Hockey being hockey with its quirky gods, you’d think that would amount to a close loss.
Not so Saturday, as the Islanders rode a pair of goals from Anders Lee, a highlight reel conversion from Josh Bailey and a three-point night from John Tavares to overcome Logan Couture’s hat trick in a 5-3 win.
Thomas Greiss, who starred in San Jose, was strong again tonight with 28 saves, including 15 in the third period.
Lineup Intrigue (Again and Always)
The Islanders went with the unconventional 11 forward, 7 defensemen setup again, though this time Dennis Seidenberg slotted in for a “banged up” Scott Mayfield. That meant Ryan Pulock again received primary power play time, and also Adam Pelech received time on the second unit. This time Pulock got some more even strength time (7:46, and still a team-low 9:23 overall) next to Thomas Hickey, Mayfield’s recent regular partner.
Up front, Anthony Beauvillier stepped into the lineup after a three-game absence, making Joshua Ho-Sang a healthy scratch. It feels like Doug Weight is doing this 11-forward thing to force a constant mix of line combos, perhaps to command focus from his players or divine combos that have chemistry or both. But the first line remained intact and Beauvillier saw a lot of time with Josh Bailey and Mathew Barzal.
Before the game, we heard this:
Weight said the positive of 11/7 is creating some internal competition among the forwards for the extra minutes. If penalties become prevalent and Weight feels the team needs some regularity, Thomas Hickey may see some time at forward.
After the game, we heard this from Weight:
“I think we did a great job, for the most part, of getting pucks in to speed and creating a forecheck that was knowledgeable but had pace to it. We played on our toes, we were aggressive, I liked our game. I thought the first period was our best period of the year.”
First Period: Action but emptiness
It was indeed a solid first period for the Islanders — probably better than any 20-minute stretch they had last week in San Jose — but they didn’t cash in their opportunities and the power play, though better, was still unconvincing.
To finish the only extra-man opportunity of a scoreless first period, Bailey committed a near-the-blueline mistake that you and the Sharks could see coming a mile away. He was forced into a tight spot to keep the puck in and try to generate another chance, but the Sharks pounced and created an unsuccessful 3-on-1 against Pelech.
Second Period: Action and results
The second period rained goals.
Logan Couture opened things with a high-slot deflection at 6:26 on the power play. The Islanders answered just over a minute later when Anders Lee converted a Nick Leddy pass from behind the net after Leddy walked the defense, lost the puck briefly, but retrieved to feed Lee in his office.
Then 58 second after Lee tied, Bailey did one of those things that make his incessant haters say “Yes, but but...”
Although to be fair to the masses, we’ve never seen him quite do that before, taking the turnover, embarrassing Joe Pavelski and continuing a series of indescribable moves and finishing with a between-the-legs Hertl touch to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.
But in continuing the second-period pattern that game score did not last long. A little over four minutes later, Couture finished a 2-on-2 by simply ripping a snapshot from the circle past Greiss.
The Sharks then got an opportunity to take the lead after the Islanders’ first faceoff violation “delay of game” penalty under this new regime. Mathew Barzal was thrown out for jumping the draw with his stick, then Beauvillier was sanctioned for doing the same.
But the Isles survived that one, and a Seidenberg olé immediately after, to reach the second intermission still tied 2-2.
Third Period: Pulling Away
The Isles retook the lead just over three minutes into the third. Barzal drew Aaron Dell out of his net and spun around to the left of his cage but couldn’t unleash a shot. He circled the net with a bobbling puck, however, and found Andrew Ladd in the slot for a one-timer past a still discombobulated Dell.
They then had to kill another Sharks power play, and slog through another shotless one of their own, before Anders Lee gave them insurance of a mesmerizing 2-on-1 feed by John Tavares. The goal was Lee’s fifth on the season, taking over the team lead from Brock Nelson.
Lee’s headshake afterward was hilarious, kind of “Man seriously, I don’t know what that was you just did, but thank you, thank you for not embarrassing me.”
That insurance goal ended up proving huge. With Dell pulled for a sixth attacker before the 18:00 mark, Couture completed his hat trick with fortunate bounce while battling in front of Greiss with Hickey and Seidenberg.
Fortunately Tavares and Lee eased the tension once again, Lee battling to make the puck available high along the boards in the Isles zone, and Tavares finishing the job by winning the puck and sending it into the empty net from his own blueline, all basically in one move.
Alumni in the House
You may have noticed John Ledecky had several alumni in town for festivities this week, and it looked like even more were on the ice for game-opening festivities, plus in-game interviews and more.
Good to see, though there were only 11,877 announced fans joining them on a Saturday night. (Someone told me there was some kind of significant baseball game going on? ::shrugs::)
On the broadcast they talked to Mark Parrish, Steve Thomas and Mick Vukota among others. Vukota had a long discussion about the glory days and of course his famously unlikely hat trick, which gave us this gem:
Vukota says teammates saved his hat trick puck for him, but cut it square, said that was from him handling it.— Rookie Example (@KeithLHHockey) October 21, 2017