Jordan Eberle returned to Edmonton for the second time since the Oilers traded him to the Islanders and Johnny Boychuk visited his hometown for the fifth time as an Islander. Disappointingly, they wouldn’t get to please their local fans with a win.
A Poor Start
Boychuk celebrated this most recent homecoming by tossing the puck over the glass, giving the dangerous Oilers’ power play a chance to get going. The Isles killed off that opportunity, but shortly after it ended, Ryan Pulock was whistled for tripping, and the Oilers made sure to capitalize on that one. Connor McDavid from the top of the face-off circle found Leon Draisaitl for the skilled tip in front past Robin Lehner.
About a minute and a half later, with the Islanders on their heels, Edmonton forwards Tobias Rieder and Sam Gagner skated in on the rush with Colby Cave; as Cave fed Rieder, they crossed up the Isles’ defense and Lehner and Gagner had a wide open cage and plenty of space in which to work. After last night’s flu-fueled atrocity, it appeared early on that we were in for another late night wasted.
That’s How You Recover
Unlike last night, though, the Islanders turned it around early enough to save the game — it undoubtedly helps that the Oilers are much worse, overall, than the Flames, but I digress. The Islanders started generating a bit after the second Oilers’ goal but weren’t able to convert until Anders Lee took a few whacks at the puck before it went in. The puck was in his office by way of a Boychuk shot that created a rebound opportunity.
Then, Noted Goon Connor McDavid came across and clipped Nick Leddy in the head, sending Leddy to the room for concussion protocol and himself to the box for two minutes, one of the most bizarre nuances in our wonderful game.
“Check to the head” should probably not be a 2 minute minor in the rule book at all— jenny berman (@barzalline) February 22, 2019
Lee and Darnell Nurse continued their duel from Saturday night, and Nurse was rightly penalized for cross-checking. Lee received a penalty, as well, but he really didn’t do anything besides turn around and battle back. On the same play, though, before all this went on, Mathew Barzal was slashed by Kris Russell as he entered the zone. This is all during the first minute of McDavid’s penalty, mind you. Nurse and Lee’s minors cancelled out and Russell’s penalty created over a minute of 5-on-3 time for the Islanders as the period neared its end.
With about 40 seconds left in the first period, the puck was worked out to Pulock at the point and he floated it to Eberle. He sent a pass from one face-off dot to the other and Brock Nelson one-timed it past Mikko Koskinen to tie the game.
But they weren’t finished yet. The Islanders still had a man advantage with Russell still locked up, and the second unit got on the scoreboard to give the Isles the lead with only 11 seconds remaining in the period. Pulock and Devon Toews combined to create a shot toward the net that Cal Clutterbuck deflected from the slot and in.
The second period was much calmer than the first and it seemed the Islanders started to play more of their game, i.e. slowing it down and making it difficult to get through the neutral zone. For evidence, check out the 15-13 shot count in the first and compare it to the 8-4 count in the second. The Oilers led in SOG in both periods, for what it’s worth.
Also, he didn’t start the period on the bench, but Leddy returned from concussion protocol within the first couple minutes of the period, and we all sighed in relief.
Unable to Hold Off the Flurries
The Oilers came out to start the third jazzed up and looking to tie the game, and the Islanders didn’t really force them to come 200 feet, as coach Barry Trotz likes to say. This is what the first few minutes of the third period looked like:
That's an inspiring third period, Islanders. pic.twitter.com/CYnlsjTxMy— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 22, 2019
Lehner withstood the barrage and kept the Islanders in it as long as he could — hard to blame the Islanders for being fatigued in their sixth period of hockey in two days three quarters of the way across the continent while battling a team-wide illness. But with the Capitals winning tonight, the Islanders needed this win to maintain their three-point division lead, and their play in the third didn’t reflect that kind of desperation. Unfortunately, it came back to bite them.
With under three minutes to play, the Oilers tied the game back up at 3-3. They created about 30 seconds of consecutive zone time and Lehner was able to stop a backhand from Milan Lucic, but the rebound bounced right out to Oscar Klefbom and the score was knotted up and headed for overtime.
The Goon Wins It
3-on-3 overtime featured few fireworks and little excitement, other than what turned out the be sequence that ended it. The Oilers looked to escape their own zone, but Barzal forced a turnover at the Edmonton blueline and had Anthony Beauvillier skating up his wing. Beauvillier’s shot was deflected wide and Draisaitl and McDavid headed back the other way.
Pulock initially made a deft stick check to knock the puck into the corner away from Draisaitl, but he recovered the puck and found McDavid cutting into the middle. Beauvillier made an attempt to get back but was too late, and McDavid wasn’t missing that kind of chance.
The Islanders remained on the bench for a few seconds after the goal as Trotz tried to argue that the Oilers had too many men on the ice for the goal, and upon replay, they did as they got a fresh guy over the bench before the gassed player got back, but the puck was in the back of the net before the fresh guy even entered the zone and wasn’t a factor on the goal.
I mean they got a point, which is nice, but they had the lead to start the third and blew it late before losing in overtime. Shouldn’t have even gotten this far, but the Oilers badly outplayed them down the stretch and probably deserved the win. The Islanders now lead the division by two points over the Capitals with a game in hand. It is the Isles’ first loss in the second half of a back-to-back this season. Even though it’s the second half of a back-to-back, this was a winnable game against a weak opponent. They can’t let these slip away at this time of the season.
The Top Line Tom Kuhnhackl Experiment has gathered enough data, I’d think, to be put to an end. He hustles, I’ll grant him that. Not to mention, he took a brutal hit toward the end of the second, in which Russell cross-checked him in the numbers before he turned around, and was back on the bench in the third. But toughness aside, he’s simply not a full-time NHLer anymore. He should be a guy that works his way into the fourth line every few games to give Clutterbuck’s banged-up body a breather, and that’s it.
But, based on a tweet from Newsday beat writer Andrew Gross today, the organization seems to expect they’ll be adding a player not named Andrew Ladd nor Thomas Hickey:
Both Andrew Ladd and Thomas Hickey remain on Long-Term Injured reserve. Neither has been activated yet. Barry Trotz has mentioned a couple of times going into Monday's trade deadline, #Isles don't mind roster flexibility of having just 22 active players right now. https://t.co/l8MLU4yGad— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) February 21, 2019
The Islanders will have a much-needed day off, I’m sure, before their game against the Canucks in Vancouver, near Mathew Barzal’s hometown of Coquitlam, BC. It’s a 10:00 p.m. start Saturday night, so prepare to have some coffee ready. Or just go to bed. Whatever your preference is.