And in the blink of an eye, they can look relatively competitive.
Having your starting goaltender and best overall defenseman back in the lineup can do that. By no means were the Islanders going toe to toe with the eastern conference leading Rangers, but they got a good jump early, effective goaltending, some physical play and except for a couple of instances, sound defensive play, to earn a hard fought victory.
Matt Moulson (Tavares, MacDonald) got the Isles on the board at 6:07 with his 26th bunkered down in his zone on top of the crease. The goal came off a John Tavares faceoff win that MacDonald corralled and dished to PA Parenteau. Parenteau sent the puck across ice to Hamonic who sent back to Amac who missed the net on a rush. Tavares gathered the puck behind the net, put a spin move on a Ranger defender and put a pass on Moulson’s tape for the tap in.
A little over two minutes later, the Isles would extend their lead to 2-0. The Rangers committed a neutral zone turnover (into the chest of Tavares) and as soon as the puck hit the floor, he put a backhand between the legs pass to an area of the ice where only Parenteau could reach it. He gained the offensive zone, wound up and unleashed a cannon of a slap shot from the top of the circle to Martin Biron’s left that went high blocker side for his first of two on the night. Somehow, Travis Hamonic got an assist on the play, but it didn’t appear he touched the puck on the play.
The Rangers then ramped up the defense and took over the remainder of the first. They closed the deficit to 2-1 on a Mark Staal (Stralman, Mitchell) goal on the power play with Marty Reasoner off for tripping. Mark Streit provided the screen and Nabokov may have been cheating a bit because the shot angle was poor…it wound up beating him short side. Nabokov was able to hold the lead despite the Rangers outshooting the Isles 11-5 after one.
At 8:11 of the second, Parenteau (Moulson, MacDonald) got his second of the game during an Islander power play after a weak call on Michael Del Zotto. Brian Boyle had lost his stick in the Islanders zone and it came out toward the Ranger point man. As Boyle got close to the stick, Del Zotto pushed it about four feet toward him (with his stick) and was called for “throwing the stick”.
The Islanders outnumbered and outworked the Rangers in the corner to Biron’s right and Moulson got the puck loose to Tavares who came up the boards, turned around and put a behind the back pass off the boards on to MacDonald’s stick. MacDonald launched a shot that was blocked by Ryan McDonagh and fell to Moulson who backhanded a pass across the front to Parenteau who backhanded it through Biron’s five-hole.
The Rangers would close the gap to one two minutes later when Mark Streit carried the puck deep into the Rangers zone (mid-circle), turned it over, and got caught. Artem Anisimov found a streaking Marion Gaborik who had gotten past Steve Staios and Matt Moulson who was covering for Streit. Driving that deep may not have been the best idea considering the Islanders had a two goal lead at the time.
The Rangers tied it up on a power play goal by Derek Stepan with rookie Casey Cizikas (more on him later) in the box for a rather weak hooking call. Even Ranger broadcaster Sam Rosen noted “Can’t agree with that call Joe” (Michelleti). Stepan’s goal was a little fluky. Andrew MacDonald got a piece of it, deflected it and Nabokov couldn’t adjust to control the rebound. It bounced off of him, then off of Travis Hamonic and into the net…just like they drew it up.
The third period looked like two teams trying to ensure they earned a point. While the Rangers shot total was pretty high (12-6) there were not many quality scoring chances except for a Ranger power play with Kyle Okposo off for an elbow. (Which was also a strange call because he got his arm up defending himself from a Ryan Callahan hit. You seldom see the player being hit get that call against him.)
Overtime was also somewhat conservative with the Islanders outshooting the Rangers only 1-0 in the five minutes. The Islanders got a scare when Milan Jurcina took an unnecessary, lazy and dangerous boarding penalty for drilling Michael Del Zotto into the boards face first resulting in a Ranger power play. It wasn’t the worst boarding you’ll ever see, but it may prompt a call from the DPS. Similarly, Ryan Callahan had a bit of an ugly board on Hamonic in the third. Stepan negated the penalty by taking a hooking about 30 seconds later and they finished overtime 3 on 3.
The shootout started with the league’s all time leader (over 40 attempts) abandoning his signature backhand and going forehand five-hole on Martin Biron. I could’ve sworn I saw Nielsen saying something to Biron prior to his attempt. Confirm or deny in comments.
Marion Gaborik evened it up beating Nabokov on the next attempt, followed by misses from Tavares, Callahan, Parenteau and Richards. Matt Moulson also went forehand five-hole to put the Islanders ahead, and Nabokov (33 of 36 and 3 of 4 in SO) stoned John Mitchell to win in his first game back from apparently the worst flu in the history of man. (Long Island bird flu?)
- Casey Cizikas acquitted himself quite well in his debut centering Brian Rolston and Matt Martin. His stats weren’t overly impressive, but he didn’t look out of place, looked tenacious at times, played physically, and didn’t make many mistakes. What I liked most was his head constantly swiveling around to look for unoccupied Rangers. He was quite aware and observant.
- The stats on Cizikas; 11:33 TOI, 2 hits, 1 blocked shot, 4/7 on faceoffs, 2 penalty minutes (the weak hooking call). He had more ice time than Niederreiter, Pandolfo, Reasoner an Martin (who had 7 minutes in penalties though).
- The Islanders were out hit on the night, but did play a very physical game. John Tavares had a beauty of a hit crushing Ranger captain Ryan Callahan in the first.
- Matt Martin uncharacteristically lost his head at the end of the 2nd period after he took an elbow from Mark Staal as he attempted to hit him, which negated a power play. He has been so much better with that this year, but that was a crucial point of the game. He needs to be smarter than that and pick a spot later for retribution. (If it really warranted it at all).
- This team looks night and day different with Evgeni Nabokov in the net. More please.
- Welcome back Travis Hamonic. The kid looked like he hadn’t even been off the ice over the last two or three weeks logging 22:38 TOI, 1 hit, 3 blocked shots, +2 while wearing a bird cage.
- Hamonic/Streit looked pretty good on the power play point. Brian Rolston, not so much.
- How is it possible they can look like this against the Rangers, and so atrocious against the Senators and Sabres? Speaking of which, Sunday, they have the Senators again, followed by tough games against the Capitals, Flyers and Bruins all on the road. This is definitively the make or break point of the season. You’d have to think more than one loss here seals the deal as the Isles no longer have games in hand.
- The trade deadline is coming..scary time draws near with UFA status approaching for Parenteau and Nabokov…who both continue to produce and show a ton of heart. Let’s hope Snow can get these guys locked in before they can test the waters.