Well, that one was fun, was it not? Talk about familiar feelings. I had to listen to this one on the radio, and I was still closing my eyes in the final period.
The New York Islanders met the Tampa Bay Lightning for a Martin Luther King Day matinee at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. For the second straight game, over 15,000 fans packed the old barn, but this time, Islanders’ fans left with a smile on their faces, albeit needing oxygen.
The offense opened up this afternoon, leading the Islanders to 4-3 victory over Tampa. This game had a little bit of everything for the diehards, who all went through the feeling of helplessness when the Islanders allowed all three of their goals in the first half of the third. Although the Islanders made it harder than it had to be, they played a good game of hockey, and looked much better than they did for Saturday night’s opener.
The game started off exactly the way it should have started on Saturday. Immediately after the drop of the puck, Joe Finley and Matt Martin dropped the gloves to engage in fisticuffs with their partners, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and BJ Crombeen, respectively. Joe Finley threw a couple of big punches that seemed to take him off balance, allowing him to be wrestled to the ground, while Martin and Crombeen exchanged fists until they were broken up. It was the jump the Islanders could have used against the Devils, yet it was enough to energize them for the first.
For the second straight game, the Islanders found themselves on the power-play within the first minute, but again failed to convert. There were a few chances, including a missed opportunity where Frans Nielsen pushed the puck wide of an empty net. There were plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs”, which were accepted after the lack of scoring chances two nights ago. The period ended 0-0, but the Islanders’ 10 shots on net matched their output in the first two periods against the Devils.
The game really started to take shape around seven minutes into the second period, when Mark Streit sprung Michael Grabner from all the way down the ice for a breakaway, which he (gasp) converted. Yes, Michael Grabner scored on a breakaway (with a nifty move) while being held up by Eric Brewer. Grabner’s goal came on the power-play.
Roughly eight minutes later, John Tavares stole the puck from Ryan Malone and found Matt Martin, who was emerging from the penalty box. Martin found himself on a breakaway, which he also scored on, increasing the Islanders lead to 2-0.
While I was writing a Tweet about Martin’s goal, the Islanders scored again. This time it was Kyle Okposo, who gave the Islanders a three-goal lead towards the end of the second frame. John Tavares picked up the assist on Kyle’s goal.
Through two periods, New York clearly dominated the play. The Islanders outshot Tampa 16-8 in the second period, pushing the two period shot differential to 26-15 in favor of Long Island.
The Islanders came into the third period with the 3-0 lead, but an even bigger question: Could they hold it? Since the Scott Gordon era, the Islanders have showed consistency in failing to put together a full sixty-minute effort. The team had become infamous around the Island for it’s blown leads, and early disappearances from their games.
At the start of the third, the Islanders calmed a lot of nerves with a David Ullstrom goal. With eighteen minutes to go, the Islanders found themselves with a four-goal lead. Then, it (almost) happened.
The Lightning scored three goals within the next six minutes, including two goals off of fluky bounces. With exactly twelve minutes remaining, Tampa found themselves down by only one goal, and fans found themselves burying their heads in their hands.
It all seemed eerily familiar, like the same old Islanders. The Islanders maintained their offensive pressure in the third (18 shots), but the ice still seemed tilted in Tampa’s favor. With less than three minutes on the clock, Tampa took two penalties, which sealed it for the Islanders.
The Islanders may have scared you, but it’s far from the “same old” mantra. The team needs to learn how to win, and learn how to deal with pressure coming their way. It may have felt similar, but the Islanders did come away with two points, something we did not say often last year in the same situation.
The team came together in a big way in the final frame. They did not take penalties. They kept pushing the puck forward. They played their game, and kudos to Cappy, who called a timeout immediately after Stamkos’ goal. Cappy made the right decision, which calmed the team, and got them back to playing as a cohesive unit.
At the end of the day, they did hold on, and they now have more wins than the Rangers and Flyers combined.
A few observations:
-John Tavares might have been the first star (he could be every night), but David Ullstrom was arguably the best player on the ice for the Islanders this afternoon. He scored his first goal of the season, and provided the Islanders with solid play. He only played for 9:27, but he was easy to find every time he stepped foot on the ice. The kid has NHL hands, and to everyone complaining about the Islanders “AHL-calibre” bottom-six, I hope you’re not including him.
-According to Eric Hornick, Keith Aucoin has won 17 of his 21 face-offs. He won 83% of them this afternoon.
-Speaking of Ullstrom and Aucoin, they have connected pretty well the past two games. After a few chances on Saturday, Aucoin and Ullstrom converted on a nice give-and-go play. Aucoin earned his first assist on the Island.
-Aucoin also had 5 shots on net in 14:32 of ice time. Another “AHL-calibre” talent that has improved this team.
-The Islanders are 10x better with these waiver-wire pickups than they were when the lockout ended. Criticize Snow all you want, but he made this team better with every one of these acquisitions (yes, even Joe Finley).
-Evgeni Nabokov had an assist on Michael Grabner’s goal. Who needs DiPietro?
-Brad Boyes had three giveaways today.
-John Tavares and Frans Nielsen won less than 40% of their face-offs. Luckily, Reasoner and Aucoin balanced those numbers out.
-Special teams were effective for the Islanders again. The team went 1/7 on the power-play, and 3/3 on the penalty-kill. At the early stages of this season, the Islanders seem to be taking few penalties, which they also did last season. The Islanders were on the penalty kill the third least amount of times in the 2011-12 season.
-Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner look as if they’re ready to be top-six forwards. Grabner is still finding his breakaways (I think he had 3 today), and Okposo is playing to find the back of the net. If these guys can get on the score-sheet, the Islanders will have solved their offensive woes.
-Matt Moulson has not scored a goal yet. He did have an assist today, though.
-Mark Streit played over 29 minutes today. Frans Nielsen had more ice time than John Tavares.
-Casey Cizikas had just less than 6 minutes of ice time, and finished with a -1 rating.
-Colin McDonald had 4 hits today. The Islanders may have found a good one in McDonald, who’s playing to keep his spot in the NHL.
The Islanders are now 1-1-0-0. A lot of Islanders Country overreacted to the team’s 2-1 loss on Saturday night. The team does not have an All-Star roster, but they should be able to get the job done. The team is still growing, but wins like their win today should make them stronger. It’s still early, and the Islanders are still very much in it. No need to panic. Good win today.
The Islanders next game is on Thursday against the Maple Leafs. It is the start of a 5-game road trip. Let’s see how this team handles playing on the road.
Thanks for reading! Thoughts on today’s game?
Filed Under: New York Islanders
About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants