The New York Islanders started their road trip off right with the comprehensive effort they’ve been so desperately lacking, dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 in front of an easily quieted home crowd.
Ryan Pulock had a night to remember with a goal and four assists, but all Islanders lines and defensive pairs had their fun. Eleven different Islanders had points.
The Hawks had beaten the Islanders five consecutive times over the last few seasons, so that combined with recent blue and orange form left a sense of doom hanging throughout the night.
But...the Isles played well. Really, truly well.
Maybe it’s less impressive because these aren’t the same Blackhawks of the post-2000s tanking era, and they’ve been struggling nearly as badly as the Isles, and they were coming off their bye. The Hawks were bad tonight, and the Isles pounced.
There was an assertive confidence on offense, something we’ve seen lots of this season, but not in recent weeks outside of the Rangers thumping. There was also extra-effort commitment on defense, with players swooping into prevent or short-circuit would-be golden Hawks chances.
Fritz has blocked a couple shots up high tonight. Told me this AM felt he was doing too much watching first couple games, wants to make the most of his time here. Putting out some energy tonight -- or "teh gritz," as you kids like to call it.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 21, 2018
Jaroslav Halak helped keep things calm as he faced his usual barrage of shots, though a barrage of lower volume than what the Isles were directing at Anton Forsberg, and later Jeff Glass.
First Period: Well this is highly irregular
Patrick Kane scored a minute into the game on a rush eluding the Barzal line, and you thought, “Yep, it’s on.”
But then the Islanders had an early power play and...scored? Yes, they scored. The second unit, with just a quarter of a minute left to go. Sebastian Aho set up Ryan Pulock for a one-timer, Brock Nelson had some stabs at the rebound, and Anthony Beauvillier swung by to finally deposit it past Forsberg.
It got weird again when Jordan Eberle made a great retrieval in front after a Pulock shot was deflected. Eberle pulled the puck to the side of the crease and sent it over a sprawled Forsberg.
Nelson and Ross Johnston — Ross Johnston!? — then had a chance to make it 3-1 as they chased a rebound on a rush led by Alan Quine. Forsberg stopped it to put it out of Nelson’s reach but Johnston was there as the third man. Backhand try. Changeup. No dice.
Anders Lee then had his chance to make it 3-1 with one of his in-office backhands, but he rang off the post. (It’s okay. He’d have a better chance later.)
There were more chances, too, including a few more on a second power play and then a golden chance for Ryan Pulock when the Blackhawks red sea parted to allow him an unfettered path to the net with a bonus screen to boot. He roofed it for a 3-1 lead with just a minute left in the period.
All told, the Isles outshot the home team 19-13 in the opening 20 minutes.
Second Period: More? You mean it wasn’t a dream?
...and then the second period opened with another. It was thanks to an Isles power play — interrupted for the briefest of moments by the lights going down in the building. That blackout came with the first unit on the ice, so it was again the second unit that cashed in, with Beauvillier making a nifty move all alone in front of the net after Josh Bailey set him up.
Looks like Pulock is first #Isles D-man since Chris Campoli (10/18/07 vs. WSH) with 4 pts in a game.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 21, 2018
After letting the Isles control much of the middle frame, the Hawks regained some life when Erik Gustafsson scored his first NHL goal with a minute and a half left. The Hawks followed up with more pressure in the final 80 seconds, but the Isles safely reached the second intermission with a 4-2 lead.
Third Period: ‘The extra point is converted’
And rather than wilt, the Islanders started the third period strong. They built some pressure through some top-six shifts, then Johnston pounced on a Forsberg miscue to slip the puck in front for Nelson, who scored his 10th goal of the season and first since Dec. 11 to make it 5-2.
Pulock received a second assist on the play to easily outscore Kane on the night.
Pulock first #Isles rookie defenseman with a 5 point game.— Shannon Hogan (@Shannon_Hogan) January 21, 2018
That created breathing room...and breathing room they needed, as Official Tool of the Hawks, Kane, scored again on another fast-break play. It was a great look-off as Kane’s eyes said pass the whole way, while he potted it in short side on Halak.
Then Anders Lee displayed one of his many new skills by streaking up the middle to take a long breakaway pass from Tavares, passing from his own zone. Lee’s backhand made it 6-3.
John Tavares had the rare half-slapshot with plenty of time at the top of the slot to make it 7-3, drawing the ol’ “the extra point is converted” from legendary Hawks announcer Pat Foley.
That was followed by Ryan Hartman starting a fight with Johnston, who easily won because he is a man-beast. Johnston is totally staying on this team, isn’t he.
Three Pre-Game Questions, Answered
Did Ross Johnston Play?
Yes, his second ever NHL game. Michael Dal Colle sat as he and Alan Quine stepped into the lineup. Johnston even had a few scoring chances, the aforementioned backhand scoop and another from driving the slot.
And of course he had his first NHL point on a smart play, and easily won his fight because Man-Beast. I will totally concede, after a screed about what his callup tells us about the entire organizational approach, that he had a good game and a performance like that is quite welcome. (Doesn’t change how I feel about their overall approach, but...maybe results will vary!)
Did They Allow 35+ Shots?
Is the sky blue? Difference tonight though, was they were always outplaying and heavily outshooting the Hawks. Giving up so many (39) tonight wasn’t outright incompetence and it wasn’t solely score effects, but it was a night where shots against didn’t tell the story.
Shots were 19-13 after the first and 33-21 after two periods. They finished 46-39.
Is There Any Sign of Hope?
If they play like this? I guess so. But it’s the sort of tempered hope from earlier in the season where you’re like “Man, some good things here, if they ever figure the rest of this out...”