things got really tough for the Isles with two penalty kills in the final 5:15 of regulation. First Dennis Seidenberg was called for a slash on a TJ Oshie break that looked right but upon further review didn’t contain much actual contact.
The Isles killed that one thoroughly, but Hickey was called for a high stick as it expired. The ensuing penalty kill included the extra challenge of a sixth attacker as the Caps pulled Holtby for the second half of the advantage.
They also killed the remainder of regulation against a sixth attacker, Clutterbuck’s final clear hitting the side of the empty Caps net as time expired.
The Islanders finish out 2016 with visits to the 10-game-winning-streak-riding Minnesota Wild on Thursday and then plus a New Year’s Eve in romantic Winnipeg.
After that, they won’t be in action again until the following Friday.