Noah Dobson made his NHL debut tonight with the Edmonton Oilers in town as the Islanders closed out their season-opening three-game homestand. He had a beautiful assist in garbage time for his first NHL point, but probably would’ve preferred his first big-league game to be more memorable in a good way.
Beau Breaks the Ice
The Islanders looked a bit sleepy when the puck dropped this evening. As was noted in the game thread, they were a bit disjointed and struggled to keep up with Edmonton. Not that the Oilers were flying or anything (yet); just that New York looked pretty lame.
Brock Nelson took an interference penalty midway through the first against Connor McDavid. But it sort of lit a small fire under the Isles bench. On the forecheck, Leo Komarov gained control of the puck at the Oilers blueline and caught Anthony Beauvillier with an admittedly beautiful pass to send him in on a break. Beauvillier converted to score a goal in two straight games, and the Islanders got out to an early 1-0 lead with the shorthander.
Then it all went to shit.
Neal’s Natural Hat Trick
Shortly after the Beauvillier goal, the Isles’ sloppy play led to a lazy turnover behind their own net. Devon Toews meekly attempted to send it around the boards behind the goal to Scott Mayfield and James Neal was there on the forecheck to recover. He cycled it around and wound up with the puck on his stick at the top of the right circle, slamming home a shot that Semyon Varlamov probably should have had.
Not even a minute had passed when Nelson was whistled down again, this time for a double minor high-sticking penalty against Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers worked the puck around on the ensuing power play and Neal found himself with the puck in tight against Varlamov and scored again, his second in less than two minutes, and the Oilers ended the first up a goal.
The Isles killed off the second half of the double-minor, but went back on the kill yet again. This time, it was Beauvillier sent to the box for cross-checking Darnell Nurse. And yet again, Neal scored a power play goal to earn a natural hat trick—he did it in less than nine minutes of game play. It seems that he is the man in the crease in Edmonton’s power play scheme, since that was where he scored this goal, too. The Oilers lack depth, but they’ve got enough elite talent to field a dangerous power play, and they were able to work it around the zone enough to keep the Isles’ PK moving all over. Leon Draisaitl whacked a shot-pass in Neal’s direction, who redirected it perfectly. To his discredit, Varlamov watched the shot-pass glide right past him and neglected to react to Neal at his right.
Varlamov’s Night Ends Early
Now down two goals, the Islanders could have turned it on and brought themselves back into it against what should be, on paper, a weak Oilers squad. They had plenty of time still to work. However, they did not. They allowed Edmonton to waltz back into the offensive zone and, not even two minutes after permitting Neal to record a natural hat trick, they let Zack Kassian get on the scoresheet, in rather embarrassing fashion.
It was like they forgot where the net was and needed to look around to find it. Perhaps more embarrassing was Varlamov reading the broken play terribly, committing all the way to his right when the puck had not even gotten there. I don’t even think there was an Oiler over there, but I’m too disgusted to check and confirm that. Varlamov had committed too far before realizing the puck wasn’t there, and Kassian pushed it into a wide open net. That was the end of the new Isles goalie’s night.
For those who like numbers, here’s what the second period looked like:
The Islanders have two (2) high danger chances at 5v5 tonight. Heat map is bad.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) October 9, 2019
Through 2, 5v5 Score Adjusted via Natural Stat Trick
Oilers 56.97% Attempts
Oilers 78.30% High Danger (6.56 - 1.82)
Oilers 64.08% xG (1.02 - 0.57)
Including ST, EDM lead 1.73 - 0.85 xG. Also bad. pic.twitter.com/HlzyJDWsz4
The line blender was on ‘Pulse’ setting, but nothing really got the Isles going, save for a couple pushes in the beginning of the third that were negated by their fifth penalty of the night. They killed it off, but then something even worse happened.
Neal, who had seven goals total last season, flicked what looked like a pass toward the crease and Thomas Greiss let it slip through his five-hole. That’s right: James Neal, with four goals, recorded more than half his total from last season in one night of work. Now, it was 5-1.
Dobson Provides a Bright Spot
Playing out the string at that point, the Islanders were able to meaninglessly get some offense generated. But the shiny, new toy gave us a taste of what we might be looking forward to. Dobson skated down the wing to find space and sent a perfect pass that even Matt Martin couldn’t miss. 5-2 Oilers.
With three minutes left and the Isles still buzzing via score effects, it briefly appeared they would have at least a fighting chance to pull off a miracle. However, it was correctly determined that Nelson’s goal was kicked in, and the game remained 5-2 until it mercifully ended.
Post-Game Thoughts (No Feelings Allowed)
- That was ugly; the Islanders have played three games to start the season, on Coliseum ice no less, and two of them were varying degrees of uninspiring. Safe to say this one was the higher degree of uninspiring. At least the Capitals have a good defensive team to shield the Islanders from all the blame in that game. This game was garbage from opening puck drop.
- Many people predicted that James Neal might experience a bounce-back season with the Oilers, in that last season was quite the outlier and in that Edmonton lacks the horses to push him down the lineup, thrusting him into a top-six role. Good for him, scoring four goals for the first time in his career, but at least three of them should have been stopped...
- ...Which leads me to my next point. Semyon Varlamov looked a bit shaky in the opener against Washington, but ultimately only allowed two goals. Two stoppable goals, though. Tonight, the Islanders left him out to dry, yes. But you want the guy you just gave four years and $20 million to play like he deserves that money, and at least three of the goals he allowed, if not all four, should have been stopped. He’s only made two starts, so plenty could change and this could just be an ugly blip on the radar. But I can’t say I’m not concerned about this contract!
- Okay, one moment of Feelings Allowed: happy for Noah Dobson. Aside from the sexy assist, he had a pretty solid NHL debut, and his play should not be lumped in with that of his teammates tonight. Good for the kid. :)
The Islanders will head out on the road for the first time this season on Friday night. They’ll be in Carolina to play the Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m. They would be wise to get it together before then, because the ‘Canes have been a juggernaut through four games.