The teams traded leads throughout another high-scoring affair, and Florida survived a mid-game injury to Roberto Luongo to at least get a regulation point. Despite James Reimer’s performance in relief, the sight of Luongo’s injury has to have them concerned about goaltending just as they had started to inch back toward the bubble after an awful start to the season.
The Isles needed these two points: They play again tomorrow against the Lightning as part of a four-game road trip.
First Period: Just Getting Started
After a feeling out period the Panthers struck first on a turnover and miscue by the Islanders in their zone. Nick Leddy tried the interior pass from behind his goal line, but Johnny Boychuk wasn’t looking for it and Josh Bailey couldn’t reach it, so it ended up on the stick of a grateful Keith Yandle, who beat Jaroslav Halak high glove side.
That came at the midway point of the period, but it took the Islanders under four minutes to equalize.
Calvin de Haan completed an exchange with Bailey and Adam Pelech at the blueline by sending an intentionally wide shot to force a friendly carom off the end boards. Anders Lee was the beneficiary for his 100th NHL goal.
Lee didn’t have to do much with it other than hold position and corral the puck for a shot on the ice and through Luongo’s legs. The former Islander (wasted by Milbury) would no doubt want that one back, if only he had a chance of seeing it through his two defensemen.
The first hint of testiness came when Mike Matheson dumped Mathew Barzal from behind. Matheson had lost his stick and gave Barzal a poorly timed shove in the back as Barzal received the puck behind the Panthers goal. Andrew Ladd took exception and was going in for the freight train hit, but the whistle blew before his arrival to send Matheson off for boarding.
It was a poor hit but not malicious; Barzal landed awkwardly but protected himself well. Penalty fit the crime.
Second Period: Luongo goes down, Isles get testy
The sorriest sight of the night was Roberto Luongo, who turns 39 in April yes is sporting a .928 save percentage through 14 games, stretching to his right for a routine save and then freezing in obvious pain. Play was whistled to a stop after the puck left the Panthers zone, and Luongo spent a considerable time lying on the ice as trainers tended to him. They would end up needing to help him off, with him putting no weight on his right leg.
Getting old sucks. And then it takes out your favorite players too.
Just as it was occurring to me that the Brock Nelson-Joshua Ho-Sang combo was having a much better night (now with Anthony Beauvillier instead of Alan Quine), and just as Brendan Burke was mentioning the same on the MSG broadcast, that line’s good sustained pressure resulted in the go-ahead goal.
It was scored by Game 3 Overtime Hero Thomas Hickey, with a fortunate bounce over the equipment of the still-cold James Reimer, but as they say no shot is a bad shot, and that shot isn’t possible without that maligned line hemming the Panthers in.
Somehow, the officials saw fit to hand the Panthers the equalizer on a platter. A warranted slashing call on Jordan Eberle was followed up by an inexplicable solo penalty on Cal Clutterbuck during a scrum between him, Beauvillier, Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck. HIlariously, the ref is seen motioning a penalty on Clutterbuck’s headlock right as Ekblad does the same with Thomas Hickey right behind him.
The Isles survived the 53-second two-man disadvantage, but only barely, as Eberle was coming out of the box when Ekblad scored from the left wing faceoff circle.
Soon after, the Panthers were handed another favor: As three Panthers stormed Ladd after a Reimer freeze, with no penalty, Clutterbuck lost his head on the bench and was given a 10-minute misconduct and a two-minute minor for calling them out with some unsportsmanlike language. (Doug Weight got away with such language after the 5-on-3 call; but Clutterbuck added some I’m-going-to-leap-over-the-boards-and-get-you body language that’s not cool man, not cool.)
Aleksander Barkov scored 50 seconds into that power play, on a nice shot inside the post from distance, but one Halak maybe should have been better positioned to glove.
Missing a forward and having to adjust the rotation on the wing, the Islanders responded well. Brock Nelson tied it at 3-3 after a rush from their zone begun by a Jason Chimera chip out of the zone and finished with a Ho-Sang zone entry and pass through the slot to Nelson, who slotted home his first goal in an eternity*.
