After playing a strong game but being beaten by a hot goalie Friday night in Winnipeg, the New York Islanders spent New Year’s Eve in Colorado and...well, they didn’t show up, basically.
They were slow to get going — okay, they never got going — but Jaroslav Halak gave them a chance by keeping it to just 1-0 through the first 20 minutes. But the Avalanche blew them up in the second period with four goals, including three in a six-minute stretch that made the third period moot.
Head coach Doug Weight was ejected in the middle of that ugly stretch, apparently having crossed some verbal line with the refereeing crew, although one wouldn’t be surprised if he simply couldn’t tolerate watching another moment of this disaster.
Final score was 6-1, finishing a miserable December of 5-8-2 for the Isles, who are playing in a division that affords little margin for such continued error. And this is a significant stretch for the team, with four more games over the next seven days before their “bye week” of five days between matinees against metro area division rivals.
The next game is in 2018, Tuesday at home versus the Bruins, who handled the Isles pretty easily last meeting.
If you only saw the final score, you perhaps don’t care about how it got to be that way. So I’ll start with impressions of rookie defenseman Sebastian Aho in his first NHL game:
- You can see his mobility, his ability and willingness to use a decently heavy snapshot from the point.
- He can handle the intricacies of manning the right point as a left-handed shot.
- He wasn’t afraid to rush the puck all himself when the opportunity presented during a second period power play.
Continuing life without Calvin de Haan and Johnny Boychuk, the Isles defense as a whole looked a step behind — rough night for Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey, not much better for Scott Mayfield or Adam Pelech. So putting Aho’s positioning in context is tough given everyone had trouble.
First Period: Blame it on the thin air
The Isles didn’t have their legs, their passes were bouncing, and they were losing pucks and their footing. I would swear the ice was pretty bad the way the puck was simply popping off of blades and skaters were falling. The first Avalanche goal came on a typical play: Sure- and fleet-footed Mathew Barzal simply lost an edge in the neutral zone, coughing up the puck.
The Avs pounced on the counter-attack and converted a pretty back-and-forth passing play as a “Welcome to the NHL” moment on rookie Isles defenseman Sebastian Aho in his NHL debut. Patrick Nemeth was the finisher after Sven Andrighetto and Alexander Kerfoot played catch with the puck down the left wing.
Colorado outshot the Isles 12-8 in the period, a margin that would look downright competitive 20 minutes later. A late Avs power play threatened to double their lead, but they were content to wait till the second period to do that, with an old friend doing much of the work.
Second Period: No better
There was about a nine-minute stretch bridging the first and second periods where the Islanders failed to register a single shot on goal. Halak was keeping things close, however, but they disrespected that work by allowing a series of golden chances leading up to the second Avalanche goal.
The Colorado line of ex-Isle Blake Comeau, Matt Nieto and Carl Soderberg absolutely buzzed the Isles zone and forced one, two, three excellent saves from Halak. But that line kept up the pressure and enjoyed a fortunate bounce — a Nieto pass for Comeau redirected off Ryan Pulock’s skate and into the net — that might’ve otherwise been an easy tap-in for Comeau anyway.
The Avalanche came in having killed off their past 30 shorthanded situations, a stretch of 10 games, and the Islanders’ first opportunity in the first period was easily killed. Their second power play, in the middle period, was better, as the Islanders held possession in the Colorado zone for most of the two minutes. But the Avs were tenacious and smart in preventing second chances from rebounds and getting sticks on dangerous passes to kill it off.
Then the Avalanche second line struck again, with Soderberg simply outworking everyone with a wraparound attempt that he continued across the crease as he fell to his knees, then picked himself up to collect and thread a backhand rebound past Halak’s near post.
It was still 3-0 with a little over four minutes left in the period when the Comeau-Soderberg line had another stint of pressure that ended up with Soderberg drawing a fishy penalty on Adam Pelech as they both battled for position.
The Avs power play worked the puck well, and Gabriel Landeskog finished a rebound to make it 4-0 as the second intermission approached...but wait, there’s more!
Weight was then called for a penalty and tossed from the game for apparently giving the officials too large a piece of his mind. I don’t know what he said, but the announcing crew called the referee furious. The refs were not having a good night, but of course that had little to do with why the Isles were having a terrible night.
If I had to guess — no, not even guess, rather project my own frustration — I’d imagine Weight joking about how Hickey couldn’t touch Landeskog in front of the net there because Pelech was just penalized for doing the same. He will probably explain while the rest of us are washing this forgettable game away.
Anyway, Barzal served the bench minor, and during the kill Scott Mayfield was penalized for crosschecking Nathan MacKinnon from behind. Landeskog scored on the 5-on-3 to make it 5-0, which is how things stood entering the third period.
Attempts in the second were 36-15 and SOG were 23-7.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 1, 2018
(As in the high-event “fun” and sometimes “good” style, per the hockey viz charts — as opposed to “dull” and “bad” — the Isles have played under Weight. Some nights it’s a glorious creation and other nights it’s a horrible mess.)
Third Period: [insert text here]
[Subject, verb, pithy adjectives for misery go here]
Lines have been shuffled. I'll spare you the details.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 1, 2018
I’m sure things happened in the third period, but do you really care? As far as I could tell, no one got hurt. Thomas Greiss was brought on in a mercy pull for Halak, who faced 35 shots in his 40 minutes. So at least Greiss got some reps (and conceded a goal on an overanticipation). Josh Bailey extended his career-high point streak to 11 and broke Jonathan Bernier’s shutout bid with about seven minutes left.
But Anyway...Thank You
So have a Happy New Year, and thanks for alternately enjoying and enduring the Isles with us here at Lighthouse Hockey: Where we have never (personally) ruined your New Year’s Eve.