The Blackhawks, struggling all year and having fired their three-time Cup-winning coach (who took that job after rejecting the Islanders way back when), came to Nassau Coliseum in a lost season but at least playing better recently.
The Islanders, ruled out by everyone but having won seven of their past eight, came ready to avoid a “trap” game and continue their hot run.
Despite 47 saves by Hawks goalie Collin Delia, the Islanders were able to extend their run to eight wins in their past nine, and a five-game win streak, thanks to overtime persistence by rookie defenseman Devon Toews for a 3-2 win.
For Toews, it was his first NHL goal — just the 18th player to score it that way since OT was reintroduced in 1983 — in just his fifth NHL game.
Watching on the NBC Sports feed, where regular Islanders announcer Brendan Burke and MSG analyst AJ Mlezcko had the call, it was fun to hear Burke dial it back for the national audience. His restraint on Mathew Barzal’s first goal was almost too much, considering the Islanders’ wunderkind batted the puck out of the air from the faceoff circle:
Oh yeah, by the way: Barzal also starred, with two goals. The baseball swing tied the game at 1-1 in the first period, just three minutes after the Blackhawks had taken an early lead completely against the run of play. On the Hawks goal, Scott Mayfield and Toews may have had a miscommunication, though the real culprit appeared to be Casey Cizikas leaving his man down low without realizing Mayfield was off in the other cofrner.
Barzal’s second goal and 12th of the season gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead with just over a minute left in the second period. It came on the power play, with Barzal jumping on a bounce that came right to him on the doorstep to the right of Delia, who’d lost his stick after the previous Barzal chance.
Although the Islanders, in the latest stage of their Trotzian maturity, did not let up with the one-goal lead, Patrick Kane equalized with a knuckling shot on an early third-period power play for Jeremy Colliton’s visitors. But with the score tied 2-2, the Islanders continued to push and pour it on, outshooting the Hawks 18-3 overall in the period.
They had a late opportunity with their second power play of the game — again drawn by Barzal — with three minutes to go, but this time they couldn’t generate much. Barzal took one opening, but Delia stopped it, squeezing the puck between his mask and shoulder.
Leo Komarov, of all people, had a final-minute chance that he rang off the post. I’m not sure what the analytics will say of Komarov’s game doing spot duty at center with Valtteri Filppula out, but I will say this: Komarov knows how to play center. He stepped into the old role seamlessly, which was a surprise to me, though it probably shouldn’t be.
So with no regulation resolution, that simply set the stage for Toews — the other, younger, rising Toews — to have his moment:
Oh yes it is. It’s not really a surprise if you’ve followed the 24-year-old’s game since joining the AHL and since finally having circumstances align for an NHL look. Now, with the Islanders playing their best hockey of the season, Toews looks to give them another upgrade they can’t refuse.
Overtime is our time! Toews joins Hickey and Martinek as players who scored their first NHL goal in OT. Since OT was re-introduced in 1983, 18 players have scored their 1st NHL goal in overtime - 3 of the 18 are #Isles. #NHL #NHLstats (h/t on league total to @PR_NHL )— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) January 4, 2019
“The second got a little bit loose in both ends, the way second periods sometimes do with the long change.”
Aside: Love Trotz wrapping up a long answer with, “What else do you want me to cover?” (in a helpful, not snarky way).
On Toews: “He’s played well. WIth a lot of poise. His skating allows us to transport the puck out of danger. He’s joining the play at the right time, giving us another option on some of our breakouts, those types of things. He’s been solid. That’s why we’re playing him, we’re playing him a lot, and he’s doing a really good job, he’s just managing, he looks comfortable. We’re rally happy for him.”
Asked whether Toews is now taking a job, Trotz said “honestly in training camp he won a job with his play” but noted that Lou Lamoriello preached caution with him coming off an injury. (And, of course, having waiver exemption.)
The Islanders are off to St. Louis for an odd one-game trip Saturday. The Blues did the Isles a favor by beating the Capitals (and thumping Tool Wilson) tonight. But overall this year, they’ve been about as threatening as the Hawks.
And thus: as with tonight, Barry Trotz should be warning his super-confident troops about another potential trap game.