I knew it, you knew it, they knew it - practically everyone knew that the Islanders needed a win this dreary, rainy Christmas Eve-eve afternoon. They couldn’t lose again. There had to be another way, they said. And it was a blue and orange Festivus miracle, thanks mostly to Mathew Barzal’s feats of strength and Jaroslav Halak’s airing of grievances with his recent play.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | Corsica | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]
Things kicked off pretty quickly after the Islanders, flying out of the gate were granted a power play less than a minute-and-a-half into the game. They made swift use of it, with some pretty passing that lead to Anders Lee’s 22nd tally of the season, and a 1-0 lead less than two minutes in.
And then Barzal went to work. Less than a minute after the Lee goal, Andrew Ladd got the puck behind the Winnipeg net for Jordan Eberle, and his centering pass fooled goalie Steve Mason, who thought it was headed for Scott Mayfield; Barzal took the pass and sent it right through the five-hole.
After allowing another first-career NHL goal, this time to Tucker Poolman (whom I know only from this great tweet), Halak shut the door and allowed the Islanders to pull away. Just before the end of the period, Barzal cruised along the boards behind the net and scored what Arthur Staple termed a “Crosby-esque” goal when he flung it from behind toward net-front traffic, banking it off the skate of Tyler Myers and in. He also avenged the bloody nose he received earlier from a high-stick that somehow wasn’t a four-minute penalty.
If the first was a track meet, this period was a 5K. Both teams played what the coaches call a “safer” game, not taking too many risks. The Jets probably had the better of play, overall, but both teams had their chances that ultimately didn’t go in.
Which is fine, to me, if you’re in the lead. Winnipeg’s shot advantage could probably be chalked up to score effects.
The beginning of the third largely consisted of the Jets’ desperation charge, coming into it down two. Halak continued to stand tall through the first half of the frame, before the Islanders put the game away.
And they did so in fashion. On an almost identical goal as his first of the game, Barzal completed the hat trick by skating into the same spot and converting a pass that Eberle again sent from behind the net - as Barzal said in his first-star’s interview (his line were all three stars), it was like an early Christmas present.
And another Islander got an early gift he so badly needed. Anthony Beauvillier hasn’t had a spectacular sophomore season, to say the least, but in the middle of a change he forced a turnover at the Jets blueline. He and Tavares played a quick game of catch before Beauvillier ripped it past Mason.
Adam Lowry scored for the Jets with less than two minutes left, which served only to irritate Halak. Inconsequential otherwise, and the game ended 5-2.
Thoughts, Feelings, Things of That Nature
As everyone said, the Islanders terribly needed this win going into the holiday break, especially after a mediocre-at-best December. You try not to get up in narratives, but they certainly seemed to respond to everyone’s pleas.
The entire second line was excellent today, and very much deserved the three stars. Barzal had his first career hat trick, and all three goals were beautiful. Ladd assisted on two of them, and Eberle all three.
The Isles’ goaltending has been horrendous of late, to put it mildly. Not today, though. The Jets fired 40 shots on Halak, and he was there for 38 of them.
Winnipeg is a formidable team this year, poised to challenge for the Central Division crown. A 5-2 win - in a day game, no less! - is a lovely holiday gift. And now I don’t have to be angry with them through Christmas, so I am happy, for sure.
As stated, the NHL is taking the next three days off, allowing the players to be home with their families for the holidays. It returns to action Wednesday night, and the Islanders will be a part of the action, hosting the Sabres at 7:00 p.m.
After that, they finish 2017 out west, visiting these same Jets on Friday night and the Avalanche on New Year’s Eve. Until then, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, folks. Enjoy your holiday and post-Isles-win glows.