Tuesday night the Islanders skated in front of a national television audience in the United States and Canada. They sure made it count.
The Islanders played exceptional hockey from start to finish, taking an early lead on Casey Cizikas’ first NHL goal in the opening period and adding three more in the second frame. There was also killing off a five-minute penalty that spanned the late second and early third, allowing only one shot. On the other side, the Penguins heard boos rain down from the home crowd for much of the night. We’re only six games in and there’s a long way to go, but you can feel great about this one, Islander County.
After looking a bit intimidated and uninspired on the road Sunday night in Winnipeg, the Islanders put that blown lead behind them in full. Tonight’s win was a full team effort for nearly 60-minutes. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a complete effort.
All night, Islander defenders had active sticks and they physically pushed the Penguins’ best players to the corners throughout the night, not allowing for high percentage shots. Towards the end of the game the Penguins did mount a bit of a rush, recording 19 shots in the final period. Only one of those shots would beat Evgeni Nabokov, who had a shutout spoiled with just over a minute to go.
In goal, Nabokov was excellent stopping 37 of 38 shots and getting the team through a first period that started out a bit rough around the edges. This game brought Nabokov’s season save percentage up to .912 and he has looked solid for much of the year so far.
On offense, Casey Cizikas recorded his first NHL goal on a nice wraparound play. The Islanders forecheck forced a turnover in the Penguins’ zone and Cizikas was there to pick up the loose puck and put it home unassisted.
Thanks to Cizikas and a breakaway goal from Michael Grabner, the Islanders continued to get the secondary scoring they so desperately lacked last season. Grabner made it 2-0 about six minutes into the second, giving the Islanders two secondary goals early on. Grabner’s goal was textbook Grabner, stealing the puck at his own blueline and in on the opposing goaltender in an instant. This time he would finish for his team leading fourth of the year.
The Islanders would add two more goals, both on the power play, from John Tavares and Matt Moulson (also his 4th goal) later on in the second period. The passing display on Tavares’ goal was a thing of beauty that I highly recommend you watch again, again and again:
Not only did the powerplay until do whatever they wanted in that sequence, but they did it perfectly. Tape to tape one touch passing; it doesn’t get much better than that.
Late in the second Colin McDonald got five and a game for a boarding major. It was the correct call, although I’m sure McDonald had no ill intentions. These are the kind of hits the league is trying to take out, where a player goes headfirst into the boards. The problem is that the enforcement is sporadic. I can think of a player who went head first into the boards last week in Toronto, in a very similar situation, and had no penalty called. The Islanders would kill off McDonald’s penalty, allowing only one shot to the Penguins during the five-minute advantage. From there, the third period was rather quiet with the Penguins throwing a lot of pucks at the net. Not a whole lot came of it though, as they wouldn’t break through until less than two minutes to go and the game a foregone conclusion.
Last time the Islanders thumped Pittsburgh they did it on the scoresheet and with their fists at the Coliseum. This time is was only on the former. After that game, we didn’t see those same Islanders for quite a while. What we’ve never seen, in the last few seasons anyway, is a game so complete. On such a big stage. Against such a tough opponent. On the road. The season is a long way from over and if the Islanders want to be playing playoff hockey, they need to figure out a way to replicated performances like tonight.