The Islanders finish this homestand 3-2-2, but are leaving the Island in much better shape than when they started: one point shy from an 8th spot, currently owned by the Rangers, and two from the Devils’s and their 7th seed position; conversely, the Isles are 5 points from the cellar. Sobriety, ladies and gentlemen.
Remember, forget the standings. I am only using them to accentuate an incredibly important fact: if the Isles keep looking into the proverbial rearview mirror that are the 5 teams currently chasing them (for a change), they will surely crash head-first into the proverbial brick wall. Just keep your nose to the grindstone, Isles. Keep playing physical, positional hockey, and earn your wins. Look up to see where you are some time mid-April.
Resiliency is all they need at present, and today’s victory is as bold a statement as this team can muster…and then some. Coming off a bitter OT loss against the Rangers this past Thursday, today’s matinee showcased a 4th line possessed with tenacity, owning the physical play along the boards and exhibiting a strong and poised backcheck throughout most of the contest.
Currently, the Isles are sandwiched by the 1st and 4th lines, and one can only imagine this team’s potential if one of those middle lines acted even remotely close to the top/bottom tier ones. But that’s what I addressed in my previous post: the talent is there but not as concerted as one would hope.
The identity issues can be found right smack in the middle of this squad, and my guesstemation is that once Michael Grabner finds his true linemates and Frans Nielsen wins more faceoffs, the Isles will take that next step forward. Again, the key is Grabner.
One last observation worth noting before the Game Recap: Alex
Ovechkin OvechCant. This elite player coughed up more pucks and proved useless on both sides of the ice this afternoon than I have ever seen him do with mine own eyes since he’s started playing in the NHL. He is responsible for gifting two turnovers for goals, in a rare detrimental performance.
He and Mike Ribeiro destroyed whatever chances the Capitals had of making a run for the W today–a valuable lesson for a young Isles team to witness. Here’s an opponent with a superstar and some solid talent, who, because of a lack of resilience and self-control, took themselves out of the game, and for now, out of the hunt for a playoff spot.
Remember that roller-coaster sensation I mentioned last night? You’re feeling it right now, aren’t you? Thinking the Isles can beat the Penguins? Sure they can. But they have to do better than today, because I highly doubt that Evgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby will have as terrible a game as Alex O.
Let’s go to the video tape, yes?
Josh Bailey opens up the scoring by capitalizing (pun intended) on a Caps Neutral Zone turnover, which a streaking Nielsen helped convert into a 2-on-1 situation with Bailey on the left wing; Bailey is somewhat handcuffed by the saucy pass, yet gets enough wood on it to seal the deal.
The Isles’s fourth line, with help on occasion by the strong back-checking of Radek Martinek, proved overpowering in the first period. And for the most part, the Isles defense out-shinned the offense in the first, protecting the lead throughout, as Evgeni Nabokov continues to play very well in net.
The Isles would out-shoot the Capitals 12-8, playing disciplined hockey, staving off unnecessary penalties–a theme that, as mentioned previously, would haunt the Capitals late in the game.
The middle 20 minutes saw Radek Martinek called for Holding the Stick at the :48 second mark, and the Capitals, shortly thereafter, benefit from yet another unfortunate occurrence in front of the crease by the hapless Travis Hamonic. (Someone send this man to a witch doctor already.) Mathieu Perreault is credited with the goal when initially it was given to Joel Ward who was closest to the puck before official review. Hamonic’s skate and stick need an exorcist, pronto.
The Capitals’s Power Play goal shifted momentum for a good chunk of the 2nd period, especially on 5-on-5 hockey, which saw a very flat Isles’s offense except for Casey Cizikas‘s line. And it would be he and his mates taking back the lead off an Ovechkin turnover (guess Alex wants to be a baker nowadays) at the halfway mark of the 2nd:
Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Colin McDonald are the Islanders’s blessing-in-disguise, and without them, the Islanders would be absolutely nowhere. Say what you want about the greatness of John Tavares, et al (all warranted and most definitely well deserved) but without this one line, the Islanders would be just plain awful. Hats off to one of the best Energy Lines in hockey at present. Gritty and going about their business each and every day.
The last half of the period also saw the reemergence of Lubomir Visnovsky, as he started jumping in on plays and taking shots whenever possible. Good to see him back in uniform–let’s keep it that way, Lubo.
Shots on goal for period 2 favored the Isles 14-11, and the momentum seemed to go the Isles way heading into the locker room.
But it was the 3rd period that saw the Washington Capitals collapse under the weight of Ribeiro’s frustration and Ovechkin’s incompetency, as two double minor penalties saw the Islanders solidify their lead and John Tavares augment his scoring record.
Ribeiro’s called for a high stick, then throws a tantrum and is given another two for Unsportsmanlike Conduct–the turning point of the game if there ever was one.
Tavares would score his 99th and 100th goals within the span of 30 seconds, due in large part to a bizarre occurrence: JT’s first PPG was not initially tallied because, at first glance, the goal judge couldn’t see that the shot had ricocheted off the net cam and rocketed out to the center slot area. It took the referees another 3 and half minutes plus before they were able to review the play, stoppage coming only when Matt Moulson scored the faux goal also on the PP. (One for the Isles’s record books: a game that had them score even-strength, power play, short-handed, and phantom goals.)
Once reviewed, Tavares was awarded the notch and the Islanders went back on the Power Play that was reset due to the goal review, and he would hit the century mark several seconds thereafter.
Before the end of the contest, Frans Nielsen would record the Islanders’s second short-handed goal of the season, all but breaking the Caps’s back.
The Islanders end this somewhat tumultuous homestand on a high, with their last two performances being some of the best team hockey played since the beginning of the season.
The dust will not settle on this victory, however, as the Islanders go to Pittsburgh and face Crosby & Co, kickstarting another difficult road-trip.
Hoping the Isles’s resiliency is here to stay.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles