One of my favourite teams to follow through a rebuild that existed forever and then finally took form over the last few seasons has been the New York Islanders. The work that Garth Snow has been able to do over the last few seasons by signing the right players, trading [at times], and drafting along with his staff is pretty amazing.
Going out and signing Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski to start the free-agent period was arguably one of the best moves this off-season. Acquiring Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk fixed up their blueline allowing the young talent more time to develop. Finally, adding Jaroslav Halak to solidify the broken goaltending ensured this team was in it to win.
This sort of decision making and approach is something I hope Brad Treliving can do long term for the team long with proper drafting.
First Period -
The Islanders jumped out with possession of the puck immediately after the opening draw and ended up leading to a out of play deflection. Boychuk would get the first shot on net and moments later Anders Lee would crush Dennis Wideman from behind sending him head first into the boards. No call was made on the hit and Wideman got up fine after being down for a few moments.
Calgary would ice the puck a billion times in a row after being trapped in their own zone, initially because of the Islanders' fourth line. Finally the Flames would break out with Sean Monahan leading the charge and attempting to deflect in a fantastic Joe Colborne pass. Countering that, John Tavares (compared to Joe Sakic before the game by Bob Hartley) would enter the Flames zone single-handedly and fend off Calgary until a line change was made.
To make matters worse, shortly after that Leddy would skate into the Flames zone with no problem at all; blast the puck on net and then get his rebound to get another shot. The inability to prevent these zone entries was one of a few problems Calgary faced in the opening period. On an offensive zone faceoff, Marcus Granlund would win the draw but the Frans Nielsen line would race up the ice with the puck lead by Lee who attempted to spring an "activated' Boychuk would result in Lance Bouma tripping up Boychuk.
Matt Stajan oddly enough was nailed on a face off violation at the same time sending the Flames to a 5 on 3 PK. The Islanders' PP didn't need much time as a fancy passing play would feed Tavares the puck who put it home to make it a 1-0 game. Luckily, they would kill off the Stajan penalty. Just past the mid-way point of the period, Calgary would finally register their first shot on net. Ari is going to have fun with the stats recap tomorrow for sure.
Finally around this time, Calgary would wake up. It wouldn't be the top-three lines doing it though. It would be the fourth line. Yes, the realm that Matt Stajan was banished to. They would be the ones generating chances late in the first. The period would end with a great scoring chance by the Islanders thanks to a Travis Hamonic point-shot tipped on net by Tavares.
Islanders outshoot the Flames 9-7.
Second Period -
A period not a lot to happen besides a lot of neutral zone play. The Islanders discipline and control of the game limited chances for both teams. Raphael Diaz would unleash a beautiful point shot that ended up knocking off Jaro Halak's mask off. So, Rafa you should do that more. Just trust me here, okay? Calgary spent a lot of time icing the puck early on, something they need to seriously work on.
Fortunately Deryk Engelland did another good thing - so at the end of the season when we do a clip-show of great moments featuring Engelland; we'll be up to like 5 things. A strong defensive play in the DZ where Engelland knocked down Okoposo to allow the Flames to get possession and exit the zone for a line change. Small things and important to getting back into the game.
Finally after a stoppage in play and a faceoff at centre ice, Josh Jooris would storm into the Islanders' zone and draw a holding penalty sending the Flames to their first power play of the game. The continued structured play by the Islanders was on full display as their penalty kill completely limited the Flames to just about nothing. Eventually Wideman would get an okay point shot on net but that was it.
Beyond that, it was just a bunch of small back and forth chances with nothing serious or noteworthy.
Flames would end the period out-shooting the Islanders 9-6. They would also lead in shots at that point 16-15.
Third Period -
Trailing by a single goal, you'd assume the Flames would do their comeback kid thing in the third and win this right? RIGHT?! It doesn't help them playing a team who are 16-2-1 this season in 1 goal games. Yeah, the Islanders are fantastic in 1 goal games. The Flames got some pressure early on trying to get some shots through but youngsters like Brock Nelson (the most American name ever) would put his talented body on the line blocking shots.
