Aatu Raty scored in his NHL debut and the New York Islanders again rebounded from a disappointing loss, this time beating the Florida Panthers 5-1 at home in their last game before the league’s three-day Christmas break.
Raty wasn’t the only Islander making his NHL debut — Parker Wotherspoon, with considerable more AHL experience and a long wait for this moment, also debuted and logged 14:27.
Wotherspoon was solid, though the puck jumped off his stick a few times. Raty was really steady and flashed good offensive instincts on his goal. The Islanders also got continued good contributions from fellow callups Hudson Fasching and Simon Holmstrom, though the latter left the game after taking a knee from Sam Bennett late in the second period.
Indeed, this could be a costly win as Holmstrom and Brock Nelson each left the game. We’ll see how things stand after the break, but they could join an injury list that already includes Adam Pelech, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri and Semyon Varlamov.
But performance-wise, it was a really good night for the Isles, with veterans J-G Pageau and Zach Parise having particularly strong games. They outshot the Panthers 43-24, and Ilya Sorokin stopped 23 in ending his losing streak.
First Period: Fragmentation through penalties
The first period was kind of terrible from an entertainment perspective, though the Islanders made out okay and outshot the Panthers 12-8. More than half of it was spent either at 5-on-4, with lots of penalty calls interrupted by more penalty calls creating 4-on-4’s and abridged power plays.
The calls started with a by-the-book call — if only the refs could have stuck to that standard — when the Panthers were called for too many men on their first line change. Unfortunately, the Islanders power play is comically unthreatening, so nothing came of it.
The next calls were off-setting minors, with Oliver Wahlstrom going to the box and Aaron Ekblad going to the dressing room for the night. Wahlstrom did a routine poke on a rebound, perhaps an extra/late but harmless shot as Sergei Bobrovsky smothered. Ekblad overreacted as if someone had insulted his mother, arms and stick going up high toward Wahlstrom’s face.
But Ekblad, like some Flyers tool before him, learned that the Wahlstrom Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f#$% with. After the tussle of arms, Ekblad left the ice and did not return, due to an injury. I like him as a player and wish him better health than what he’s experienced, but I can’t help appreciating when karma steps into punish such overreaction.
Unfortunately, the Panthers cashed in on the 4-on-4. It was a broken play with Matthew Tkachuk battling Sebastian Aho in front of the net. Aho did alright in the size mismatch, but Tkahuk eventually got enough of the puck to chip it over Ilya Sorokin for a 1-0 Panthers lead.
The teams then took turns taking penalties and canceling them out. Then Matt Martin fought Givani Smith, making his Panthers debut. Maybe that was retaliation for a hard hit Smith threw on Wahlstrom earlier?
Anyway, the Isles had yet another power play chance late in the period, this time a full two minutes, but again their power play was decent at holding the puck but poor at mounting any threats. So they reached the first intermission trailing 1-0.
Second Period: Isles come alive
The second period was fantastic, filled with good pressure and shots from all over. The Isles consistently tested Sergei Bobrovsky, who didn’t gobble up rebounds but stopped just enough of shots to send them trickling wide.
They tied it 5:20 into the period when Anthony Beauvillier jumped on a rebound of a blocked Noah Dobson shot.
On the play leading to the goal, Brandon Montour speared Brock Nelson in the slot, then slashed him, so Nelson facewashed and collared him, and the two got tangled up like two dogs on a bone. Somehow, through the deliberately ignorant magic of NHL officiating, this one ended up with only Nelson in the box.
Fortunately, the Islanders killed that one without much issue, even keeping the puck in the Panthers zone for a while.
After the kill, the Isles had some other chances to take the lead. J-G Pageau hit the crossbar joint from an impossible angle, and Hudson Fasching had a partial breakaway with his shot after Bobrovsky’s save skittering just wide. Simon Holmstrom also hit the bar after settling the puck following another near-miss by Zach Parise.
Before Holmstrom’s chance, Nelson left the game from friendly fire, taking an Alex Romanov clearing pass to the back of the ear, drawing blood and ending Nelson’s night.
With six minutes left in the period, Noah Dobson went to the box for the second time, called for crosschecking after meeting a Panthers forward at the point, who was backing into him. That debatable call set off Butch Goring, who noted it was similar to an uncalled play against Pageau minutes earlier. But it was just one of many times where it wasn’t clear which standard the officiating crew was following.
After that kill, the Isles went to work again, and Wotherspoon very nearly got his first point on a great pass to the slot, but Wahlstrom redirected it just wide.
The Isles finally broke through in the final minute, on an offensive zone faceoff. Ryan Pulock walked down the wall and let go a shot that was deflected in by a stick at the crease, either Parise’s or Josh Mahura’s, the defenseman he was battling.
The Islanders went for more in the closing seconds, with Holmstrom on a really nice drive through the slot. But he was met by Sam Bennett’s knee, and Holmstrom had to be helped off the ice. Nothing called on Holmstrom, but they called Carter Verhaeghe for slashing.
Sam Bennett injures Islanders rookie Simon Holmstrom with a knee-to-knee hit pic.twitter.com/D0qEel2qTw— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 24, 2022
Third Period: Blown open
So the Isles started the third on the power play, though that again didn’t generate much. It did keep play alive though, and the period eclipsed six minutes before the first whistle.
And eventually, the Islanders’ night-long good work paid off with a memorable goal for Raty in his NHL debut. It came off some more good work from the Isles in the offensive zone, and a great pull-back by Raty to give himself an uncontested look from the mid-slot.
He put it through Bobrovsky and was immediately greeted by Parise, as all Islanders’ first goal scorers are.
Raty’s goal at 7:10 was the insurance the Islanders deserved — and needed to calm any jitters after the Isles’ blew a one-goal lead last night. But Parise added another 1:11 later, on a line rush with Fasching where he broke to the middle and snuck a high backhand past Bobrovsky.
Down 4-1, Paul Maurice pulled Bobrovsky for a sixth attacker with over four minutes left, and Beauvillier quickly ended that by putting his second goal of the night into the empty net.
The Isles and the league now go on a three-day break around the Christmas holiday. Afterward, the Isles finish 2022 with games hosting the Penguins on Tuesday and the Blue Jackets on Thursday. They begin 2023 with a western trip, in Seattle on New Year’s Day.
Clowns in Stripes
Another curious game officiated by Justin St. Pierre and Pierre Lambert. These two called the game last night at the Garden, which included a lopsided set of calls, which is fine, but more noticeably just bizarre decisions to selectively call and ignore the rulebook. Tonight was even worse.
As a viewer, it’s that experience where you feel like the officials are only watching 40% of the game, and they’re making all kinds of relative decisions based on what they see in that 40%.
It drives you crazy because you have no idea what the standard is at any given moment. Will they call this tacky penalty because it is technically by the rules? Will they ignore this obvious hook because a team is already on the power play and they’re afraid to all a 5-on-3? Will they skip a kneeing to call a slash instead? That’s anyone’s guess!
Faust Arp Aatu Raty
Because I must pay any earworm forward, I’ll share that I can never hear Aatu Raty’s name pronounced without hearing this song: