As perhaps an omen, in the first game of the post Rick DiPietro era, an Islander goalie pitched a shutout and Evgeni Nabokov was the best player on the ice. The Islanders got three (3!) even strength goals, Michael Grabner finished a breakaway, and the stars aligned for at least one night.
The first period was pretty evenly played with both goaltenders making some big stops. Each time the Isles started to build some momentum, they took a penalty. They outshot Buffalo 13-9 despite the power plays being 2-0 in the Sabres favor. An interference on Colin McDonald seemed to be a call made strictly because Alexander Sulzer was hobbled on the play, but looked to be nothing more than a good hit.
In the second, Ryan Miller robbed Moulson early on where he was all alone in the bottom of the circle during an intense Isles forecheck.
Patrick Kaleta appeared to hurt himself while taking a pretty big run at Andrew MacDonald, but unfortunately, he was okay and returned to the game to start some blowout shenanigans late. The game looked to be one of those where the Isles would squander a close one. John Tavares made a couple of uncharacteristic gaffes with penalties, one time getting off the ice slowly on a change (which can also be blamed on Frans Nielsen), and at another point tripping Christian Ehrhoff.
Nabokov made impressive glove saves on the penalty kills stoning Drew Stafford at the end of a Buffalo power play and Thomas Vanek on a backhand chance. He was seeing the puck through traffic well and tolerating and adjusting to contact all night.
The Sabres were getting the better of the play (slightly) when the Isles exploded for two goals in 1:10 late in the period. The first was right after a penalty kill with a makeshift line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Marty Reasoner on the ice. Moulson carried the puck into the Sabres zone, pulled up a bit, waited for Marty Reasoner to crash the net and draw defenders away. Then he found Mark Streit streaking to the net for an easy tap in.
After that, Michael Grabner intercepted a soft Christian Ehrhoff cross ice pass at the Isles blue line and was off to the races. He was able to fight through some stick work from Ehrhoff and sent the puck and Ehrhoff’s stick past Ryan Miller for a two nothing lead heading into the third with some carry over PP time.
To their credit, the Islanders kept the pedal to the floor in the third and did not retreat into a completely defensive posture (despite what the shot totals looked like). They continued to make smart plays and get pucks deep into the Buffalo zone and generate scoring pressure.
At 4:24 of the third, John Tavares had a solo effort that basically ended any hope of a Buffalo comeback and really seemed to sap the spirit out of them. Tavares and Matt Moulson went behind the Buffalo net with a couple of Sabres’ players. Tavares won the puck in a wall battle, skated away, shrugged off the defender, walked out in front of the net and picked the far corner.
Evgeni Nabokov continued to keep the Sabres at bay and made some pretty big saves late to preserve the game. As a reward, coach Jack Capuano gave the 4th line some power play time at the end and Colin McDonald connected on a one-timer pinballing feed from Casey Cizikas to make it 4-0.
Perhaps the Sabres were offended by the Isles scoring the late goal, because that’s when the shenanigans began. Patrick Kaleta (who had previously taken a run at Andrew MacDonald in the first took a run at Josh Bailey and Isles captain Mark Streit (coinciding with a whistle), which enraged Joe Finley. Here is how he handled that.
Jack Capuano was pretty enraged at the late game nonsense in a blowout and had a few choice words for the Buffalo bench. After that, Capuano left the 4th line out and Matt Martin went hard to the net and was pushed in even harder by Mike Weber…well, we all know how Ryan Miller feels about that stuff.
All in all, a win that matched the overall quality of play. A win they deserved, without luck in either direction.
- Why are the Isles breaking so many sticks on the PK? It seems like at least once a game lately there is a defender out there for about a minute without a stick.
- I personally love that Kaleta’s face looks exactly like you’d hope a dirty player’s face would look.
- Matt Moulson and John Tavares got a nice ice time break tonight with 14:30 and 17:30 respectively.
- The Sabres have some real problems right now. And Ryan Miller looks like he’s going to snap soon. Last week cursing to reporters, this week trying to fight people.
- The Isles are back to one game under NHL .500. and two points out of a playoff spot. Crazy.