The New York Islanders lost 3-2 in overtime to the worst opponent on their three-game road trip, though it’s fair to say the victorious Arizona Coyotes gave them a much better test than the Chicago Blackhawks did at the start of the trip.
That’s not to absolve the Isles’ effort, which was beyond sluggish in the first 20 minutes but steadily improved as the night went on.
Rather, the Coyotes came to play. They are last in the league for good reason but did have recent form going for them. After three consecutive extra-time losses — hey, points are progress for a team that only recently reached 10 wins -- they absolutely blitzed the Blues in St. Louis Saturday night, giving them points in six of their last seven games.
Against the Isles, they’d take both points — er, well, two of the three on offer in the NHL’s nonsensical value system once the game went past 60 minutes. The Isles had a chance to hop back into wild card position with a win. I suppose one point is literal if not heartening consolation.
First Period: This again?
The Islanders carried over none of the good vibes from their rout of the Blackhawks in Chicago two nights ago. While they began the game with some decent pressure but no shots, they soon after just...disappeared. Their forecheck was ineffective, and the Coyotes rushed through the neutral zone and maintained pressure with the assertiveness they used to jump the Blues two nights ago.
And yet, the only goal was a bit of a fluke, when Nick Cousins bounced a rebound from the end boards in off Jaroslav Halak’s pad from a sharp angle. Other than that howler, Halak was good as he faced 14 shots in the first period, including a few during a scary late Coyotes power play. His counterpart Antti Raanta faced three.
Second Period: Early atonement
Lucky to only be trailing 1-0, the Islanders very nearly gave up the next goal immediately as the second period began. Halak made a critical save on Richard “Widespread” Panik, Josh Bailey cleaned up a juicy rebound...and then sent Anthony Beauvillier streaking down the right wing with a pass from just above Halak’s crease.
Beauvillier was on the ice already because Anders Lee had broken his stick and gone for a change. The rejuvenated 20-year-old took a shot from the right wing circle under pressure, then picked up his own rebound and tucked it into the goal as he headed past the net.
That gave Beauvillier his seventh goal in the last seven NHL games since his first assignment to AHL Bridgeport.
The Coyotes resumed their pressure though, generating a power play for Scott Mayfield tripping Clayton Keller, even though Mayfield was tripped by the same. (Mayfield went to the room for repairs, causing Mathew Barzal to serve the penalty for him.)
“Because I’m a terrible referee” https://t.co/WwXHd8LJ9H— Rookie Example (@KeithLHHockey) January 23, 2018
Both of Mayfield's front teeth were chipped pretty much in half. "I think it looks better now," he said. Weight said Joannette told him he didn't see the play.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 23, 2018
The home team didn’t convert that power play, but they scored the go-ahead goal about a minute later. Brendan Perlini redirected a Luke Schenn shot that was headed well wide and didn’t have that much pace, but fooled Halak after he’d already set for a different trajectory.
Another angle on Perlini's goal from the second period pic.twitter.com/b70b0Or6xO— Five For Howling (@Five4Howling) January 23, 2018
That was the end of scoring for the second period, which was obviously much better for the Isles though not without the usual concern. Shots were 13-13 in the middle frame, and the Isles had their work cut out for them heading into the third trailing 2-1. The hosts weren’t letting up and were clearly feeling good about things in the midst of their second consecutive (and all too rare) impressive performance.
Third Period: Beauvillier (and Barzal) again
Make that eight goals in the last seven NHL games for Beauvillier. After a couple of stalemate shifts to open the period — Ross Johnston’s clock was cleaned by Alex Goligoski was notable -- the Barzal line went to work and kept the puck in the Coyotes zone.
The Yotes did fairly well in limiting the damage and keeping the Isles at bay, but they tired. Raanta tried to smother but couldn’t. Barzal pounced on what happened next, a loose puck to the left wing corner.
The super rookie fed Thomas Hickey for a one-timer, and Beauvillier was perfectly positioned to slap the rebound past a pinwheeling Raanta to tie it at 2-2 just 2:53 into the period.
So, new game. How did the Islanders respond?
By continuing the high-event, back-and-forth hockey that is the trademark of Doug Weight’s first year at the helm. They could’ve taken a two-goal lead; they probably should’ve fallen behind by two. But Halak made some five-alarm saves (in one instance, with Adam Pelech behind him prepared to embody a shooter tutor) as the fans in attendance at least got some entertaining shinny.
Shots were officially 8-1 for the Isles 11 minutes in, somehow, not reflecting the flow of play nor what mine eyes counted requiring stops at the Isles net. To be fair, some of the chances the Coyotes somehow sabotaged themselves, which I guess is what a last-place team does.
The Isles pressed, with even the fourth line generating some decent pressure, despite flailing and missing on attempted Fourth Line Things like going out of position to throw a big hit.
Anders Lee had a fantastic chance, kind of created by dumping Goligoski, so karma allowed Lee’s shot to be blocked by Goligoski’s unaware upper body.
One more chance
The Isles’ continued pressure created that rarest of things, a late power play in a tie game. Max Domi chopped Nick Leddy to draw the call. A scrum ensued afterward but the refs basically absolved all participants, including Beauvillier after he was tackled by Domi, who surely should’ve received more.
(In fact, somehow the refs whistled play dead while the Isles had the puck on the delayed penalty, yet...administered no penalties for the activity that caused them to whistle play dead? Good job.)
On the ensuing power play, Jason Demers was excused for a straight shot to the back of Lee’s head as both teams threw everything they had at loose pucks.
Also on that power play, John Tavares lost a wheel and an engine at the point to create a shorthanded two-on-one for Tobias Rieder with Derek Stepan. Leddy hustled back to play it, prevent a pass attempt until down at the goal line, and spun on his belly to sweep that away. Huge stop by the defender, preserving a regulation point.
Shots ended 12-4 in the third for the Islanders (making it 28-31 at the end of regulation), but again the period was not at all that lopsided.
OT lasted only 2:21, but was chaotic and entertaining enough to feel like it was twice that long. Barzal had chances, Leddy had two consecutive chances stopped by Raanta, Beauvillier had one or two, Tavares another. Players crossed and rushed and picked and so on.
Alas, Cousins won it on the counter attack, giving the home team a deserved win, as he took a pass at the doorstep and changed directions on Halak to backhand home the winner.
So, one more game before the All-Star break, against the Golden Knights who were just yesterday at the top of the league standings. Vegas is dynamite at home, and the Isles have a rare two days between games as they head into the city of sin and non-stop shameless cheezy entertainment.
What to do, what to do?