HOW IT HAPPENED
The bottom is falling out from under the NY Islanders, who blew yet another late lead and lost in overtime, 4-3, to the Vancouver Canucks. There were some positives from tonight's game, including two power play goals (unheard of around these parts), but another night full of undisciplined penalties and blown leads cost the Isles the second point. The Islanders are now 0-4-1 in their last five, and are now only two points better than Columbus and Ottawa, the two last-place teams in the Eastern Conference.
It's hard to imagine Lane Lambert feeling comfortable with his job security, and if the rest of this road trip does not turn around quickly, I would not be surprised to see the Islanders make a move. For what it's worth, the Oilers, who recently fired Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, have won their first two games with new coach Kris Knoblauch.
But on to the not-so-happy recap:
After Bo Horvat won the opening draw against JT Miller to a smattering of boos around the arena, the Islanders jumped out to a 4-0 lead in shots on goal. The Islanders were successfully applying pressure on the Canucks, so much so that Horvat drew a penalty while making an offensive play down low. The second PP unit came out for the power play, and Sebastian Aho, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Pierre Engvall were able to create magic. With Anders Lee screening Thatcher Demko, Engvall’s wrister found it’s way home, and just like that, the Isles led 1-0.
But they were not done. About a minute later, the Canucks committed a delay of game penalty, and 1:22 after Engvall gave the Isles the lead, it was Brocktober in November (courtesy of “ZiggyPalffy” at Lighthouse Hockey). After Mat Barzal made a great play to maintain possession, Brock Nelson took the puck to the crease, and after his initial chance was stopped by Demko, Nelson was able to pounce on his own rebound, putting the Isles up by 2. The rest of the period was more of a back and forth affair, as the teams traded scoring opportunities and dialed up the physical play. The Canucks ended the first period up 14-13 in shots after a late-period flurry, but the Islanders successfully kept the Canucks off the scoreboard in what was the Isles’ most successful period in quite a while.
The Islanders got off to a fast start in the second, with Barzal creating a scoring chance right away off a takeaway from Quinn Hughes. But Cal Clutterbuck soon took a boarding penalty against Mark Friedman- to be fair, Friedman seemed to know Clutterbuck was coming and turned into the hit to sell it. But that’s still on Clutterbuck to hold up when somebody is in a vulnerable position. And sure enough, power play specialist JT Miller scored on a one-timer that Ilya Sorokin should have stopped. This is not the first time this season that Sorokin has allowed a goal to sneak through him even when he was in position.
The Canucks began to take over the period at this stage, putting the next seven shots on net. However, after Quinn Hughes tried one too many fancy spin-o-rama moves and had the puck stripped by Mat Barzal, and after a give-and-go passing play, Bo Horvat buried one against his former team, expanding the Isles lead to 3-1. But the Canucks continued to press, and as the game got chippier, the Canucks managed to tighten the score again to 3-2 on a Brock Boeser power play goal. The rest of the period would end without much more action, with the Isles taking a 3-2 lead to the third period.
The Islanders began the third period the way they’ve been beginning too many third periods: with a bad penalty. This time, Scott Mayfield ended up in the box, but the Isles fortunately killed that power play off. They wouldn’t be so lucky a few mins later, when Noah Dobson and JG Pageau each took a minor at the same time in the game, giving the Canucks a 5-on-3 for two minutes. The Islanders were fifteen seconds away from killing it off, when Filip Hronek tied it up with a 107.9 MPH (!!!!!) one-timer. The rest of the third period was an exciting, back-and-forth affair, and the Islanders made a lot of noise in the last few minutes. But Thatcher Demko (and Ian Cole) made some good saves, and the teams would need extra time to decide this one.
