Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Preparing A Statement

The Isles followed up their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad loss to the Edmonton Oilers with a not-as-terrible-but-still-terrible loss to the Vancouver Canucks.  The team was on their longest road trip of the season (seven games) and was struggling to a 2-2 record in the first four games.  It was a bit nerveracking, but having exorcised the Michael Bay demons, I let the excuse train pull out of the station without me and waited for them to return to the East Coast.  While still technically on a road trip, they practiced in their own facility (and probably slept in their own beds) before facing the Devils in New Jersey.

Islander captain John Tavares made sure the losing streak stopped by taking over the end of the game and winning it in overtime.  They followed that exciting win with a convincing one in Columbus over the Blue Jackets.  Regardless of their win-loss records, these were not insignificant opponents as both were divisional rivals.  It gave the Islanders enough points to jump to the top of the division.  All was well again in Islanderland.

But the final road game was against THE divisional rival.

The New York Rangers were playing the best hockey in the NHL over the last month.  They had won 13 of their last 14 games.  Of those 13 wins, only 2 were in overtime or a shootout.  They'd returned to MSG as the conquering heroes of New York.  The Islanders were merely that team in their way, apparently unaware of the the fury about to be unleashed upon them.

At least that's how the local media sounded.  The game hype ramped up quicker than you could say "Any one have that video of Dan Cloutier beating up Tommy Salo?"  I put my best smack-talk hat on as well.  The rivalry was finally fun again.  I wanted to take full advantage.

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I didn't want to write game articles.  No previews or recaps.  I would use this space as a personal journal for this (increasingly) happy trip I'm taking as a New York Islanders fan this season.  More importantly, I'm lazy.  Game-centric posts require deadlines.  I don't like deadlines (unless I'm being paid to like them).  So it shouldn't surprise anyone to notice that this is being posted nearly 24 hours after the game has ended.  Still I felt this game, with it being the most important game to date, deserved a running commentary post.  I'm not sure what it accomplished, but it was fun.

I wanted to make sure anything I decided to tweet during the game wasn't duplicated here.  I try to be funny on Twitter (most jokes fall flat, but meh) and more analytical here, but the two timelines do overlap.  If you happen to also follow me on Twitter my suggestion is to ignore any similarities to my timeline from last night and do not peek behind the curtain.

Here's my log, mostly unedited, from the time of puck drop yesterday.  The pics were added afterwards, but they're based on the emotional state I scribbled down at the time.

We're off.

First Period

7:05 - I'm not one to exaggerate, but it feels like Tyson-Spinks had less buildup than this game does in the NY area.

7:11 - I'm trying to convince myself that if the Islanders lose this game it's alright because they'd still be 3 points ahead of the Rangers.  Less than two minutes has elapsed in the first period before this thought occurred.  Some habits die really, really hard.

7:13 - Halak puck handling alert #1.  Nothing happened.  Which is why it's noteworthy.

7:18 - Every faceoff in the Islanders zone terrifies me.  I have watched a few Rangers games and, while they aren't very good at faceoffs overall, they always seem to have an offensive zone draw play that works when they win one.  It's like Bill Belichick diagrams their faceoffs.

7:23 - Rangers had one good shift in the Islanders zone, but so far the Isles have had plenty of chances.  Shots are 7-3 NYI.

7:28 - Shots now 7-6 Isles.  Seems things have turned a bit.  Actually, they've spun around completely.

7:31 - Let's check how the Isles' defense is doing in their zone right now:

7:38 - So the Rangers just hit the post three times on the same rush.  Two of the posts came on a single pinballing empty net shot attempt from Derrick Brassard.  Unrelated, here's a picture of Jaroslav Halak preparing for a game:

7:43 - End Of The First Period

Second Period

8:01 - Seems the Islanders have arrived.  And only a period late.

8:11 - Isles score, but it's waived off because Casey Cizikas was in the crease and hit Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.  I agree with the call, but my irrational internal fan thinks different:

8:14 - Isles still being aggressive and getting lots of time in the Rangers zone.  Second period shots are 8-1 Isles.  They had a big shot advantage at one point in the first period, but it's a very different feeling than the first time.

