Keith Quinn, Islanders Point Blank:
Well, they keep coming. Maybe they can make a run at this thing after all.
Despite arriving in Toronto at three a.m. (*empirically validated via twitter) and on the tail end of back to backs on the road, the Isles extended their recent run of good resilient play. They have now taken five of their last six contests and got some balanced scoring along with continued support from the one of the NHL’s hottest lines.
Thomas Vanek extended his career high scoring streak as did Tavares and Okposo (unless you count his absence for the birth of his daughter…which the NHL probably does). Calvin deHaan also got his first NHL goal off a shot outside the blue line that Dion Phaneuf tipped past Jonathan Bernier.
Jack Capuano also secured his 100th career win behind the bench, Unfortunately, they are still 8 points out of the wild card and seven points out of third in the division. The teams they are chasing all have at least one game in hand. Washington, the third place team in the division, has three.
The Islanders fell behind relatively early and seemed to have some trouble finding their stride in the first. That could’ve been the schedule, or it could’ve been the fact that really every line was different or new-ish and 2/3 of the D pairs were switched as well. This spelled on by the return of Okposo and Leaf truculence countermeasures.
Tyler Bozak got things started with a fluky 40 foot fluttering deflection past Kevin Poulin leaving Islander fans to immediately fear that the loss of Evgeni Nabokov to injury could be a killer. But the resurgent offense chipped away.
Kyle Okposo got his 17th of the season late in the frame on a long range shot estimated at 40-50 feet by Jiggs McDonald after Tavares gained the zone and dished over to the right wing. Jonathan Bernier got a piece of it with his blocker. On the play, all four Leaf defenders cheated toward Tavares giving Okposo some space.
In the second period, the penalty floodgates opened with the Isles taking four stick infraction/obstruction penalties. Immediately following the first penalty kill of the period, Michael Grabner gave the Isles the lead on a wrap around goal. It was made possible when Bernier came out to play a dump in, flubbed it a bit and couldn’t retrieve it outside the trapezoid without taking a penalty. Grabner swooped in, headed behind the net and Bernier caught himself on the post a bit trying to get across the crease.
The Leafs would tie it at two on a Mason Raymond power play goal. Poulin had a bit of a bad decision on a goalie handle and put the puck in an awkward position for deHaan. That led to some extended zone possession for the Leafs, and eventually an point shot from Gardiner and Raymond banging in a rebound.
Somehow, despite the disparity in penalties, the shots were even at 8-8 for the period.
In the third, the Isles scored on their only power play of the game. With
Jeffrey Joffrey Lupul off for goaltender interference, Frans Nielsen gained the Leafs zone, crossed to Tavares, who got the puck to Thomas Vanek. Vanek ripped a shot that hit Cody Franson and Nielsen snapped the loose puck in.
About three minutes later, Calvin deHaan gave the Isles a two goal lead.
About 10:50 into the period, the Isles led in shots 3-2 effectively clamping down on a lead. However, at 16:55, Lupul deflected a long distance Nazem Kadri shot past Poulin to make it close. But from there, the Isles controlled play pretty assertively, held the Leafs to four shots (total) and Cal Clutterbuck added an empty netter.
- I’m definitely a bit of a Brock Nelson fan, but there’s no denying how good he’s been lately. His Corsi% is outstanding in his last bunch of games, and his zone starts are pretty tough.
- The penalty disparity was again strange. It seemed like physical penalties weren’t called, but stick infractions were called liberally. And the PK looked pretty good again despite giving up the goal.
- The fourth line saw minimal ice time tonight (except for Cizikas who was fueled by 5:46 on the PK). Matt Martin saw 5:57 which has to be his lowest total in a couple of years. But McLaren/Orr/Holland all saw under 5:30 also.
- The Isles got killed in the faceoff dot again 38-24
- Returning from a commercial break, Jiggs quipped “Welcome back to the center of the universe.” You have to love Jiggs. He’s officially at the point where he doesn’t care and dammit he’s gonna say it out loud.
- Phaneuf didn’t concuss anybody, so that’s good.
- Tavares now has 8 points in his last two games and 16 in his last 7. He’s good.
- Ryan Strome has 18 shots in his last 4 games (4.5 per game). That’s a ridiculously high number that if he can continue (he probably can’t because that’s Ovechkin level high), he’s going to start scoring a ton.