TORONTO, ON.– The New York Islanders take game one of their five-game road trip with a decisive victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 7-4.
But it wasn’t all gravy for them, as the first period saw a sluggish, poorly-positioned, and just plain disoriented Isles team, chasing pucks and Leafs all over Air Canada Centre.
Nabokov looked especially haggard and perplexed, missing rebounds and playing off-center for the most of the first period.
The Islanders gave up a quick goal to Carl Gunnarsson at the 2:12 mark, all due in large part to poor backchecking by a lazy Islanders defense.
Matt Moulson would tie it up for the Isles six and half minutes later, on a rebound gifted by Leafs netminder Ben Scrivens, who by the middle of the third period would be riding the bench for the remainder of the evening.
Overall, the first period showcased an Islanders squad completely off kilter and destined to be blown out by night’s end.
Perhaps it was nerves, or simply that they needed a swift kick in the pants, but by the 5:00 mark of the second period, the Islanders’s light-switch turned on and the forechecking began to show serious life.
The turning point came with the Leafs’s Mikhail Grabovski‘s Delay of Game penalty at the 10:30 mark during a face-off attempt. For a minute and half later, a charging Mark Streit is fed a keen pass from Brad Boyes (a play that John Tavares help generate back in the Islanders’s zone) dead center of Scrivens’s crease and shoots it squarely between his pads, reducing the Isles’s deficit by one.
Boyes would add another tally to his points total for the evening, scoring the equalizer three minutes after Streit’s goal with help from Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner, who both had huge games for the Isles tonight.
By the close of the second period, the Islanders and Leafs reversed their roles, as the home team looked completely tuckered out, with absolutely no pep to their skating and little to no creativity inside the neutral zone. Although the period ends 3-3, the Islanders clearly had the advantage in every aspect of the game, especially the forechecking, capitalizing on the Leafs’s fatigue and Scrivens and the Leafs defense’s generosity with rebounds in and around the crease area, and turnovers deep within their defensive zone.
But the third period proved to be the Islanders best hockey in recent years. They score four goals with the help John Tavares‘s diligent work along the boards, Keith Aucoin‘s faceoff wins and forechecking, and Michael Grabner‘s inspired hustle and shooting. Matt Moulson would score his second goal of the game, unassisted, at 11:20 of the third period, while Aucoin scores his first as an Islander earlier on, and Grabner scores the go-ahead goal at the 3:23 mark.
What’s important to take from this win is that the Islanders beat a team that, for all intents and purposes, is their mirror image. In all honesty, the Leafs and Islanders are two sides of the same “emerging hockey team” coin, if you will. Both teams need help to improve upon their goaltending, both teams would benefit from talent on both sides of the puck, (Tavares and Grabovski play solid hockey and could use some help to shine) and both teams claim to be rebuilding, for what seems like an eternity, in hopes of returning to the post-season.
So an Islanders win tonight, in the manner achieved, is relieving and revelatory, albeit nerve-racking. Their response to adversity on the road is something upon which a playoff run is established, but also shows a team coming together as a unit.
Moreover, Michael Grabner’s empty-netter was a thing of beauty, not so much the shot itself but the utter tenacity and patience demonstrated by the young forward. The goal was a small sampling of the hockey the Islanders played for 40 minutes this evening. And a fervor Isles fans hope carries over the remainder of the season.
Follow Rich Diaz at @eyesonisles
- AS OF 11:30am, January 25th, 2013, Rick DiPietro will get start against Bruins.
- The Islanders’s Penalty-Killing is tied for best in the league with the Boston Bruins. The true test for said unit comes tomorrow night!
- Matt Moulson, Keith Aucoin, Michael Grabner, and Brad Boyes gained points from both assists and goals. Grabner has put up points in every Isles game this season. John Tavares remains goal-less but has contributed to goals every game, as well.
- Frans Nielsen had two assists and one block shot to sum up a solid performance.
- Evgeni Nabokov had a shaky start and at one point looked as if he might be pulled for Rick DiPietro, but to no avail. Nabby found his composure late in the first, and thereon. Scrivens would see the early exit this evening.
- Isles defense needs to work on their backchecking, for they’re leaving way too many gaps at their own blue line during rush plays.
- Isles’s defense needs to clean up the mess in front of their own net much better than they did this evening.
- If the Islanders think they can have a slow start against a feisty Bruins team and hope to comeback like they did tonight, they’re sorely mistaken. Isles need to take it early to the B’s otherwise, it’s lights out.
- LASTLY: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Islanders CAN and WILL score goals. Good day to you.