Islanders Edge Champion Kings in Shootout, 2-1

What a difference 24 hours can make. 

On Wednesday night as the Islanders prepared to face-off with the Anaheim Ducks, there was a feeling of “here we go again” around the club and fans.  An overtime victory in Anaheim followed up by a shoot-out win against the Stanley Cup Champion Kings Thursday night and the good vibes were rolling again on Long Island.

So while there is still work to do on this five-game road trip that concludes in Arizona tomorrow night, the Islanders have to be feeling pretty good about themselves now after back to back victories against two of the top teams in the league.  Saturday’s game will be a good test for the Islanders as they try to avoid a letdown, but if they bring the same intensity tomorrow that they did against Los Angeles, the Islanders should return back home to the Coliseum with a winning road trip…and a winning streak in November, something that hasn’t happened since the Reagan administration (okay not that long, but it feels like it.)

Last night didn’t start off promising for the Islanders.  The Kings played the first five minutes in the Islanders’ end and were rewarded with a 1-0 lead off a Dwight King goal.  Whereas most fans had the sick feeling of an impending loss based on the team’s recent history, these Islanders wouldn’t succumb to previous experiences.

After allowing the first goal, the Islanders found their sea legs and were able to push back against the Kings.  After a Mike Richards’ penalty the Islanders were able to cash in on the power play as Brock Nelson found some open space down low before firing a shot past Jonathan Quick who appeared to be leaning the other direction.  The Islanders weathered the storm and took the Kings’ best punch and were able to escape the first period tied at one.

While the second and third periods wouldn’t bring any scoring, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities.  The Islanders had back to back power plays early in the second period, including a four-minute variety.  Unfortunately for them they were unable to generate much and score the tie-breaking goal. 

Shortly after the Islanders’ failure on the power play the Kings finally went to the man-advantage.  In case you haven’t been following the team too closely this year, the penalty kill has been something of a black-mark early on (who are we kidding, they’ve been awful.)  However the penalty kill did its job led by goalie Chad Johnson and the teams ended the second period still tied at one.  

The only negative about the period, and perhaps the game, was the play of Casey Cizikas.  After being a healthy scratch in Anaheim, the coaching staff was hopeful Cizikas would respond with a big effort in Los Angeles.  However Cizikas committed several egregious turnovers in his own end including almost putting it behind Johnson as he tried to skate in front of his net.  Cizikas saw his lowest ice total of the year (in fact the entire fourth line of Eric Boulton and Matt Martin did as well) and it wouldn’t come as a shock if Cizikas sits again tomorrow night in Arizona.

The third period was highlighted by more effective penalty killing by the Islanders, including a late kill after John Tavares tried to execute a blind, behind-the-back pass at the Kings’ blue line which was picked off and taken the other way by Mike Richards for a scoring opportunity.  Travis Hamonic was forced to take a penalty and the Islanders survived the mishap as Chad Johnson played brilliantly to preserve the tie. 

The overtime was up and down and exactly what the NHL wanted when it decided to go to a four on four concept.  The teams traded chances, with defense optional, but both goalies held their own.  The highlight was Quick robbing Lubomir Visnovsky on a perfect set up in front of the net.  So off to a shootout we went.

And the shootout went perfect for the Islanders.  Johnson stoned Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ first opportunity and Kyle Okposo put a move on Quick that left him spinning like a top.  After another Johnson save, this time on Jeff Carter, Frans Nielsen ended it with a wrister through Quick’s wickeds.  Game, set, match, good guys, 2-1.

Through the first 13 games of the season, there is little question that the effort in Los Angeles was the Islanders’ best so far.  They went toe-to-toe with the champs, especially physically (Islanders outhit the Kings 29-24) and were strong in their own, holding the Kings to only 29 shots through 65 minutes of play.  If the Islanders are going to be serious contenders in the East, the effort last night in all three zones will have to become the norm.  The team clearly has the ability to play that way if necessary, so now it’s up to the coaching staff to bring it out of them on a nightly basis.

It was also an encouraging sign by the coaching staff to limit the fourth line's ice time and allow its top three lines to skate.  While the fourth line can be effective, too often early in this season they were seeing as much ice time, if not more, than some of the team's better players (cough, Ryan Strome, cough.)  However, at least for one night, Jack Capuano pushed the right buttons and helped his team capture the two points.

If the Islanders can go into Arizona tomorrow and skate away with the two points, it’ll cap off a successful 3-2 road trip that began with serious doubts about this team’s makeup to handle adversity and win tight games.  It’d also go a long way into putting the “November Curse” to bed and may finally lead to fans around the league believing that this team is for real.

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 for my thoughts and analysis on the Islanders and follow @TCLIsles for up-to-date Islander news.