The Islanders came into tonight’s contest in Manhattan without having seen Ryan Pulock, without having scored a power play goal, and without getting Mat Barzal a goal. A game against the Rangers is the perfect way to achieve these targets.
The Islanders were awarded an early power play thanks to Chris Kreider, who probably couldn’t control the unprecedented size and speed he possesses enough to not take a hooking penalty. Pulock, the former first round pick known for his offensive ability and booming shot, was planted in the Ovechkin Hole at the left faceoff dot. One of two key puck retrievals during the man advantage, he grabbed a shot turned aside by Henrik Lundqvist and sent the puck around the end boards to John Tavares. His soft pass made it all the way across the ice - with a little help from Jordan Eberle’s stick - to Pulock, who let go a shot-pass type thing in Lundqvist’s direction. Anders Lee, in the Anders Lee Hole in front of the net, put away the loose puck. Exhale.
The Rangers would get even around the 5:00 mark. They won a draw in the Isles’ zone, and new enemy Kevin Shattenkirk’s point shot was tipped by other new enemy David Desharnais for a tally to tie it.
The tie would only last about a minute, after Adam Cracknell was picked off by Andrew Ladd behind the Rangers goal line. The ensuing pressure involved a bit of chaos, but Brock Nelson found his way to open ice and fired one of his patented, glorious wristers past Lundqvist.
Mathew Barzal, playing the ninth game of his career, scored his first NHL goal and it came on the road at the Garden. Doesn’t get much sweeter than that as an Islander, except that his goal was a beauty. He flew down the left side and held off Rick Nash, an underrated defender, as he swiftly cut toward Lundqvist and snuck one under the Ranger netminder. It was one Lundqvist would probably like back, but not one that the kid is giving back any time soon.
The Islanders continued to buzz for a hefty portion of the period before the Blueshirts came back to life, but Halak stood tall as he tends to do in this building.
A goal would be scored early in the period once again, but not for the good guys. A two-on-one seemed to be broken when Lee intercepted the pass of Brendan Smith, but in attempting to clear, he gave it right to Mats Zuccarello, who wasn’t missing that open net.
The Rangers mostly picked up where they left off at the end of the second, and the Islanders struggled to hold them off early. Halak was forced to stave off an onslaught of shots and second shots, as well as a few odd-man rushes, including a dangerous opportunity that resulted in successive chances for Pavel Buchnevich and old pal Michael Grabner. In fact, Smith thought he had scored the game-tying goal, only to have it called back by the War Room because he played hackey sack with the puck.
But hey, nice to have some bounces go the right way.
Folks, I gotta take the blame on this one. Right as I typed the previous, stricken sentence, Kevin Hayes easily got around Ladd and slipped a no-angle shot short-side past Halak. It was an unlucky goal, but an ugly one nonetheless, and I apologize for my actions.
Both teams’ subsequent timidness indicated this game was headed to overtime, but Josh Bailey did his best to try to avoid it, dancing around Shattenkirk and nearly beating Lundqvist on both the initial shot and his own rebound as time expired.
Overtime & Shootout
The Rangers definitely had most of the offensive chances while the teams skated three aside, but they took a too-many-men penalty with 1:19 to go, giving the Islanders a 4-on-3 power play. They sent out Tavares, Lee, Pulock, and Barzal, and while they controlled the zone for the most part, they didn’t really threaten much, sending this one to the shootout.
The Rangers chose to shoot first, sending out Zuccarello. His shot appeared to be somewhere within Halak’s equipment until it trickled over the goal line. Luckily, Eberle recorded his first shootout goal as an Islander and Tavares flipped an absolutely sexy backhand over Lundqvist to combine with Halak denying Mika Zibanejad and Desharnais.
Good & Bad
Pulock got a couple of 5-on-5 shifts, but played mostly as power play specialist. Hopefully, the coaching staff’s confidence in him grows more to expand his role. Only issue is that Adam Pelech seems cemented into the lineup. While it’s pretty obvious to most of us that Pelech should be above only Dennis Seidenberg on the depth chart, he seems to erroneously be above both Pulock and Scott Mayfield, who has also been very effective. Between the coaching staff’s use of him and the fact they protected him in expansion, it seems he’s here to stay.
Halak wasn’t his usual dominant self at MSG, but he did well enough to keep the Islanders from falling behind during the Rangers’ attack.
Aside from his first career goal, Barzal was all over the ice in the first two periods, and nearly had his second not long after his first.
They’ve probably been home since Sunday or Monday, but this game ended the Isles’ four-game road trip, and they’ll host the Sharks on Saturday night to finish out that season series extremely early on.