John Tavares, you know that really good guy? Yeah he got sprung on a partial breakaway sneaking in behind Mark Giordano but thankfully Hiller stood strong stopping the talented dude. In the offensive zone, Rafa Diaz's stick was slashed and broken by Ryan Strome sending the Flames back to the man advantage.
Nothing would really happen as the aggressive New York PK prevented anything from happening. Just after the penalty was over, Tavares would take a high-sticking call sending the Flames back again the power play. They would have a fantastic chance in close as Halak's not so bright pass to Boychuk. Flames pounce on it and feed Sean Monahan out front but Halak stops him cold.
Beyond that the Flames would have a few more great chances thanks to Gaudreau and Jooris. Over the course of one shift they had a handful of decent chances deep in the Islanders zone. They were causing serious havoc to the Islanders' defence. It wouldn't last as an icing call followed by Gaudreau failing to clear the zone properly, Engelland losing his man, and some fatigue would allow Tavares to put in his 2nd of the game.
In the final moments of the game, Mark Giordano bombed in hard to Halak and rung it off the post. With Hiller on the bench, the Flames would strike as Johnny Gaudreau took advantage of a good bounce to score his 13th of the season.
The Flames would pull Hiller again once they got positioning again but failed to capitalize as they fell 2-1 at home ending their 4 game winning streak.
Islanders out-shot Flames 9-7 in period. Edge Flames over 24-23 total.
Player of the Game: Johnny Hockey
We're going to dive into him some more tomorrow but for now he scored a goal tonight; the Flames' lone goal. He was trying to generate chances all night and had a few mistakes. It was a realistic game for him, a game with the Flames had to play team well above them and stay in it. He had 3 shots on net, 3 blocked shots (GRIT), 2:55 TOI for the PP, and a total of 17:37 overall. Not bad.
Stray Observations -
- You're down a goal and you put Brandon Bollig out there in the final seconds of the game? Good job, Hartley. Listen I get it you see Bollig doing a few good things recently so you try to reward him? Nope. Quit it. Don't do that. I mean unless you've been watching the World Juniors and you want us to suddenly tank.
- Jonas Hiller did a lot of heavy lifting on his own this evening. .950 ES SV% this evening and a .917 SV% overall wasn't too bad. The Islanders had lots of quality chances and he stood firm.
- Man when the fourth line is out performing the other lines for 2/3 of the game, you have a problem. Either fatigue from TOI over the last few games or lack of trying but yeesh. Matt Stajan looked pretty amazing tonight in all fairness and he makes Lance Bouma and Bollig look good.
- Dennis Wideman's rough night was a highlight reel of "what not to do at the NHL level". Russell wasn't too bad tonight but for the most part the team looked very marginal compared to the Islanders.
- Positives? Gaudreau netting his 13th and staying in the rookie scoring race. Coming into the game he was 5 points back of Filip Forsberg. Good for him to cap off a fantastic day (despite the loss) on the NHL Rookie of the month honours for December. We'll have a write-up tomorrow about the rookie as we wanted to go in depth about his play.
- Not sure if the Flames understand this but icing the puck typically doesn't bode well overall. The icing call that lead to the 2nd goal was something that should be worked on in practice. This trend of icing the puck consistently usually ends up in a few scenarios for the Flames: 1. more icing 2. goal against 3. out possessed for long interval
- Sean Monahan had a very silent but decent game. He might be cooling off but he is steady and consistent with the small things on the game. With Backlund potentially coming back soon, we could see a line shuffle that might give him some more offensive support.
- We give Karri Ramo the start against the Red Wings? If we're going to roll the two-headed goalie beast we need to keep goalies fresh. I can see and understand why Hartley may want to ride the hot goalie but giving Ramo a chance can increase any value he has; especially if he is used as trade bait or if he walks at season's end. Also if I remember correctly, he doesn't give up rebounds like Hiller does regularly.
- We go on and on about the necessity of trying Gaudreau and Hudler with Monahan again but I think Hartley blocked me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Myspace. He won't respond to my calls or texts now either. Just trust me, Bob. TRUST ME!