The New York Islanders began their marathon nine-game road trip on the right note with a 3-1 win over the Red Wings in their last visit to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
But as with several recent wins, to steal Doug Weight’s phrase “it was no Rembrandt.”
It was a sloppy game for both sides -- a disturbing final game before the Wings’ bye week for them -- though the Isles were smart and cagey in gaining and regaining a lead, then protecting it with comfort for the final 20 minutes. Not so comfortable were injuries to Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck that caused them to leave the game before the third period.
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First Period: What’s This?!
For a change, the Islanders actually scored first, ending a string of seven consecutive games where they conceded the first goal.
But it was most certainly a gift: Petr Mrazek had too much time and too many options to play the puck behind his net, and Josh Bailey baited him perfectly. Bailey intercepted in the right wing circle, took the puck in front, and patiently waited out both Mrazek’s desperation lunge and Anders Lee’s attempt to jump out of the way in front.
So, a gift but still a fantastic play and finish from Bailey, with some extra credit to Lee for being a good distraction and not blocking his teammate’s shot.
Another look at Josh Bailey's goal that put the #Isles on the board. #NYIvsDET pic.twitter.com/XdAmLpD4Tm— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 22, 2017
The Wings later tied it in the cruelest fashion: With the Isles running around in their own end in the final minute, a delayed penalty was called and Mrazek yanked from the net. The Isles got a piece of the puck with a couple seconds left to draw a whistle — though sometimes they let that touch go to keep play alive — and the Wings began their power play with an offensive zone faceoff.
They made it pay off. Frans Nielsen won the faceoff, Thomas Vanek passed it across to Henrik Zetterberg, and Zetterberg sniped the corner over Thomas Greiss’ shoulder with just 0.1 seconds left on the clock.
Second Period: Taking it Back
The Isles did not let that deflating end to the first period linger.
It helped that the bounces — four of them — went their way to regain the lead on a power play 10:46 into the second period. Calvin de Haan was the beneficiary as his shot from the point was stopped by Mraze, bounced around off Xavier Ouellet and again off Mrazek before arcing into the net.
Soon after the Isles had a great chance to extend their lead when Darren Helm was called for a four-minute high-sticking that drew blood from Johnny Boychuk. But they wasted that, and then some.
Alarmingly passive power play and board work made for easy clears, and then three Isles checked off to watch Frans Nielsen — he’s kind of good in these situations — pounce on a loose puck in the neutral zone and just miss a shorthanded goal when the puck wouldn’t settle for his backhand.
They were probably hard done by when Anders Lee was called for tripping after a tangled scrum along the boards, but karma dictated they lose the rest of their power play anyway. Still, it got worse as the Isles were completely outplayed, outhustled, and totally out of their element on the four-on-four.
Basically, they were handed a four-minute power play and instead of taking a 3-1 lead were lucky to escape it without being tied 2-2.
Tavares has played with everyone but David Volek tonight.— Brian Compton (@BComptonNHL) February 22, 2017
They recovered after that, however, and John Tavares forced a ridiculous paddle save from Mrazek to keep the deficit at 2-1. They’d have to recover further, killing a late power play after Frans Nielsen was tripped by...a linesman. Josh Bailey took the blame.
Nielsen tripped over the linesman. Nevertheless.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 22, 2017
Third Period: Putting it Away
An early goal made the final 20 minutes fairly comfortable.
Josh Bailey again featured in the scoring, and again showed longtime skeptics that you know maybe he just might be a good player, when he leaped to catch a puck with his glove at the blueline, take it in across the slot, look off Anders Lee and then send it to Tavares for a one-timer into the top corner.
Bailey sets it up. @91Tavares knocks it down. #Isles pic.twitter.com/tRm391Ktqo— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 22, 2017
His 29th assist of the season ties a career high for Bailey.
The Wings challenged the goal, as it extended the lead to 3-1 with just over 16 minutes left. But a quick video review found Bailey’s move to be a, heh, onside catch.
The Islanders gave the Wings one more decent chance to get back into the game, after Lee took a goalie interference penalty when he and Mrazek met at high speed just above the crease. But what followed was a frankly ugly Detroit power play with little threat.
The Wings pulled Mrazek for a sixth attacker with about two minutes left, but the Wings had lost their timeout with the unsuccessful challenge to Tavares’ goal.
Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Boychuk Next to Be Banged Up
Two minutes after the Tavares goal, some bad news: Johnny Boychuk took a shot from the point right off the ankle, and fell to the ice immediately.
Boychuk would return a few minutes later, shaking off worries of a broken bone. But two forwards would not return.
Cal Clutterbuck, in his first game back after missing most of the last dozen, left the game and you worry it was yet another re-aggravation of what’s been nagging him for more than a month.
Also leaving the game was Casey Cizikas, who took a blatant slash to the wrist as he carried the puck in the second period, with nothing but silence from the refs.
Next Up: More Road, More, More Road
So the road trip is split into thirds: The first third is in the East, before a four-day break including the NHL trade deadline. The Isles go next to Montreal on Thursday and Columbus on Saturday.