"Oh, big scrum today. We must be winning." --Rick DiPietro
Yes, it was, Rick. And yes, you are. What better way to confront a large media presence in the locker room than on the heels of the most dominant performance by the Islanders in recent memory? Want to feel good about how your team is playing? Have them up 43-7 in shots with 9:30 left in the third. Shots on goal don't always enable you to make a good correlation to winning. In fact, the Islanders have a better record when they are outshot than they do when they outshoot. But 20 shots in the first period indicated that something was going right. And the final margin of 49-10 left no doubt: one of these teams played like it doesn't want to be broken up at the deadline. The other one played like it knows Marian Hossa's bags are packed.
Let's take a look at the ins and outs of the Islanders' three-game-winning-streak-producing 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers...
In a remarkable slap in the face to the rising cost of everything, the price of free chili has actually gone down to 3 goals. More on that later.
Miro Satan entered this game with an impressive resume against Atlanta: 21-20-41 in 29 games. More on that later, too.
Andy Hilbert took a holding penalty 50 seconds into the game. For those of you scoring at home, the injuries to Sillinger and Witt have caused Ted Nolan to adjust the penalty killing units as follows: Vasicek and Hunter came out first with Martinek and Sutton. The forward pair was relieved by Park and Fedotenko, while the defensive pair gave way to Meyer and Bergeron. Bergeron, however, would end up with only :28 of PK time for the game. Aaron Johnson joined Martinek, Sutton, and Meyer in killing off 5 of 6 Thrasher power plays.
Regardless of how the Islanders finish in the standings, this final portion of the season may be best known for the emergence of Sean Bergenheim (note: I wrote this in the first period, before he scored again). Of course, if Bergie finishes the season as strongly as it looks like he will, it will mostly be to avoid the Wrath of Karl. And, yes, Dee does type insanely fast. Her fingers seem to fly around the keyboard as though not attached to her hands.
The New York Lottery Seat Upgrade contest was won tonight by Neil Diamond. Not kidding. But not that Neil Diamond.
Kudos to Game Ops for playing Counting Crows. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings hits stores March 25.
With about 5:40 left in the first, it looked as though Vasicek had banged home a rebound. Apparently, though, it was clear to everyone on the ice that it had not gone in. Imagine that. They all saw it better than we did.
Just over 30 seconds later, Richard Park drove behind the net from right to left, turned back away from his defender, and headed back from left to right. Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen followed Park, who then flipped a backhand pass across the grain from behind the net to Satan, who was streaking in from the left wing. With Lehtonen now at the left post looking for Park, who wasn't there, Satan easily put home the first goal of the game. That's 22 goals and 42 points in 30 games for Satan against the Thrashers. (See? I told you there would be more.)
It was a good first period for the Isles, and the fans let them know it with appreciative applause as the clock wound down.
If you're reading this and it ends here, please tune back in Sunday afternoon/evening for the rest of our story, at no extra cost...
And here it is...Ruslan Fedotenko is just tenacious around the net right now. Early in the second, he went behind the net to gather in the rebound of a Vasicek shot and skated out the other side with a wraparound stuff attempt. Lehtonen made the initial stop, but Fedotenko was not to be denied. He roofed his own rebound to put the Isles up 2-0.
Four minutes into the second frame, DiPietro took his second delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. As Satan headed to the box to serve the minor, just seven seconds after vacating it from his own high-sticking infraction, the PA announcer alerted the crowd to a car in the parking lot with its lights on. The car's license plated started with DPE. Yes, error on DiPietro.
Just past the halfway point of the game, some hard skating behind the net by Franz Nielsen resulted in the first power play of the game for the Isles. 1:01 later, Atlanta took a bench minor for too many men, giving the Isles a 5-on-3. Early in the two-man advantage, Marc-Andre Bergeron made a less-than-stellar attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone with his backhand. Shortly thereafter, Bergeron had another opportunity to keep the puck in the zone, which Ken Dick implored him to do before predicting that having been properly admonished, Bergeron would now score. With the crowd growing typically impatient for a shot on the 5-on-3, Bergeron reared back and fired a slapper home. And there was cheap chili for all.
Without about 3 minutes left in the second, Blake Comeau flattened two Thrashers in about five seconds in the offensive zone. I was sure at that point that Comeau would have a target on his back for the rest of the game.
In the third, the Isles kept the pressure on. They were not content to lay back and protect the three-goal lead. They were rewarded for this style at the 7:50 mark. Freddy Meyer skated the length of the ice, dumped in, gave chase, and bumped Toby Enstrom off the puck to regain possession. Meyer then fed Bergenheim for his seventh of the year and a 4-0 Islanders lead.
It was just two minutes later that the target on Comeau's back was finally engaged. Comeau hit Garnet Exelby behind the Thrasher net. Exelby pushed Comeau down as they began to head back up ice. As Comeau skated away, Exelby placed the blade of his stick between Comeau's legs and gave him an upward hack to the groin. When Comeau turned around to face him, Exelby put his hands around Comeau's neck and choked him. The Atlanta defenseman then started throwing punches while Comeau's hands remained at his side, gloves on. Exelby never seemed fully committed to hurting Comeau. The spear and the choke were kind of half-hearted and looked ridiculous. But make no mistake, the actions suggest a clear intent to injure, even if the execution was lame. My guess is that forthcoming punishment to Exelby will not be that harsh. Bryan Berard earned major points for being the first to Comeau's aid, and the young forward came out of the incident unscathed. And, apparently, amused.
The Islanders finished out the game strongly, despite giving up a shutout-ruining power-play goal with 1:17 remaining. They continued to hit the sluggish Thrashers through the final minutes. It would have been nice to see DiPietro pick up the shutout and for the Isles to hold the Thrashers to single-digit shots. However, the ten shots against still set a franchise record. The team was quite proud of the accomplishment.
They're not all the way back from the brink yet. But it's certainly a lot more fun this way.