The New York Islanders rode an early lead off some soft Washington Capitals defense and a strong night from Jaroslav Halak to secure a 3-1 regulation win over their Metro rivals in Brooklyn.
The Islanders offense was flying early, and caught the Capitals defense sleeping the second period to build a 3-0 lead within the first two minutes of the middle frame. Halak helped keep things comfortable through that middle frame, and the Capitals wouldn’t get on the board until halfway through the third.
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Aside from a few scary Capitals rushes, it was a pretty good opening period for the Islanders, who broke out well and generated series of shot attempts and pressure in the Capitals end.
They got the opening goal just 2:36 into the game through an unlikely sequence on a bad Capitals line change: Jason Chimera tracked the puck along the right wing boards and made a nifty pass to Cal Clutterbuck, who was all alone in the low part of the faceoff circle. Clutterbuck’s shot was easily but carelessly turned aside by Braden Holtby, right to the stick of an uncovered Brock Nelson.
Nelson made a move and then almost looked like he was in between moves when he slid the puck off the inside of Holtby’s pad and in. I wouldn’t doubt both shooter and goalie did not handle that encounter the way their synapses intended.
Fifteen minutes later, and for only a moment, the Isles thought they had a 2-0 lead when Anders Lee had a goal waived off for goaltender interference. It looked a little sketchy live — Holtby stretched to make a pad save, and Lee jammed at the rebound against Holtby’s pad — which is why the officials took a while to confer and issue a “no goal” ruling on the ice after first calling it a goal. There was no question that the puck went over the line and that it got there by virtue of Lee’s stick, but there was question whether his stick pushed Braden Holtby’s leg over the line in the process.
John Tavares had made a nice play to spring Scott Mayfield, whose heads-up pass to the back door might have caught Lee a little by surprise.
I don't know what a catch is anymore #Isles pic.twitter.com/RgoFV9c01b— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) December 12, 2017
The Islanders challenged the call, and were denied after a fairly lengthy video review. One overhead angle made it look possible that Holtby’s leg went over the line as part of his natural movement to bring his torso over to try to cover the puck, but that’s likely a stretch and in any case wasn’t going to be enough to overturn the call on the ice.
If you’re angry, the league’s explanation was straightforward: Rule 78.5(ix) says a goal should be disallowed when a goalie is pushed into the net together with the puck after making a save.
That kept things at 1-0 at the first intermission.
It only took 34 seconds and one rush for the Isles to get their 2-0 lead back. Mathew Barzal gained the line and saucered a short pass to Jordan Eberle, who dropped for Barzal, but Barzal deferred to Calvin de Haan who was in better position.
de Haan carried into the corner and found Andrew Ladd on the doorstep, where Ladd was able to tap it in under insufficient coverage by Nicklas Backstrom.
Perfect pass here from @cal_dehaan. @aladd16 does rest! #Isles pic.twitter.com/QBwjHMwuCB— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 12, 2017
Just 58 seconds later, the Isles took advantage of lethargic Capitals defense again to extend the lead to 3-0.
Josh Bailey, Tavares and Lee sycled in the right wing corner until Bailey had an open look from the right wing circle. He faked a shot and found Tavares circling around the other end of the net, where he settled and scored past a diving Holtby.
O captain, my captain! #Isles up 3-0! #LGI #WSHvsNYI pic.twitter.com/8l4ZktcGg6— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 12, 2017
That brought a goalie change, with Holtby yanked for Philipp Grubauer.
The Isles then survived the first Capitals power play of the night, and Barzal did his mesmerize-the-opponent-and-the-crowd act to draw the Capitals’ first penalty.
The power play didn’t convert, but it carried over to extended pressure in the Capitals zone afterward, with Lee doing his best Barzal impression spinning this way and that to retain possession around the Capitals zone. Things were quiet until another penalty drawn by Barzal — his 17th drawn of the year — but again the Islanders power play fell short.
That Capitals outshot the Isles 15-10 in the period — and but for Halak, they could’ve chipped away at the Islanders’ lead. But the only goals came from Capital defensive lapses in the first two minutes.
That left things at the comfortable-yet-dangerous 3-0 lead heading into the third period: You think the game is in the bag with 20 minutes to go, yet all it takes is one slip to make things uncomfortable...
Halfway through the third, the Capitals got that glimmer of daylight when Chandler Stephenson set up Dmitri Orlov on a two-on-one rush. The Isles top line and a mixed D pair had a miscommunication, with Pulock taking a man in the neutral zone without back support from the forwards. That made it an odd-man rush with Dennis Seidenberg left to play the pass...but he turned and played shot. Stephenson set it on a tee for Orlov, a no-doubt one-timer.
The Capitals pulled Grubauer with over two minutes remaining, but offered little threat. Casey Cizikas had one of his “the shift”s in the Caps zone to burn plenty of time, if not add an insurance goal.
After a bumpy road trip, once again the Isles dodge their first consecutive regulation losses of the season. That’s a nice pattern to keep alive.
Next on the schedule is the still good but no longer high flying Dallas Stars, who are quite a bit less entertaining under Ken Hitchcock than they were under Lindy Ruff. Still dangerous though. They visit Brooklyn on Wednesday.