"We had some pretty good energy," Gordon said. "We spent almost the entire game in their zone. Maybe they had one forecheck at the beginning of the first period. Our guys, from my standpoint, played with a lot of effort. There was a missed coverage on three goals where we had people in place but didn't pick up the man. That was a breakdown, and we didn't get the save. But from a defensive standpoint in our zone, we didn't give up anything and we spent little time there, so we must have been doing something very well in the offensive zone on the forecheck."
That was Scott Gordon's assessment of his team's 5-1 loss at home to the Atlanta Thrashers on December 6th. At the time, I noted that Gordon seemed to go a little too far to paint the loss as a good loss when the circumstances didn't call for it. You certainly couldn't blame Gordon if he wanted to accentuate the positive after last night's 4-3 shootout loss at Buffalo.
For the first time in a long time, there were plenty of positives in the play of the Islanders as they downed the Maple Leafs 4-1 Friday to end a ten-game losing streak, and extended the Sabres to a skills competition Saturday. Only those who wish to see the Isles lose at all costs could have come away from this weekend disappointed (granted, this team desperately needs John Tavares). Here are some of the good news highlights...
- Kyle Okposo hit the scoresheet with a goal and an assist for his first
careermulti-point game this season. [Corrected because Okposo had a goal and an assist in his second NHL game, a 3-1 win at New Jersey on March 21, 2008.] Okposo kicked off the scoring just 3:47 into the first period to get the Islanders going. The play was started by a clean breakout pass from Rick DiPietro, who recorded the only assist on the play and in the process set a team record for career points by a goalie (14, all assists).
- After playing only 2+ games this season, DiPietro made a surprise return to the lineup and recorded his first win of the season. He stopped 28 of 29 shots in a solid, controlled performance that seemed to give his teammates a shot in the arm.
- Bill Guerin lit the lamp twice to notch his 399th and 400th career goals. Guerin is the 8th American player to hit the 400 mark.
- In addition to Okposo's efforts, the youth brigade was all over the box score. Blake Comeau picked up two assists while Chris Campoli, Jeff Tambellini, and Josh Bailey registered one helper each.
- Tambellini finally broke through for his first goal of the season (I—okay, Garth—told you he'd score) by converting a return pass from behind the net by Mark Streit. Tambellini started the exchange by finding a cutting Streit with a sharp pass across the front of the goal. Streit took the puck behind the net and found Tambellini open on the other side. Half the net may have been open, but it looked like a goal scorer's goal.
- Joey MacDonald stepped back into the starter's role just one day after the return of DiPietro and played solidly, stopping 34 of 37 shots. Odds are that the Isles will need to count on MacDonald more this season and it's important that he remains sharp and confident.
- Comeau, Okposo, and Bailey all got in on the scoring for the second consecutive game with an assist each. This was in addition to goals by Tambellini and Campoli.
- The Isles used a late power play and an extra attacker to score twice in the final 1:34, stunning the Sabres and sending the game into overtime. It was nice to see them force an opponent into a third-period collapse, especially after the Sabres extended their one-goal lead to two with only 5:23 remaining.
- Mike Comrie's goal, which brought the Isles to within one at 18:26 of the third, was the kind of prototypical two-man advantage goal that this team has not scored often enough in the last few years. With MacDonald pulled and the Isles skating 6-on-4, Guerin took a pass down low from Comeau and fed the puck across the crease to Comrie who was waiting on the doorstep with an open net to hit.
- On the game-tying goal, Okposo refused to be knocked off the puck. His toughness and determination enabled him to feed Campoli, whose perfectly placed shot from the slot tied the game with two seconds remaining in regulation.
- It looks like Brendan Witt is starting to round back into shape.
The Bad News?
- Andy Hilbert is out with a hairline fracture in his foot. Blocking so many shots has its consequences. As annoying as it is to lose another player, and as well as Hilbert has played this season, the Isles can survive without him.
- DiPietro did not travel to Buffalo and Howie Rose reported that the goalie has a strained groin. Monday should be very interesting. At this point, I feel like it's 50/50 whether DiPietro starts against the Rangers or we hear something about 7-10 days.
- Unnecessary penalties continue to plague this team. Four consecutive minors in the second period Saturday night and a momentum killer by Sean Bergenheim in overtime were too much to overcome.
- A 4-point weekend would have been really sweet. The shootout in Buffalo was no contest. MacDonald got toasted by Kotalik and Stafford while Park and Okposo did not fool Ryan Miller in the least.
All in all, a very enjoyable weekend of hockey.