Friday, January 25, 2013

NYI 7, TOR 4: Facing Adversity, Early Deficit, Moulson and Co. Battle Back in Toronto


There's something to be said about coping with adversity, and that this young Islander team has now done that twice in a row is both impressive and reassuring.

So many times over the last few years, we've seen the Isles start slow or surrender the lead, then either not do anything about it or wake up too late.

But in their last two games, they've played to a different tune.

On Monday, it was a four-goal cushion that quickly evaporated, the Lightning cutting New York's lead to 4-3 in a matter of six minutes. The Isles had been playing very well defensively for most of that game but decided to get lazy with a 4-0 edge.

Jack Capuano called a timeout, and the Islanders hunkered down and were able to stop the bleeding. To me, he just looks like a smarter, more well-versed hockey coach than he was before.

Last night, they got off to a horrendous start defensively, letting Toronto jump ahead 3-1 on goals by Carl Gunnarsson, Nazem Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski.

Evgeni Nabokov looked a bit shaky in the first period as well, but other than Gunnarson's weak slap shot from the point that sneaked past him and into the net, I don't think there was much he could've done about the other two Leaf scores, nor the fourth that'd come late in the third period.

You cannot stand around and do nothing on defense, then blame the goaltender for not being everywhere at once. That's not hockey.

A bit of a disappointment coming into this skirmish, we all knew it was just a matter of time until Matt Moulson finally broke loose, and he did so with a two-goal performance.

His team down 1-0, Moulson opted for his trademark style, going hard to the net and picking up a loose puck in front of Leafs' goaltender Ben Scrivens, firing it home to tie the game at one-apiece. The goal was Matt's first of the season and was undoubtedly a welcome sight for Islander fans.

John Tavares picked up his first of two assists on the night and now has four on the year.

Trailing by a 3-1 margin after 20 minutes of hockey, the Islanders needed to settle things down and, quite frankly, to wake the heck up after what had been an extremely uninspiring first period.

Last season, you could forget about this one, hoping that the Isles would at least make it respectable or try and build some momentum for their next game.

But this Islanders squad is a better, more polished, more experienced and more confident one, and I absolutely loved their response. They kept their cool and didn't crack; that's the sign of a maturing hockey team.

Challenge accepted? You bet. Manhandled in the first period, New York really took it to the Maple Leafs from the moment they stepped back out onto the ice at Air Canada Centre.

Mark Streit and Brad Boyes scored their first goals of the season just 1:26 apart.

Streit, converging in the Leafs' zone with Boyes and Tavares (both of whom recorded assists on the play), fired a wrister from close range to beat Scrivens and cut Toronto's lead to 3-2.

Then it was Boyes, fresh off that assist, tipping Frans Nielsen's shot past Scrivens to even things up, 3-3.

It was bound to happen for Boyes, who despite having not scored until last night, has been on a hot pursuit for loose pucks and scoring chances on just about every shift thus far. Boyes finished with a goal and two helpers, and was named the game's second star.

Michael Grabner, who's quietly been on a tear, reminiscent of the one he went on this time of year during his rookie season, was at it again last night. Grabner flung a wrist shot at the bottom right corner of the net that eluded Scrivens to put New York ahead 4-3, just 3:23 into the third period.

1:12 later, ex-Toronto Marlie (Leafs' AHL affiliate) Keith Aucoin took a wrister that beat Scrivens low and right through the five-hole to extend the Isles' lead to 5-3. David Ullstrom, who now has two points (one goal, one assist), and Colin McDonald assisted on Aucoin's goal.

Head coach Randy Carlyle had seen more than enough and, unceremoniously, yanked Ben Scrivens from the net. Replacing him was Toronto's other "sure-fire" Vezina candidate, James Reimer. Visibly frustrated, Scrivens slammed his stick down after retiring to the Leafs' bench.

A while later, Dion Phaneuf hit John Tavares from behind and into the boards. Surprisingly, there was no call against Phaneuf, and Tavares was slow to get back up, but like the Islanders in this game, he'd be okay.

The referees wouldn't penalize Phaneuf, but the Isles took things into their own hands.

Matt Moulson capitalized on a Leafs turnover right after that controversial hit, zipping a shot past Reimer to make it 6-3, Islanders. Moulson now has 12 multi-goal games in his career. He also played in his 248th-consecutive tilt last night.

As soon as that puck crossed the goal line, Matt Carkner went right after Phaneuf in Tavares's defense. He keeps that up, and I have no doubt he will, he'll be a fan-favorite on Long Island in no time.

It wasn't over yet, though. The Islanders were far better on defense for most of the next 40 minutes, but a late miscue cut their lead to 6-4.

Andrew MacDonald left Matt Frattin all alone in front of Nabokov, and off a nice feed from Nazem Kadri, who was stationed behind the net, Frattin just picked his spot and deposited the puck into the top corner.

Frattin had been called up in place of Joffrey Lupul, who's fresh off a new contract extension but will miss the next 4-6 weeks with an injury.

The Leafs attempted to climb back into this game, and because MacDonald and Aucoin committed ill-advised penalties within the final two minutes of the contest, they had a solid chance to do so.

Unfazed, the Islanders stood their ground on the penalty-kill.

Grabner sealed it with a shorthanded empty-netter, but not before having to elude one defender and spin around another. He now has five points (three goals, two assists) in three games.

That marker gave New York a 7-4 advantage with 1:10 remaining and, needless to say, they were able to hold on for the win.

It was the Isles' most goals in a road opener since 1972-73 (also seven), and the most they'd scored on the road since a 7-6 victory over the Buffalo Sabres back on February 13, 2011.

Credit to Evgeni Nabokov, who rebounded quite nicely after an unconvincing first period and finished the game with 39 saves. I felt his composure in net really allowed his teammates to follow suit.

He deserves a break and will get one tonight, when the Isles take on the Boston Bruins with Rick DiPietro between the pipes.

It's also worth noting that, even without P.A. Parenteau, the first line hasn't skipped a beat. Kyle Okposo looks pretty darn comfortable riding shotgun with Tavares and Moulson, and it's hard to argue with the on-ice results so far. It'll be interesting to see if the trio can sustain this throughout the season.

Overall, this was a game that could've gotten ugly and out of hand but, instead, became a positive one for the New York Islanders. They've won two and a row, have something to build on and, even more importantly, have something they can be proud of.


Comments are welcome. 

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