UNIONDALE, N. Y.– The New York Islanders split their first home series of the season by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in front of another large crowd at the Nassau Coliseum this Monday afternoon. And unlike this past Saturday’s lackluster performance and eventual defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, the Islanders began this matchup with some grit and edginess.
Matt Martin and Joe Finely took the initial faceoff to start the game as an occasion to welcome their Floridan guests with a wonderful array of knuckle sandwiches, as both Islanders drew five minute majors for Fighting, along with the Bolts’ B. J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie, while Colin McDonald took the periphery penalty, two minutes for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.
With the tempo set, the Islanders played a solid first period, especially on their penalty kill, showcasing a unit applying the traditional tight-box formation against the uninspired 1-3-1 Power Play setup. In all, the Isles were getting to loose pucks, owning more of the neutral zone, and most importantly, successfully puck cycling in both ends of the ice.
It took the Islanders, however, a total of five periods of hockey to notch their first lead of the season, courtesy of a Michael Grabner tip-in that almost wasn’t, due to the blatant holding/hooking of Eric Bewer. The play originated in the Isles end of the ice, as Evgeni Nabokov cycled the puck forward to Mark Streit, finding a rushing but tied-up Grabner who outmaneuvered and outmuscled Brewer, guiding the puck passed Anders Lindback.
Islanders would go back on the Power Play immediately following the Grabner goal but nothing came of it. The Isles continued a solid forecheck, along with some sloppy passing inside Tampa Bay’s zone, but for the most part maintained a steady rhythm of play that eclipsed their previous game’s output at this juncture.
Moreover, the Bolts began to show some wane in their forechecking as the period continued, upon which the Islanders began capitalizing with shots and rushes that forced Tampa to commit critical mistakes in their own end of the ice.
At the 16:23 mark of the second period, John Tavares launches a cross ice pass from his own end to Matt Martin, who had just finished serving his Holding penalty, which quickly became a breakaway and the Islanders second tally for the afternoon. Tavares showed his brilliance and intelligence and awareness, timing his picture-perfect pass onto Martin’s tape.
Kyle Okposo, with assists by Tavares and Matt Moulson, keeps the floodgates open by giving the Islanders a three goal lead 72 seconds later with a strong wrist shot, beating Lindback low and to his left.
The energy level on the ice and in the stands signaled the Islanders official return back from the lockout, in my estimation. Nevertheless, they take their lead and momentum into the third period; Nabokov proving himself a wall for 40 minutes of play, in the process.
The Lightning tried to reestablish their relevancy in this match, responding 51 seconds later to the Ullstrom goal with one of their own by the ever elusive Martin Saint-Louis, who is always an imposing threat in and around the slot area.
The Bolts tacked on another two goals in quick succession, Benoit Pullot (7:26) and Steven Stamkos (8:00), to give Isles fan that sinking, but always familiar feeling that they’re a team in ‘transition’. Jack Capuano calls a timeout to settle the boys down.
But in the end, penalties would outdo the Bolts, as they give the Isles a 5 on 3 Power Play that eats up whatever time and opportunity they had of tying up the game.
The third period showed a shaky Nabokov and a return to sloppy puck cycling and poor backchecking by the Islanders, which led to the debacle that could’ve been but, fortunately, wasn’t.
The Islanders head to Toronto this Thursday to face a Leafs team looking to avenge their loss against the Buffalo Sabers this afternoon.
Follow Rich @eyesonisles
- Jack Capuano returns to the helm. Glad to see him on the mend.
- The Islanders penalty killing unit proved to be a decisive factor, closing the door on all three power play opportunities afforded the Lightning.
- Evgeni Nabokov grabbed his first assist today.
- John Tavares named #1 Star of the game, continuing to prove his worth as the Islanders elite forward, contributing to two assists. He is almost as game ready as any player can be under the circumstances.
- Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit clocked approximately 56 minutes of ice time between the two of them.
- Frans Nielsen showed some spirit in his ever-evolving game today, blocking two shots, while grabbing some time on special teams.
- Faceoffs: Islanders have won 73 of 120, thus far