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Islanders 4 (EN), Avalanche 1: Power play awakens, Hickey and Nelson injured

The Islanders bored the Avalanche to death in an ideal Trotzian road win, save for injury concerns

NHL: New York Islanders at Colorado Avalanche
“Had to get my goal before everyone fell asleep.”
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders began a critical pre-Christmas four-game road trip on the right foot, getting a late first-period lead and then sucking the life out of the Colorado Avalanche on the way to a 4-1 win in Denver.

They may have lost Brock Nelson — kneed by Ian Cole in the second, not to return — and Thomas Hickey — he left the game after a crash into the boards, and the Isles have a back-to-back — but otherwise things proceeded according to plan as they kept the Avalanche’s top line off the (even strength) scoreboard and got a virtually unprecedented two goals from the power play to provide the non-empty-net margin of victory.

Game Sum | Event Sum | Corsica | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period: Cutting down the tallest tree with a herring

The first period was a perfectly Trotzian snoozefest: The Islanders made smart little chips to space, safe dump-ins at perfectly appropriate times, and lovely suburban funneling plays toward the net.

Each goalie had to make a couple of top-notch saves when play broke down — on Isles chances, Jordan Eberle was robbed at the doorstep on a good push across by Semyon Varlamov, while Varlamov was helped by Nikita Zadorov’s reach to defuse a Josh Ho-Sang partial breakaway.

The Avalanche’s terrifying top line created discomfort with their speed, but the Islanders defense did enough to keep them to off the board. Thomas Hickey was the first early target, having to get on his horse to at least angle Nathan MacKinnon behind the net (where he attempted a wraparound) after MacKinnon got the puck with a full head of steam.

All told, each defensive pair got a share of time against that line, while the Nelson and Cizikas lines handled duties up front.

The Islanders completely whiffed on the period’s only power play — from a horrible call on Mikko Rantanen for shoving Anders Lee over — giving the Avalanche the better look during the two-man advantage. (And Mathew Barzal survived a full on groin-racking early in the shift.) But they got the period’s lone goal soon after when Eberle connected with a perfectly chipped Brock Nelson pass from the corner.

Second Period: Uh-oh, dad* is drunk (*the refs)

The second period was dominated by a curious and nonstop exchange of penalties that made more than half the period played at 5-on-4.

The Islanders drew the first call just 17 seconds into the period, which — man, what a boon that would be if the power play could cash in with anything nearing regularity... {foreshadowing}

Lee drew the call via Tyson Barrie’s new-NHL holding infraction on Lee’s outside rush toward the net.

Barzal rang a shot off the post from the low slot on the best chance from the first unit. After Ryan Pulock made a very solid play to break up a shorthanded rush, Johnny Boychuk cashed in for the second unit with just 10 seconds remaining in the man advantage.

The Avalanche got one back on the power play, a penalty drawn after their top line pressed the issue and forced a couple of Islanders icings. Pulock was whistled for crosschecking Rantanen as he wrapped around the net. Gabriel Landeskog got the goal by deflecting an intentionally wide Barrie shot in around Thomas Greiss.

The top line had a straight up 3-on-1 after Nick Leddy ran into traffic inside their blueline, but Boychuk saved the day with a perfectly timed drop to the ice to block Landeskog’s pass attempt. With the puck still in the Isles zone, Landeskog played the puck when his substitute had already come on the ice, causing a too many men on the ice penalty.

That power play fell short, and Ho-Sang took a hooking penalty trying to do the right thing by hounding the puck carrier on the counterattack., he took two hooking/holding penalties. While the first was maaaybe a technically correct call (but probably not), it was harsh, and the second was more three players coming together with Ho-Sang’s stick in the middle of the fray. Calling for two separate infractions on a sequence like this is something you frankly never see.

But the Islanders penalty kill muscled up and saved Ho-Sang some further underserved ignominy. And thankfully he wasn’t punished, as he got a regular shift — by his limited-use standards thus far — the rest of the way, finishing with 12:13 TOI on the night.

That kind of “hey, it’s tough but we gotta call it by the book” move always opens the officials up for deeper scrutiny.

Sure enough, immediately after that PK the chose to overlook two easy and significant calls: Casey Cizikas’ glove was hooked by Barrie on a golden scoring chance — he had Varlamov beaten with a gaping net, and the hook was a mirror of Ho-Sang’s first penalty — in front of the net, then Cizikas wielded a swinging slash from his knees at innocent bystander Rantanen in frustrated retaliation.

Then...injury news. Hickey went in for a check on Tyson Jost on a zone entry, Jost ducked out of the way, so Hickey got only a piece of his back and spun awkwardly into the boards, banging his head against them and probably not feeling too good for his limbs either.

NHL: New York Islanders at Colorado Avalanche
Be well, sweet prince, and double down on the fish oils.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Hickey was helped off the ice, and the Isles soon announced he would not return to the game.

Ian Cole took the final penalty of the period, a fairly ugly kneeing hit on Brock Nelson as Nelson threatened to get around him at the blueline. Nelson, too, did not take another shift.

The Isles power play — here’s the foreshadowing payoff! — actually scored for a second time in the period. Lee’s deflection of Nick Leddy’s point shot was basically a carbon copy of the Landeskog goal.

They reached the intermission with the Isles leading 3-1.

Third Period: Wait for the prey to stop breathing

Early in the third, the Isles top line had a whole shift of pressure in the Avs zone, sandwiched by dangerous Avalanche chances that required a save from Greiss and then a save from his post. But that was almost too exciting for the clock-extinguishing, soul-crushing measures the Isles exacted the rest of the period.

The refs also still sucked. Sam Girard outright bear-hugged and rode Barzal like a beast of burden. No call. Then Lee was whistled for the softest of holding.

{throws objects across peaceful domecile}

I can’t talk about the officiating anymore. Just know it was awful, in both directions, in a way that makes hockey so frustrating to watch as a form of entertainment because you feel like the rules are constantly changing and randomly enforced at the whim of some third-rate Greek gods.

But the Isles killed the Lee penalty, and generally spent the third period doing that Trotzian thing: boring, safe, really annoying to the opposition. It was the Trotz-iest thing ever, and it was just great and perfect for the start of a high-mileage road trip that began at altitude.

The Ravishing Valtteri Filppula finished things with an appropriately ugly backhanded empty net goal to make it 4-1.

The refs did their random check-in to call Adam Pelech for tripping with 1:54 left. That meant the Islanders had a few more empty-net tries, but Cal Clutterbuck missed from center ice, Matt Martin missed on a desperate turnaround shot from the right wing boards, and Pulock shot wide — hold your satire — on a slapshot from the point.

So 4-1 was your final. Good start to the road trip.

Up Next

That result was particularly important given the Islanders had to hit the air to get to Phoenix for a game against the Coyotes Tuesday night.