John Tonelli saluted the fans, his teammates from the dynasty era, and the current captain of the team who will continue to share his otherwise retired jersey number. The Islanders celebrated the night with a much-needed 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, powered by Jordan Eberle’s first hat trick as an Islander.
“I’m so impressed. I’m so honored that [Anders Lee will] continue to wear our number,” Tonelli said. “I can just tell he’s got character, he’s a great leader. I want him to wear that, and hopefully one day we’ll be up there together. I’m cheering big time for that.”
Lee did not score to add poignancy to the night, but he did work well for the assist on the opening goal as the Islanders dominated the opening period. There was no hangover from the lengthy pre-game ceremony and late start; the Isles just couldn’t find the needed luck to beat Jonathan Bernier more often.
So it was closer than it could’ve been, including 2-1 late after the Red Wings converted 6-on-4. But the Islanders eventually skated away with a game they simply had to win.
First Period: Get this party started
Coming off a painful 0-4 road trip, the Isles came out with intent, outshooting the league’s worst team 13-2 in the first period. When Eberle deflected Ryan Pulock’s blast in at 5:45, it had the feeling of a proper runaway and party for Tonelli.
But Bernier was not beaten again the rest of the period, despite two Islanders power plays.
Second Period: Var-ly, Var-ly!
...which made things a little uncomfortable when the Wings finally got some chances in the middle period. The Wings were still outplayed — official shots were somehow 21-12 in the period — but there were plenty of prime scoring opportunities that required heroic work from Semyon Varlamov.
Ebere finally made things a little more comfortable at 17:25 when he finished a really nice breakout by beating Bernier high, short side. It was a goalscorer’s goal that came after some good work starting with Andy Greene behind the Isles net.
That made things 2-0 heading into the third, and you knew what was probably coming.
Third Period: Operation Molasses
A Barry Trotz team is not going to try to run it up to entertain the fans. No, they’re going to take their 2-0 advantage, sit on it in a disciplined way, and wait for the frustrated opponent to make a mistake.
So the building got quiet, out of
boredom respect for the methodical surgery they were now watching.
There were no shots by either team for the first eight minutes of the third, and the Islanders didn’t manage one on goal until over 12 minutes in. The Red Wings finally mounted some sustained pressure, aided by an Islanders icing that kept some tired New York players out there. That created some prime chances, including one right down the slot from old friend Valtteri FIlppula, who hit Varlamov’s shoulder with the shot.
The Isles’ first shot came with the help of a power play after Mike Green lofted the puck over the glass at 11:31. But they did very little with that one other than burn more time off the clock.
The best opportunity of the period came from Leo Komarov — who returned to the game after taking this hard pass off the foot — when he was sent in alone by Anthony Beauvillier, but he shot just wide.
There's gotta be a German compound word that describes the mix of hope, fear and curiosity felt when watching Komarov alone on the goalie.— Dominik & LHHFriends (@LHHockey) February 22, 2020
A Wings power play with four minutes left, thanks to an Andrew Ladd inadvertent trip, gave the visitors a chance to make noise and pull Bernier for two minutes of 6-on-4. The kill featured a big Josh Bailey shot block, and another big Varlamov save, on a Robbie Fabbri one-timer.
The Isles got a bit of luck when Andy Greene made a goal-line save, only to have Tyler Bertuzzi retrieve the puck from between Varlamov’s pad and put it in. But the whistle had clearly blown while the puck was under Varlamov’s legs, so nothing there.
Less than a minute later, however, the hockey gods evened the ledger when the Wings got on the board with a pass to the crease that deflected up off Green’s stick, then further up and in off Scott Mayfield’s leg. The Wings were finally on the board and within a goal of tying it, with 2:35 left.
But Dylan Larkin took a tripping penalty off the ensuing faceoff, which helped burn more clock. The Islanders spent most of that power play just burning the clock, switching to a format with two defensemen — including defensive specialist Greene, whose shot created an assist on Eberle’s insurance goal.
The Red Wings, who were officially eliminated from the playoffs with the loss, pulled the goalie again because why not.
But Brock Nelson won the puck in his zone, lofted it for Josh Bailey, who found himself on a 2-on-less-than-zero with Komarov. Because Bailey is a passer, and Komarov needs all the love he can get, Bailey deferred to Komarov to put it in the empty net.
As Al used to say, Mike Bossy makes drop passes, Patrick Flatley gets it deep...and Josh Bailey hands off to Uncle Leo with an empty net.— Dominik & LHHFriends (@LHHockey) February 22, 2020
The Islanders made some roster moves ahead of the game, partly necessitated by injuries. We wondered how they’d deploy the makeshift remainders, and Trotz did end up using the fourth line sparingly. Matt Martin and Otto Koivula had only 11 shifts each and about eight minutes each.
Andrew Ladd had 17 shifts and 11:25 in his return. He delivered several checks but no shots. His penalty was the kind of tough-luck, follow-through trip that could happen to anyone.
It’s almost uncomfortable watching the Red Wings. They are bad. It’s depressing to watch. It’s depressing Frans Nielsen and Filppula are stuck in that mess for their final years. And it’s depressing that Nielsen’s decline-and-bad-contract combo is one of the many factors in all of that.
Much work ahead, but thankfully Islanders past and present can enjoy tonight.