The Islanders played the second half of a road back-to-back this evening in Minnesota, taking on a team in the Wild desperate for all the points they can get to stay alive in the playoff race. Both teams snagged one, but it was the Islanders that got away with an extra one in their race.
Casey Cizikas remained out for this one, as did Johnny Boychuk. Thomas Greiss played for the second day in a row, perhaps to give Robin Lehner some extra rest. If that’s the case it begs the question of why Lehner is dressing if he really isn’t ready for game action, but we’re not here to discuss that. We’re here to discuss today’s game.
Scoring First, After Killing Penalties
The first seven minutes of the game weren’t necessarily the Islanders’ best, and they sent two men to the box in that span: Matt Martin for holding, and Andrew Ladd for slashing. The Isles’ penalty kill has been pretty strong this season, though, and they managed to squash both Minnesota man advantages. Perhaps using the momentum from the kills, they got themselves on the board.
Mathew Barzal picked the pocket of Wild forward Jordan Greenway in the Minnesota zone and fed Jordan Eberle when he reached the bottom of the left circle. Eberle received the pass at the top of the right circle, danced around defenseman Jonas Brodin, and sent a forehand (yes, forehand!) through goalie Alex Stalock. The shot, Eberle’s first goal since February 9, was the Isles’ first one of the game that was on goal, but they used the goal-scoring boost as a springboard for more offense. They had a power play of their own, albeit not a great one, and finished the period up 9-4 in shots on goal.
Undisciplined and Overwhelmed and Still on Top
Adam Pelech took a penalty that put the Islanders on the kill for the dying minutes of the first and then took two more in the first half of the second period. Taking five penalties in the first 30 minutes of play, whether the calls are legitimate or not, is probably going to cost a team, and the Wild got on the board on their fifth man advantage. Zach Parise put a wrister past Greiss, the second puck to get past him on the period but the only one that counted — Ryan Donato interfered with Greiss on the first one and Barry Trotz successfully challenged to have it called back.
The Wild ended up leading the period 16-3 in shots on goal, but they found themselves behind in the scoring because of a goal for hometown guy Anders Lee (home state guy, really). The Islanders were on their second power play of the game and got a rare goal on the man advantage because Lee tipped home a Devon Toews shot from the point. Fellow Minnesotan Brock Nelson got the secondary assist.
Not Winning the Special Teams Game
The Islanders were on the kill once again in the early portion of the third and got burned, allowing the Wild to tie the game back up at two. Minnesota worked the puck around until Donato sent a puck in the direction of the goal. Eric Staal and Jared Spurgeon were both jockeying for position in that area and Staal got piece of the puck before it popped out to Spurgeon for an easy tally.
The Islanders turned on the jets a bit after giving up the goal, getting their first even strength sustained pressure since the first period, and Barzal nearly stole the game in the final twenty seconds on his own, but the game was destined for overtime.
The Islanders controlled the puck from the drop, at first not pushing the play and choosing instead to hold onto it while both teams got set. Barzal switched on for Cal Clutterbuck and he and Brock Nelson forced a turnover the other way. They entered the zone side-by-side and split up for a 2-on-1. Nelson saucered a pass to Barzal, and he dangled around a defender to get behind the goal line. Nelson slid to where Barzal initially received the puck to take Barzal’s backhand pass and snapped it short side past Alex Stalock to win the game in his home state.
The Islanders looked rather tired and didn’t play physical — I’m not a believer in physicality = success, but the Islanders’ level of engagement kind of seems to correlate with their physicality, and they were lacking in both. To be fair, the Wild played last night, too, but were home. The Islanders had a pretty good first and then the tank ran dry until the end.
The Islanders were fortunate to come away with two points today, and the hockey gods are laughing at us after the last two games.
It was nice to see the hometown guys get some critical points today. Don’t know if they had any family there, but if they did, they got to see some on-ice success.
The Islanders are now on top of the Metro Division based on current applicable tiebreakers: they’re tied with the Capitals in points and ROWs, and I’m fairly certain head-to-head is the next tiebreaker at the end of the season, but I would imagine that, because the Islanders and Capitals’ season series is not yet complete, it doesn’t count right now. Which means goal differential is the next category, and the Islanders still have the best one in the division.
The Islanders have a tough home game coming up as the Boston Bruins come to the Coliseum on Tuesday night. 7:00 p.m. ET puck droppeth.