Kevin SchultzTonight in Ottawa the Islanders played exactly how, generally speaking, you might expect them to. The offense was in mid-season form with five goals, multiple breakaways, a staggering 57 shots on goal and 90 (!) shot attempts. On defense, there were some mistakes and lapses interspersed with goal-creating jumps into the offensive zone and some soft goals let in by the starting netminder.
Speaking of Evgeni Nabokov, he allowed four goals on 31 shots, which isn’t particularly bad. But there were certainly a couple of those four that he would like to have back. The second goal he allowed could have been a real wrench in the Isles’ fortunes — credit to them for battling back — but it was a Mike Zibanejad shot that ticked off his glove and into the net, putting Ottawa up 2-0 heading into the first intermission. Ottawa notched two in the final two minutes of a first period the Isles otherwise dominated.
The other blatant miscue was a Clark MacArthur wrap around goal in the second that Nabokov simply got beat to the far post on. It’s not really clear if the puck got in but the NHL released a picture of Nabby’s backside to prove a point… Or Something. Regardless, he got beat across the crease.
Nabokov’s save percentage now drops to .903 on the year and we already knew Kevin Poulin was probably starting at the Coliseum tomorrow night against Boston. At this point, if Poulin plays well against a tough Bruins team — not guaranteed, of course — he should be getting the next start after that.
Moving on, the real story of this game was the Islanders offense and, goodness, how many chances they had to pretty much shoot at will tonight. The Senators didn’t do much to dissuade the Islanders from easily getting through the neutral zone and then retreated multiple times almost to a penalty kill formation in their own zone, 5-on-5. The Islanders have issues with defensive brain cramps and miscues in their own zone, but boy does that pale in comparison to the Senators literally not having a defensive game plan.
The Islanders would battle back from two, two-goal deficits in this one. First, they would score twice in a 28-second span in the early second to tie the game 2-2. Thomas Vanek made a super swick backhanded feed to John Tavares for an easy goal.
On the ensuing shift, Matt Martin would deflect in a Matt Carkner shot (pass?) for a quick goal to make it 2-2.
After the Islanders battled back from a tough end to the first period, it looked like they might get crushed from what happened in the second. The Senators scored twice to take a 4-2 lead, with the first of the goals coming off a weird rebound that Bobby Ryan stuffed in. After Nabokov stopped a point shot, the puck rebounded high in the zone where Patrick Wiercioch threw it on net. Nabokov got most of the shot but it somehow got behind him to where Ryan was conveniently located. The second Senators goal was the MacArthur wrap around, discussed above.
But lots of credit to the Islanders for battling back in this game, and to a much-maligned defensive corps that stepped up and directly contributed to the two comeback goals one in the late second and another in the early third period.
First, it was Matt Donovan stepping into the faceoff circle and putting a good shot on net with an even better finish off the rebound by Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Then, it was Thomas Hickey with an excellent cross-ice feed to Frans Nielsen for the fourth goal.
It almost seemed like the Islanders were destined to lose this one. The two, two-goal deficits, the goaltending/defensive breakdowns, the 5-on-3 they inexplicably goofed on early in the third, Bouchard missing the net on a wide open chance from the slot in the third. It seemed like despite the gaudy shot total they were going to make one too many mistakes or miss on one too many chances to even get a point out of it. Just maybe one of those games where they played well enough to win but got unlucky. They did battle and got enough at the net to force overtime and at least a point.
And if there’s one overtime we need to burn to DVD and mail to NHL headquarters to advocate a longer 4-on-4 session, this is it. Both teams went back and forth, up and down the ice with multiple breakaways and exciting chances.
The biggest chance for the Islanders was Thomas Vanek’s breakaway that started on his own blueline. It almost seemed like he tried to beat Robin Lehrner up high with a quick shot but it didn’t go where he wanted to put it and the game headed to the shootout.
Frans Nielsen — who else — broke a shootout drought with a forehand move and was the only scorer in the skills competition to give the Islanders the win. To his credit, Nabokov did stop all three shooters including Bobby Ryan with the Senators last hope. Ryan, who had a whale of the game, was named first star with two points and 19 minutes of ice time. He was also blatanly exasperated after the ending.
It’s a solid win and a nice two points for the Islanders who are home against Boston tomorrow. It’s also another shootout win, which doesn’t help when it comes to playoff tie breaking scenarios in April.
Also, maybe, there’s a point of concern that the team is having trouble finishing games in regulation. They’ve been able to win only three games in regulation or overtime this year, which is on par with such excellent hockey teams as the 3-8 Flyers and 3-5-4 Devils.