The 3-on-3 overtime period did not last long. The Canucks took a 2-on-1 immediately off the opening faceoff, which was turned aside by Sorokin. After a couple of minutes of back-and-forth play, Adam Pelech got caught watching the puck, and Quinn Hughes was able to get behind him for a breakaway which cleanly beat Sorokin. Game-Set-Match.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
- The Power Play! If the Islanders can start scoring more frequently on the power play, it would help the team in a lot of ways. Obviously, they'd be scoring more on the power play, but that advantage would also extend to even strength. Right now, Isles' opponents can play tougher against them, because there is really no risk in taking a minor penalty against the Isles' "vaunted" power play. But if the power play proves effective, opponents will not be able to clutch and grab as much, which can only help skilled offensive players like Mat Barzal and Pierre Engvall.
- Speaking of Engvall: Engvall's first goal of the season was long overdue. It is imperative for the Islanders to increase their offensive output, and that starts with the Engvall-Nelson-Palmieri line, which was the Isles' best line down the stretch last season. Engvall even earned a seven-year contract extension this offseason after terrific play down the stretch; he needs to provide a more appropriate level of secondary scoring for the Islanders to win more games.
- Anders Lee and Oliver Wahlstrom were more noticeable tonight, but also still have work to do, which makes this one a little mixed- but we'll put it in the positive section to spread a little joy. Lee- with one goal in his first 15 games- was mixing it up physically last night, and had multiple impressive scoring chances. He also provided his perfect screen on Demko during Engvall's goal. Wahlstrom also was mixing it up physically, and would definitely have had a goal if he just kept his stick down on the ice.
- Simon Holmstrom and Sebastian Aho continue to be the two most unsung players on this roster. Both are likable, hardworking kids, so it is terrific to see that hard work begin to pay off.
WHAT WENT WRONG
- The Islanders need to play more aggressively while simultaneously maintaining discipline. No team in the NHL was better at balancing aggressive play while not taking penalties. It wasn’t long ago that teams hated playing the Islanders and left the arena totally banged up. It would behoove the Isles to regain that identity very quickly. They have frankly become soft. There were multiple times last night where Tyler Myers threw shots at people (one moment when he punched Holmstrom in the face after a routine body check stands out to me), and the Islanders did nothing. The Isles' identity is based on the idea that opponents hate playing them. That needs to re-emerge if the Islanders are going to turn the season around.
- Ilya Sorokin. What can we even say? He's probably the best goaltender in the world, and if not, he's on the short list. But he is not at his best right now. And we all know that as Ilya Sorokin goes, so go the New York Islanders. Sorokin was better last night, but I think he wishes he could have Miller's power play goal back. He's got to make sure he's stopping the easy ones. If Sorokin is not a Vezina contender, it is hard to see the Isles going anywhere this year.
- Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield. Both of these fan favorite, homegrown defensive defensemen were given long-term deals at reasonable salary cap numbers because they had become such important fixtures on the roster. But Mayfield has taken bad penalties all season (frankly, this has been a complaint about him his entire career). If you are going to be your team's best penalty killing defenseman, you should work on staying out of the box. And what can we say about Pelech? Similar to Sorokin, the Isles' identity is built on strong defense, exemplified by Pelech's ability to defend in his own zone. But he has looked slow this season, and he was caught watching last night during Quinn Hughes' game-winning goal. Needless to say, Pelech and Mayfield need to turn it around- not only for this season, but for the next seven years or so.
- Old friend Anthony Beauvillier was mostly invisible, but I was hoping he and Matt Martin would playfully drop the gloves during a first-period scrum! Thanks for some great memories, old friend.
- Simply put: they lost. With an 0-4-1 record in their last five games, the Islanders really needed that second point last night, and it hurt not to grab it.
STATS OF THE GAME:
- Filip Hronek's goal was clocked at 107.9 MPH. That is the third-hardest shot in NHL history.
- The Islanders took six minor penalties versus only two for the Canucks. While officials will always miss some calls, that's a lame excuse, and the Islanders must quickly figure out a way to play more disciplined hockey, particularly in close and late situations.
The Isles will have to get right back up on the horse, as they will play the Kraken in Seattle tonight at 10:00 PM ET. They will then head to Calgary to finish this three-game road trip, before heading home to face the division-rival Flyers.