ISLANDERS 4 LIGHTNING 3 — Isles survive third period scare to gain first two points of the season

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written by Keith Quinn

The cardiac Isles held the Lightning off and regained their composure after giving up three consecutive goals in the third after jumping out to a 4-0 early third period lead.

Martin Luther King’s message of non-violence was lost less than one second into today’s holiday matinee as the Isles and Lightning had a two on two brawl off the opening faceoff.  The combatants were Matt Martin vs. BJ Crombeen, and the undercard had Joe Finley vs Pierre-Cedric Labrie. (Side note, what’s up with hyphenated first names?) Both fights were relatively entertaining draws followed up by Ryan Malone and Colin McDonald getting two minutes a piece for looking suspicious.  Today’s festivities included the return of coach Jack Capuano back behind the bench after successful kidney stone surgery and the insertion of Casey Cizikas back into the lineup on RW in favor of Eric Boulton.

The rest of the first period:

There was much more skating space and flow evident almost immediately.  The Isles had the better of the chances and outshot the Lightning  10-7.  They failed to capitalize on a couple of odd man chances by Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner and Matt Martin and David Ullstrom respectively.  The Nielsen/Grabner chance came on a good keep by Andrew MacDonald at the point and resulted in both Nielsen and Grabner missing relatively empty nets.  The Ullstrom/Martin chance was broken up by some deft stickwork by Victor Hedman.

The Isles seemed to employ a different defense scheme and breakout than in Saturday’s game.  The defense saw the forwards getting back in support and the defensemen holding the blue line a bit more resulting in several offsides calls against the lightning.  The breakouts looked more effective with short quick passes and skating with speed through the neutral zone.

The beautiful second:

The Isles started the second off continuing to attack and drawing three consecutive powerplays that had some great puck movement.  They converted on the third when Michael Grabner (from Streit, Nabokov) converted on a breakaway off an outlet pass from Mark Streit. Grabner was able to get Anders Lindback moving laterally to his left and pull the puck back across and gently tuck it in to the right side of the net with a Lightning player draped all over him.

Matt Moulson briefly left the game with what appeared to be an ailing arm/shoulder and was replaced on one shift by Matt Martin who was promptly whistled for holding on Martin St. Louis.  During the ensuing penalty kill, Frans Nielsen broke his stick blocking a shot and went to change with just a few seconds remaining on the kill. He was replaced by John Tavares who tied a Lightning player up just inside the Isles zone long enough for the penalty to expire.  He floated a pass to the middle of the ice toward the Lightning blue line where it was gathered by Martin (from Tavares) for another breakaway goal off a wrist shot.

The Isles would extend their lead to 3-0 1:12 later when Moulson chipped a puck loose along the boards over to Tavares who passed over to Kyle Okposo for an Islander 2 on 1.  Okposo (from Tavares, Moulson) head faked a pass to Tavares and buried a wrister for his first of the season.

The Isles doubled up the Lightning in shots 16-8 in the period and dominated possession.  Nabokov looked sharp in limited work.

The dangerous third:

The Isles carried a power play over into the third, but did not convert.  David Ullstom extended the lead to 4-0 at 1:31 off a pretty give and go with Keith Aucoin that he roofed over Anders Lindback.

Just 51 seconds later, the Lightning answered when ageless Martin St Louis (from Stamkos, Conacher) gathered a puck that Mark Streit couldn’t locate in his feet and put it home to break Evgeni Nabokov’s shutout.

After that, the Isles continued to get odd man rushes and breakaways that they couldn’t convert.  Chances for Grabner, Okposo and McDonald failed to extend the lead and the Lightning closed within one on goals by Benoit Poulliot (from Crombeen, Hall) and Stamkos (from Conacher, St. Louis) :34 seconds apart.

Jack Capuano used his timeout after that and the Isles were able to calm things down the rest of the way and finished up by drawing two penalties in the final 2:26 (putting them on a long 5 on 3) that helped to seal the game.

NOTICINGS:

  • Michael Grabner’s shot and finishing look improved this year.  That is going to be a must going forward.
  • How good does Keith Aucoin look in two games?  Is this a rusty NHL or can he keep it going?  He is 17-4 on faceoffs, and in about 27:30 of ice time, controls play well and distributes the puck.  Reminds me of another AHLer the Isles picked up a couple of years ago…
  • 44 shots?!?!?  Wow.  That’s a recipe for success.  Keep that up and the goals will come and the goals against will be prevented.
  • I’d certainly like to see how Hickey and Martinek look in this lineup pretty soon.
  • They kept moving today and were able to draw a bunch of penalties.
  • They got back to that “tip in” from a distance strategy that was pretty effective last year, but almost to a fault.  They still need to work the puck to the middle and get shots from the circle areas to keep the PK honest.