It was a sleepy, uninspiring affair from both sides, but the New York Islanders somehow escape Vancouver with a 3-2 victory over the Canucks to extend their record to 4-1 on this seven-game stretch away from home. It didn't really make sense because cruel, thin-margin hockey so often doesn't make sense.
For the second (and arguably third) consecutive game the Islanders were lethargic out West and the Jack Capuano line blender was in full effect to shake them up. Again the shakeup did not seem to spark them, but unlike in Edmonton they held on, finally, to a one-goal lead in the third period.
Of course, even that required two tries, as the Isles entered the third with a 2-1 lead. But two minutes after Henrik Sedin tied it 2-2 at 10:52, Thomas Hickey's looper from the point bounced past Jacob Markstrom for what held up as the game winner.
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The addition of newcomer Shane Prince -- initially on the top line -- and the return of Calvin de Haan didn't jolt the Isles awake. They had all of two shots in the first period and nine more in the second. (The Canucks had a whopping six shots in the period, and total attempts for both side were just over 10 each. If you stayed up late for this, apologies.)
Prince played 13:07 in his debut, but his initial spot on the top line disappeared as Capuano mixed things up frequently to find, something, anything to get the team going. Hard to learn much from his debut after a full-team sleepwalk.
Goals: Bounces are Us
Travis Hamonic scored on the Islanders' first shot of the game, thanks to the puck deflecting in off Dan Hamhuis. Yet another too many men penalty led to Linden Vey cashing in on the power play to tie it at 1-1.
Anders Lee's go-ahead goal late in the second period was even more fortuitous than Hamonic's. Lee redirected it nicely, but away from the net where it deflected in, just barely, off Ben Hutton's skate at the top of the crease. Jiggs McDonald was one of the few who realized right away it was a goal, and it required video review to confirm.
There were three power plays in the entire game -- one for the Isles, two for the Canucks, the second which came after an ugly giveaway by Brock Nelson, who had a terrible night even by the rest of tonight's lineup's standard.
Kulemin takes Nelson's spot with Lee and Tavares. Nelson might get his spot taken the whole game on Thursday. Brutal night for him.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 2, 2016
Other than many of Greiss' 31 saves, the other most eventful things were the flare-ups and fights in the second period that began after Emerson Etem threw a high hit on Calvin de Haan which Hamonic rightly took exception to. That led to a fight between Hamonic and Etem, and another a few minutes later between Matt Martin and Derek Dorsett before things settled down back to sleep.
29-91-27 was out earlier, now it's 11-18-86.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 2, 2016
Capuano said something earlier in the day, reported in this Newsday story on Prince and the Isles' overall status as the fourth quarter begins, that did not improve last night:
"We’ve got some bodies here now and we have to compete hard here," Capuano said. "I think we need to possess the puck a little more. We’re around 50, 51 percent (in Corsi for percentage), we’re about (15th) in the league there. We need to be better than that."
But even with the changes on Tuesday, this is still primarily the same team that’s been good, but not consistent enough, through 60 games.
He can't have come away from this one pleased at what he saw.
I'm glad Jack Capuano is concerned about the Islanders' corsi. Maybe he can explain the concept to his players during the intermission.— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) March 2, 2016
Funny thing, they were better in the third period, and both teams actually mounted shots -- the Canucks logged 14 to the Isles 13 as they chased an equalizer -- but this was far from a case where a team took control in the third. They got the lucky bounce, their third of the game, and it made the difference.
Hickey's goal was his second of the trip after he scored in his hometown visit to Calgary, another game the Isles were a little lucky to win...
Second time in a week pic.twitter.com/BZVrPnovwH— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) March 2, 2016
...but it almost didn't stand up as the winner. With just under two minutes to go, Fortune very nearly turned against the Isles to help the Canucks tie the game one more time.
A Henrik Sedin volley from the left wing boards went straight up to hit Johnny Boychuk in the face. Bocyhuk went down immediately, kicked his feet a bit, and play was whistled dead though the puck had bounced out high in the zone to where Kyle Okposo would have taken it out and had a great chance at the empty net with John Tavares, who was breaking out with him.
Off the ensuing faceoff the Canucks then proceeded to keep the puck in for well over a minute and a half of opportunities that required saves from Greiss and tireless work from the increasingly desperate Isles skaters. It was frankly terrifying, and all the way down to 0:03 on the clock it looked like that twist of fate would cost them the regulation win.
But Greiss held firm as players like Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic kept their legs, somehow.
After 61 games, the win brings the Isles back to within five points of the Metro's second place Rangers with two games in hand. With rosters expanded after the deadline and a few extra bodies healthy, we'll see what lineup and combos feature Thursday in Winnipeg.
Greiss flies First Class to Winnipeg. The rest of you in baggage.— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) March 2, 2016
Johnny Boychuk took that shot right in the mouth. Still came back out to finish game. "Can't get any uglier."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 2, 2016
Okay, Greiss and Boychuk. (And Nielsen. Always Nielsen.)