8:16 - Visual representation of an Islanders forecheck when it's working as intended:

8:21 - The Isles break though on a goal off a rebound by Anders Lee.  I don't think Lee's combined goal distance is more than his wingspan.  But they all count.

8:24 - Rangers finally get a scoring chance, but it didn't do much to decrease my excitement meter, which is still pegged at "Boner-Causing" following the Isles taking the lead.

8:27 - The Isles go back to setting up camp in the Rangers zone and now hold a 12-4 shot advantage in the period.  Ryan Strome is having his mail forwarded to the space behind Lundqvist.

8:31 - Isles go to a power play and immediately hit the post.  Kyle Okposo is the Magneto of the NHL.

8:35 - The Isles don't score on the power play.  I now fear the upcoming make-up call that gives the Rangers the next power play.  Let's just say the Isles still haven't solved all their penalty killing issues.

8:38 - Luck again shines on the Isles as a bouncing puck goes right to Nikolay Kulemin in the slot and he wrists one past Lundqvist.  Feeling both excitement and relief at the same time is not natural.

8:41 - And here's that power play for the Rangers.  Even though the penalty killing has been much better of late, I still see this when the PK units come out for the start of a shorthanded shift:

It's the last facet of this team that ramps up the nervousness to prior-years level.  I still feel like something bad is going to happen and must mentally prepare for the letdown.

8:43 - OR THAT HAPPENS.  Frans Nielsen scores shorthanded on an arguably (ok, not arguably) soft goal.  However, us mere mortals shalt not judge.  It is Frans that shall be the judge.

8:46 - Islanders take a 3-0 lead into the final period.  Isles fans jubilant reaction to Nielsen's goal followed by their immediate reaction to the fact that the team now has a three goal lead with one period left might be the funniest thing so far this year.

Third Period

9:00 - Third period about to start.  The Rangers pulled Lundqvist and put in backup Cam Talbot.  Not having one of the best goalies in the league playing against your team is always a good thing.  However, the Isles still have 40+ seconds to go on a penalty kill.  Giving up a PPG early would be bad.  Giving up the first goal is how blown leads get started.  #analysis.

9:05 - The Isles kill off the remainder of the penalty, and the Isles fan universe exhales.

9:08 - So far, the Isles look pretty good, but definitely more cautious.  The difference is the Rangers look just as bad as they did in the previous period.

9:13 - Isles fans on Twitter are starting to ring their hands in anticipation.  But there's still 11 minutes left in the game.  By the time the game ends, #IslesTwitter will be inexplicably silent because every fan has rubbed off their own fingers and can't type.

9:16 - The Rangers finally get a good change and Jaroslav Halak comes up big.  Even when the team is making it easy for him most of the game, he's made the saves when needed.

9:18 - First recorded instance of Isles fans chanting at MSG.  That never gets old.

9:21 - The last few minutes have a very pedestrian feel to them.  Not saying the Rangers are giving up, but I think Martin St. Louis was ordering a beer from the bench.

9:24 - So far the Islanders have 42 shots on goal.  Seems they figured out the how-not-to-collapse-with-a-three-goal-lead thing.  Honestly, the third period had a very familiar feel to it.  Except it wasn't the Islanders getting shut down on every rush trying to come back against a better team.

9:27 - Things are so different this year that I've written the phrase "It's because the Islanders are really good" more than once and never sarcastically.

9:28 - MSG sounds like a Knicks game.  The Ranger fans who are left are trying desperately to not check their phones for any social media updates.

9:30 - I'd write more, but the Rangers went home 15 minutes ago and everyone is bored.

9:32 - Now there's an even LOUDER pro-Isles chants at MSG.  Nope.  Still not old.


The game ended with the Islanders shutting out the Rangers at MSG, 3-0.  Some general hockey folks - specifically those who'd just been following the team from afar from the first half of the season - were writing some pretty flattering things about the Islanders.  There's always that defensive version of me that springs up, powered by sarcasm and pride and ready to put them in their place.

That wasn't the prevailing emotion, though.  I felt energized.  The team had been given the opportunity to make a grand entrance on the local and national stage and they came through.  Now the Islanders can continue with the rest of the season as the whole league pays attention.


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