*Okay, his first goal in seven games and second in 16.
Having escaped their penalty-induced peril, the Islanders weren’t done. Two minutes after Nelson’s tying goal, John Tavares gave them a 4-3 lead going into the second intermission. It was, shall we say, a low degree of difficulty shot from a high probability area:
But to keep that lead all the way into the third, the Isles needed a few good saves from Halak as time wound down, a preview of things to come in the final frame.
Third Period: Pond Hockey
The third period began as a free wheeler. Clutterbuck emerged from his punishment when his 10-minute misconduct expired 44 seconds into the period. Someone named Denis Malgin (cool story, actually: Swiss-born with his father playing in Europe) tied it back up after a fail in the corner and a mix-up in coverage by Mathew Barzal left Malgin wide open.
That came 5:08 into the period, and the teams trade chances and periods of pressure back and forth for the next five minutes.
Then things slowed down a little bit, as is common and expected for two teams seeing the promise of a regulation point come ever closer to reality.
Overtime + Shootout
In 3-on-3, where the Isles had the best chances and Reimer made two big saves on Barzal:
- Tavares and Leddy missed a few connections with Bailey.
- Barzal created some theater with his “merry-go-round” rushes, as Butch Goring calls them, but Reimer stopped him with a sharp glove save.
- Ho-Sang used his speed to create looks too, and went long for a chance that Matheson went the length of the ice to break up after he nearly scored himself. (Reimer then tripped Ho-Sang on the play, but we’re not calling things in 3-on-3 unless they relate to a scoring chance.)
- Barzal was robbed again after another good rush across the front of the net; Barzal just couldn’t get his shot up, but regardless Reimer earned his time in relieving Luongo. Foreshadowing: But Barzal would have one more chance to win the game...
That brought us to the shootout, which looks even more of spectator let-down after the high-octane chaos of 3-on-3 OT.
Eberle was stopped and Tavares outright fell before returning to his feet to at least force a glove save from Reimer. Halak waited out moves by Trochek and Barkov.
Then in his first career shootout attempt, Barzal converted on a high backhand of judgment-style deke before Halak stuffed Huberdeau on a forehand move to seal the extra point and victory.
Quote(s) of the Night
Even by his entertaining standards, it was a great post-game media scrum with Weight, who admitted his fire after the bad calls got the players to worked up. He had praise for the third line and emphasized confidence. That struggling trio needs to play confident in their abilities and decision-making.
“Come on you know my answers are long, Shannon, I’ll get to everything eventually.”
—Weight ribbing MSG’s Shannong Hogan after her followup interrupted his soliloquay
Weight on Clutterbuck: "It's not a good penalty, but let's just say I gave him a get-out-of-jail-free card. I was PO'd, I got everybody revved up on the bench. He and I will have a little serenity session on the plane and we'll be better."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 5, 2017
- Maybe I’m just too sappy, but I’m pretty bummed by Luongo’s injury. Maybe mostly because it looked like a fairly serious one, and I feel like every missed month is lost precious time as his career winds down.
- Clutterbuck was aggressive but totally forgivable on the action that put the Isles short for a 5-on-3. He was defending Beauvillier, and he received everything he gave. Not so on his misconduct. He was livid, and showed it too much. Let Weight handle the calling-the-refs-out stuff; he does it really well.
- Quietly good game from Ho-Sang, who continues to adjust his game to make smart decisions to use his speed to cover the back end, and slick short moves to create space for his linemates on the rush. Still want him to shoot more, but he’s progressing.
- Halak didn’t have any stinkers, but a couple goals he perhaps he should have stopped. More concerning were some of the close calls that didn’t go in but easily could have. Still, he faced 43 freaking shots. (The Isles only registered 32.)
It’s a four-game road stretch here, including tomorrow night in Tampa. The Islanders won there last time but one suspects it will be an even tougher test this time around. That’s followd by visits to Pittsburgh on Thursday and Boston on Saturday.