Pittsburgh, PA.– The New York Islanders play their most inspired hockey to date, with a prefect blend of hard knocks and finesse, pummeling the Pittsburgh Penguins at home and in front of a national audience, by a score of 4 -1.
Tonight the Islanders played a gutsy, fluent, and deliberate style of hockey, almost angry in tone at times, showing no let up even while down two men on the PK, resulting from a 5 minute major called on Colin McDonald for Boarding (McDonald would eventually receive a Game Misconduct.)
The keys to tonight’s victory are many, the most overt involved both their dominance of the Neutral Zone and steadfast stance on both blue lines.
Travis Hamonic played injured but gave his absolute all on the backcheck, even blocking a shot that ricocheted off his already tender ankle, causing him to leave the game momentarily. In all, Hamonic played 25 minutes of hockey on one and half legs. That’s the grit that inspires those around you; the girt that wins hockey games.
Other contributing factors: Michael Grabner is playing the best hockey of his career, and quite frankly, is the most consistent New York Islander second only to Evgeni Nabokov. His forechecking and Penalty Killing abilities are the reason the Islanders have stayed afloat during the tougher contests on this road trip, and his hard work paid off tonight.
Moreover, the Islanders have used the PK unit as their rallying cry, proudly bestowing their dominance by playing with absolute tenacity whenever on it. During the 5 on 3 PK, the Islanders allowed only 3 shots on goal, never one of them from set plays. Grabner, McDonald, Mark Streit, and Brian Strait, and the others simply suffocated the slot areas, and any chances the Penguins had on the Power Play dissipated as time wore on.
The stifling and stingy Isles defense at hand short-changed any offensive threat the Penguins could muster, as Sidney Crosby was completely impotent on both sides of the ice. And by the close of the second period, he and his team only tallied 17 SOG including a short stint on the aforementioned 5 on 3, before the close of the second period.
Aside from McDonald’s inexplicable and dangerous hit on Ben Lovejoy, which was a scar inflicted upon the face of an otherwise flawless perfomance, the Islanders put on a clinic in Pittsburgh for all of the hockey world to see. And rest assured that all the teams in the NHL will use this game to help prepare for Crosby and Co. in the future.
In summa, the Pens never managed the puck long enough to utilize their creativity through the neutral zone, or their skill on set plays. For all their efforts, the Penguins couldn’t solve the puzzle in front of them this evening.
Masterful game and the proudest victory for this young Islanders team of this young season, all because they played a blue collar game against a juggernaut of talent.
Tonight the Islanders played their game: nothing cute. Just tough, old-school hockey.
The Penguins saw heavy forechecking by the Islanders early on, and equally dutiful and aggressive defensive play in the Isles zone, clearing bodies from the crease and pucks from danger.
Casey Cizikas would eventually cash in on all the effort with his first tally as an NHLer, coming at the 16:01 of the first, with a nice, sharp wrap-around that caught Marc-Andre Fleury napping on his right side–a result of his single-handed effort, blocking a clearing attempt and scooping up his own rebound. This goal is an example of what blue collar hockey is all about:
The Islanders would go on the PK twice in the first–Kyle Okposo (Boarding) and Matt Carkner (High Sticking)–but their courage on the kill saw more broken-up passing lanes and grinding along the boards than the Penguins expected. The period would close with the Islanders carrying the lead and momentum into the locker room.
Fleury and his team looked a bit shaky at the start of the second, as the forechecking continued, Hamonic and his fellow D-men making Evgeni Malkin and Crosby’s life miserable with solid coverage and feisty pokechecking.
The Islanders would make the Pens pay for their clumsiness with Grabner’s fourth of the season, a breakaway resulting from yet another fine example of concerted pursuit of the puck; the goal coming at the 6:46 mark of the second period.
The remaining portion of the period saw the Islanders capitalize on two power play opportunities, and the hockey nation saw the most enlightened passing the Isles have assembled this season, with a beautiful tic-tac setup that saw John Tavares bury the Isles’s third goal top shelf at 15:22; his second of the season.
Matt Moulson keeps his goal/point streak going with help by Frans Nielsen‘s diligent work down low and Brad Boyes grinding along the boards. Moulson would be left alone at the Pens’s doorstep to smack in the fourth of the night for New York.
Fleury was chased off at the beginning of third, while Nabokov took over the reins for the Isles, as the Penguins doubled their SOG dishing out 19 by period’s end, all accounted for sans one, as Pacal Dupuis (Crosby would be awarded an assist) spoils the shutout with a goal at the 18:51 mark of the third.
In all, the Islanders played a full 60 minutes of hockey, giving everyone something to talk about for the next few days. Bet your bottom dollar that their next meeting on February 4th at the Coliseum will be epic rematch, which will surely showcase some nastiness, as the Pens will seek vengeance for the embarrassing loss handed to them this evening.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
- Three stars for EYESONEISLES: 1. Nabokov 2. Grabner 3. Moulson *Honorary Mention: Tavares
- Matt Moulson now has four goals thus far, and his line is showing signs of coalescence, as Tavares is beginning to find his rhythm. Now all we need is Okposo to catch up. If not, switch with Grabner. His speed will only add to that line’s potential.
- The core of confidence comes from the Isles PK unit. They are simply playing ridiculously well on special teams, but again, it’s that necessary evil they can do without.
- Not to be overlooked: Thomas Hickey brought some edge to his game tonight, grinding it out along the boards.
- The Islanders are now 6 for 20 on the PP, going 2 for 2. Still needs improvement, but heading in the right direction.
- Keep your eyes peeled: we may see Colin McDonald suspended before the end of the week. Poor judgment on his part. But it happens. Maybe he was caught up in the tempo of the game. Nevertheless, his hit was a bad one on Lovejoy.
- @BDGallof tweeted during the game that “Hamonic is the heart and soul of the Isles team” at present. Couldn’t agree more. Hamonic is the heart and soul, Grabner the legs, and Tavares the brains. What do you think?
- This victory begs the question: Will the Islanders become even better once Radek Martinek and Lubomir Visnovsky finally suit up? This one win doesn’t erase the obvious glaring deficiencies on defense. Remains to be seen indeed.
- The Islanders are one of the top scoring teams in the NHL, thus far. Good day to you.
Who would’ve thought that the Islanders would be in second place, while the Flyers in the cellar? Hold onto your hats, people. The rollercoaster ride is about to pick up some speed.