The New York Islanders welcomed their old goalie to their new home with the rudest of greetings, chasing Anders Nilsson from the game with three goals before the game was nine minutes old and continuing the afternoon fun for an 8-1 slaughter of the Edmonton Oilers, their biggest margin of victory since laying a similar beating on the Oilers 19 years ago.
It was a tough, brief and ugly return to New York for Nilsson, who began this season so hot but has struggled mightily over the last few months. For the Oilers, it was the second afternoon in a row that required a quick hook for their goalkeeper. For the Islanders it was a good, refreshing response to yesterday's 5-1 loss in Detroit, though it receives something of an asterisk given what an easy mark the Oilers were.
Kyle Okposo notched a hat trick and an assist while five other Islanders scored. An underrated aspect of the effort was that of Thomas Greiss, starting after Jaroslav Halak was torched and pulled yesterday. Greiss stepped up to make big saves in between each early Islanders goal, including one on ex-Islander Griffin Reinhart from the high slot right after the Isles had made it 3-0.
Johnny Boychuk opened scoring at 2:57 with the first test for Nilsson, an old-fashioned blast as he skated over the blueline and eluded the Swede's glove. It was far from the first time a man called "Johnny Rockets" has scored from that distance, but despite the power it's always one the goalie wants back.
The Islanders garnered their first power play on one of those moments of selective officiating. Off a neutral zone faceoff, Casey Cizikas put a solid open-ice check into Reinhart. Reinhart recovered and went into the fray to check Cizikas or Cal Clutterbuck. In the maze of bodies Reinhart's stick rode up but it looked pretty harmless. You're responsible for your stick, it's danegrous, et cetera et cetera, but it just looked like a case where they were establishing a strict standard they were unlikely to uphold.
Anyway, the Isles couldn't convert on that man-advantage though they did get some good pressure on Nilsson, who had to use every inch of his vine limbs to keep a rebound scramble from producing the second goal. It was his last noteworthy stop.
The second goal would arrive soon after, when John Tavares played a pretty give-and-go with Ryan Strome and then sniped from the bottom of the faceoff circle to score inside Nilsson's far post.
Nikolay Kulemin benefited from the third NIlsson mistake when he pounced on a wide rebound left after Frans Nielsen hit Nilsson's pads as they entered the zone.
The second period brought more of the same, starting in the first minute when Connor McDavid was whistled for an "old time hockey" slash on Johnny Boychuk's wrist. This time, the Isles power play succeeded, though not before Greiss bailed them out again with two stops on shorthanded attempts by Benoit Pouliot. Just seconds afterward, the Isles worked the puck well around the umbrella and Okposo snapped a shot in past Cam Talbot's glove to make it 4-0.
Okposo scored again off of a faceoff when Pouliot jobbed Talbot by deflecting a high shot downward and into the net at 6:09 of the period.
The Oilers finally got on the board through a predictable source but on a play even Eric Boulton could finish: Connor McDavid slapped a rebound in under Greiss after the puck landed on his stick following a series of caroms off Islanders body parts just above the crease.
Three minutes later Josh Bailey's skate made it 6-1 after it tithed a piece of Anders Lee's hard shot from the left wing after a nice feed by Nick Leddy. Bailey knew right away and raised his arm. Everyone else, including (it appeared) Lee, needed further review.
And Then, Ugliness
Tavares and Gryba exchange 38 cross checks, both going off. Getting :10 of 3 on 3 here!— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 7, 2016
(It stayed 4-on-4 there with Matt Martin and Zack Kassian already in the box, but you get the idea of the exchange, and the tone of the afternoon from that point onward halfway through the second period. Martin and Gryba would end up fighting early in the third period, with Martin finishing the altercation in a hail of elbow-pad thwaps.)
When Kassian got out of the box, he ran Thomas Hickey immediately with no call. Martin couldn't reasonably catch Kassian so he charged the next Oiler near his position, which happened to be innocent Reinhart minding his own business at the left point. Kassian took several more whacks at Hickey and then Brian Strait stepped in to fight him after the whistle.
In his greatest display of testosterone, Kassian kicked an Islanders glove across the ice and taunted the bench as he was escorted to the penalty box. But the entire exchange garnered roughing, cross-checking and a 10-minute misconduct for Kassian, who has an impressively limited history of doing smart things. The Isles netted a power play from it all because why not.
Clutterbuck scores on a 5 on 2. Couple strong backchecks there from EDM forwards. 7-1 at 16:04 of the 2nd.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 7, 2016
Probably the most annoying thing to happen to you when you're down 6-1 is for Cal Clutterbuck to score and make it seven, through a screen created by Kulemin and Reinhart. (Jordan Eberle and McDavid were two of the "backchecks" in question.)
Martin and Gryba decide to drop the gloves. Martin with about 5 extra shots to the back of Gryba's head -- one for every cross-check on 91.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 7, 2016
Those from the near-capacity crowd who left early for Super Bowl parties or train-catching missed seeing Okposo's hat trick to make it 8-1 with a nifty near post power play goal from the left wing circle with 12:33 left in the game. That power play unit had several chances, despite featuring Clutterbuck, Cizikas and de Haan.
Calvin de Haan skated straight to the locker room late in the second period after getting checked in the back along the boards and landing awkwardly. You fear for his shoulder(s) there, which is what he appeared to favor as he left the ice. He did return for the third period, however, so if there is an injury effect it is likely to be of the "nagging" variety.
A friendly reminder that Nilsson was part of the "package" sent to Chicago in the Nick Leddy trade.
Quotes of the Night
The downside of the isles being up 3-0 after 1 is that my timeline has turned into a Travis Hamonic tradehawk thread— Michael Leboff (@TheBigLeebowski) February 7, 2016
It's tempting to bury the Oilers after a game like this -- and it sure was some enjoyable gawking to read Oilers fans and media tear apart their team when not conceiving Hamonic trade proposals all afternoon. But this one really got away from them thanks to the goaltending, which was tough to watch given Nilsson's history with the Isles.
Still, it's almost unfathomable that it's 2016 and the Oilers are still doing this poorly, still in last place. Sometimes I think Islanders fans are still paying the fan karma mortgage on the ridiculous 19-consecutive-series success of the dynasty years, and most days it seems Oilers fans are doing the same for the dynasty interruptus years that followed.
"The linemen were blocking with shovels."
>>Patrick Flatley, in a 1991 "Heals and Flats" clip shown during intermission, riffing on the CFL Grey Cup and referencing MVP Raghib "Rocket" Ismail
"I've seen LT throw. He just can't throw."
>>Glenn Healy, during the same
"Well I'm not sure I need to see this...hey but look how calm I am there."
>>Butch Goring, when they dug up footage of Butch coaching the Isles against the Oilers in 1999