The New York Islanders picked up their second victory of the week and first of the season in extra time when Noah Dobson scored at 3:52 of overtime for a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park.
It was the Islanders franchise’s first win in eight tries on New Year’s Day, but far more importantly, it gave a team with few wins and few upcoming games another reason to feel like they’re turning their season around. It’s also the first time they’ve won consecutive games since the swing through Montreal and Winnipeg at the beginning of November.
Facing a likely 12-day gap in the schedule after the postponement of their entire upcoming Western road trip, the Islanders had nothing to hold back and used a strong push in the third period to erase a deficit and force overtime. And, for the first time in seven tries this season, the Isles actually claimed the bonus point.
Nothing comes easy this season though: The Isles operated with a very depleted coaching staff, as Barry Trotz had to miss the game for (non-Covid) personal reasons, while assistant coaches John Gruden and Piero Greco entered COVID Protocol. Lane Lambert, the perennial NHL head coaching candidate, ran things behind the bench.
Hopefully things are okay with Trotz and family. While the schedule break stinks, he’ll no doubt look forward to getting back to work with the team on systems and protocol again.
First Period: Good start, dangerous powerplay(?!)
One of the happy trends from the Islanders’ recent uptick in play is a suddenly dangerous-looking power play. Even when they haven’t scored, they’ve looked much more organized and with a more determined approach to actually get shots to the net.
So it went for the Islanders’ two power plays in the first period — the only two power plays offered in this game, which is no doubt a sore point for the Oilers.
The first power play eight minutes into the game, from a hooking call on noted ruffian Connor McDavid, led to lots of good looks but no reward. They did find reward on their second power play, which came from a tripping call on Darnell Nurse as he defended J-G Pageau in the corner. Again the Isles worked the puck well around the zone, this time with Mathew Barzal twice escaping phone booth-trouble to feed Dobson at the point.
Dobson worked it to Kieffer Bellows, who sent a low shot in for Anders Lee, who pulled up enough to lift Mikko Koskinen’s pad before slipping the puck under the former Isles goalie.
You already know the vibe.— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 1, 2022
Lee in front. Rebound. Power-play goal. pic.twitter.com/KRWBziGE9Q
The Isles did a decent job containing McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the first period, with Scott Mayfield notably sticking close to #97, taking physical opportunities, and staying aware of his whereabouts. Draisaitl got engaged with Ross Johnston at one point, which can only be a victory as long as Johnston toes the line (which he did).
Generally, despite the coaching staff disruptions, it looked like the Isles came out with a plan and stuck to it. Lee’s goal to make it 1-0 came at 16:40, so it was reassuring that they got something for their first-period effort, though it felt like they might regret not having gotten more.
Second Period: The visitors push back, but iron doesn’t break
And those fears were realized, as the Oilers came out flying for the second period and nearly took the game out of the Islanders’ hands. They got the tying goal on the opening shift, with the Isles fourth line under pressure, and Draisaitl’s dangerous pass across the top of the crease bounced in off Matt Martin’s skate.
Edmonton’s push continued throughout much of the period, with their two stars a consisten threat during the long-change period, despite not drawing a single penalty. (In general, the refs pocketed their whistles for most of this game, which surely fed the Oilers’ ire that they were whistled twice in the first period.)
The Oilers hit iron behind Ilya Sorokin at least twice, and had either been a few inches the wrong way this period might’ve been a disaster.
More good work from the Oilers top line finally gave Edmonton the go-ahead goal late, when Darnell Nurse capitalized on the scramble to put a rebound in up high at 17:13. With the Oilers coming off an overtime loss in Newark yesterday, that put the visitors in a jolly mood heading to the second intermission against a team that has not been able to score much this season.
Third Period: Beau ties it, setting up...an OT win?!
The Islanders’ response in the third was assertive and much needed. They were back on the front foot for the duration. Zach Parise had one of his “How does that not go in?!” moments when his open net shot was blocked by Darnell Nurse. Their efforts resulted in the tying goal early, Anthony Beauvillier potting it at 2:23 after good forechecking by Ross Johnston and Austin Czarnik.
They kept pushing throughout, and had a late shift that kept an Oilers unit hemmed in their own zone for over a minute. That chance might’ve been even better after Devin Shore lost his helmet and needed to head to the bench, but by that point the Isles forwards too had about spent themselves, and the Oilers finally got a clear.
But neither team could get the go-ahead goal, and despite the Oilers losing in overtime in Newark yesterday, they surely liked their chances against the OT-hapless Isles...
OT: Dobson finish
Since in sports fandom we tend to infer meaning from random but seemingly meaninful mood-altering moments, it’s tempting to read the hockey gods’ intentions based on how this OT would turn out: If the Isles lost, again, it would be just another sign this season sucks. If the Isles somehow won it, finally, it would be a sign that maybe the Isles will at least make this an interesting season after all, as they keep insisting they’re on the verge of doing.
Staring at a near two-week break without games, it’s sure nice we received the latter result.
A fairly active overtime — not the passive, constant-regroup version we’ve seen much of this season — created chances for both sides. Dobson carried his outstanding December into 2022 when he took a neutral zone pass from Barzal, saw he had space to charge Nurse with the puck, and used the Oilers defenseman as a screen to beat Koskinen from distance. The Oilers goalie challenged from above the top of his crease, so it took a perfectly placed shot to get through Nurse and Koskinen.
For once, that’s how things are going for Dobson.
Up Next: ???
As mentioned, the road trip to Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton has been postponed. The Isles are not currently scheduled to play again until Jan. 13 at home to the Devils. While the NHL hadn’t completely ruled out sneaking a game into that gap somewhere, given their concern about attendance and revenue, that’s no sure proposition.
Guess we’re going to be doing a couple of weeks of 2021 retrospectives and “Remember This Moment?” posts.