Say this for the New York Islanders and NHL parity: On their game, they can embarrass the NHL's 30th-place team. Off their game, they can embarrass themselves against the same.
After thumping the Edmonton Oilers in every phase for an 8-1 home victory earlier this month, they took far too long to find their legs on the return visit Sunday night in Edmonton as part of their last visit to the league's last remaining Coliseum. They conceded too many opportunities off the rush to the Oilers young forwards.
The result was a game that stayed too close for too long, until three Oilers third-period goals overturned a 1-0 Isles lead and handed them their first loss on this road trip. The Isles had the majority of the puck in the third, in part due to three unproductive power plays, but the Oilers cashed in their chances for the 3-1 win.
A disappointing outcome for Ryan Pulock's NHL debut, though he acquitted himself well and showed he can unleash his trademark cannon shot even when handcuffed by his supplier. Expect him to be reassigned to Bridgeport -- on paper -- so that he's eligible for their playoff run, but hopefully he gets more looks in the NHL this season.
The first period was wholly unimpressive, which foretold the traditional Capuano Line Blender that comes in such situations where the team is slow to get its heads out of its collective Avery.
Sure enough, it came in a big way, with the fourth liners -- tonight featuring Eric Boulton! -- appearing everywhere, and generally adding energy, sometimes because Zack Kassian was running around doing Kassian things.
I'd describe some of the line combos, but it's far more entertaining to sample how Newsday beatwriter Arthur Staple relayed some of the sequences:
First shift was not good. Halak bails out Tavares line. We're edging closer to The Cappy Line Remix.
(That's called foreshadowing. Or Long Island Medium, depending on your own personal beliefs.)— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 29, 2016
We've got 51-91-21 now for #Isles. It begins.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 29, 2016
86-29-18 here.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 29, 2016
And now 17-12-15.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 29, 2016
Cizikas now centering Bailey and Strome. I'm stopping now.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 29, 2016
You get the idea. Through all of that, their play did pick up and they forced 13 second-period saves from Cam Talbot. (Of course, the Oilers' play picked up too. Shots were 6-5 Edmonton in the first, 14-14 in the second.)
Late in the second period Casey Cizikas finally broke the ice -- skating with his traditional linemates of Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, if you must know -- when he picked up the rebound after Nick Leddy outright Pulock'd Adam Clendening with a blast from the point.
The Isles carried a 1-0 lead into the third period, when they promptly wasted two power play opportunities before taking a too many men penalty that was, as Jiggs McDonald said it, "called by the crowd." The Isles didn't actually play with six skaters nor use any sort of advantage. But Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome both stood statuesque at the bench as the puck arrived there, and the crowd's yell was too much for the officials to resist.
The Islanders survived that penalty kill and its aftermath, but soon after the next whistle the Lee-Bailey-Nelson combo was hemmed in long enough for Anton Lander to tie it midway through the third period.
A minute later, disaster: Jaroslav Halak stopped a shot from the left wing, had it in his equipment awaiting a whistle, then flinched when no whistle was to be heard. His movement kicked the puck out from his leg pad to the edge of the crease, where Leon Draisatl was cruising by and all too happy to deposit it in the net.
The Isles received one more power play opportunity but couldn't convert, bringing their time left to salvage a game against the league's last-place team down to four minutes. The trio of Nielsen, Tavares and Okposo returned and controlled the puck in the Oilers zone but couldn't get the chance they wanted for an equalizer.
After a line change, Connor McDavid to Jordan Eberle to Brandon Davidson, and game over. They outshot the Oilers 18-6 in the third but were outscored 3-0. The easiest schedule game on this trip became their trap.