Kevin SchultzThe Islanders have won only one game in regulation since November 12 but if it’s going to only be one, it might as well be against arch rivals on their home ice.
In a high-scoring affair at Madison Square Garden the Isles got contributions from a lot of unexpected and odd sources. First were two shorthanded goals, one of which was Michael Grabner’s first since opening night on October 4. The other shortie was from Cal Clutterbuck, which came on a penalty shot. Josh Bailey also picked up his first point since November 19 and Ryan Strome added his first NHL point, both of those coming as assists on Brian Strait’s first regular season goal of his career.
Tonight’s win snapped a 16-game streak that saw the Islanders go 2-10-4 without finding a way to win a game before the third period buzzer sounded.
Cal Clutterbuck opened the scoring five-plus minutes in with a shorthanded penalty kill goal (yep, you read that right). Clutterbuck had a burst of speed to get to a loose puck as Rangers defender Ryan McDonagh misplayed it at the blueline. As Clutterbuck closed in on net, McDonagh made a great play from behind to life the forward’s stick and cause him to fail to get a shot off. The referee deemed it worthy of a penalty shot, which was weird. It was a clean play and, if anything, it could have maybe been a slash (not really, even that’s a stretch). Nonetheless, Clutterbuck went high glove on Lundqvist and it tipped off the $59.5 Million Dollar Man’s glove and into the back of the net.
The Islanders would take their third penalty of the period a little later on and this time it would be Michael Grabner to cash in shorthanded. On a breakaway — tracker is updated! — Grabner made a sweet move to beat Lundqvist. It was Classic Shorthanded Grabner, with the takeaway at the blue line and off to the races. This time, unlike so many other this year, he finished for his first goal since opening night.
On the same man advantage, the shorthanded magic would finally end as the Rangers capitalized on the Isles league worst penalty kill. It was some nifty passing in deep, the kind of thing that’s real bad and a league worst penalty kill allows, and gave the Rangers a bit of momentum to counter the Isles hot start.
Also, please admire this GIF from the first period (click the image if it doesn’t move):
And while the Islanders penalty kill has been awful this year, it came up big late in the game.
The Rangers were 2-for-7 on the night — by the way that’s a 71% success rate which is literally the Isles season average — but went 0-for-3 in the third period when the Islanders took a few penalties that looked like they could be game killers.
Up 4-3 after a Thomas Vanek power play goal, 1:14 into the period Ryan Strome took a bad penalty 200 feet from his own net (sidebar; Strome also had an excellent defensive backcheck on Rick Nash late in the third. Hooray defensive responsibility!). But that was early on.
With six-and-a-half to go, Casey Cizikas took a bad tripping penalty as he went skate to skate with John Moore. After killing that off, Josh Bailey probably gave you that “here we go again” feeling by taking a boarding penalty with three minutes to go (this one was a weak call). The Rangers did manage three shots on goal on this one, but also had three giveaways that helped the Islanders burn time.
Late in the penalty, Lundqvist headed to the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage. Andrew MacDonald broke his stick and moments later Grabner did too, which could have made for some really crazy hockey with the Rangers holding a 6-on-2 stick advantage. Grabner raced to the bench for a new stick as the puck went on net — yikes — but it worked perfectly as Frans Nielsen got a stick on the puck and cleared it down the ice… Right to Grabner, who finished on the empty net.
Something to Build On?
Well, at this point any win is something to build on. This one’s against the arch rivals and in regulation, so the Islanders break the tie with Buffalo and are now 29th in the NHL in ROW (regulation and overtime wins, it discounts shootout victories). They break a tie with the Oilers and are 28th in the NHL in points.
But this one’s against a divisional opponent and picks up two points on third place Philly, who was off tonight. The Islanders find themselves nine out of a playoff spot. It’s a hill to climb but it’s not a mountain. Welcome to the Metro Division where the third worst team in the entire league is within single digits of extra hockey. (For comparison, the Oilers who have 25 points to the Isles 27 are TWENTY ONE points out of a playoff spot right now. They are done.)