Full Sixty-Minute Effort Allows Isles To Defeat Bruins 3-1 At Home
The New York Islanders returned home tonight to face the Boston Bruins, looking to build on last night's 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators. And they did just that, defeating Boston by a score of 3-1 led by Kyle Okposo's three assists, strong goaltending from Kevin Poulin and Thomas Vanek notching his first goal as an Islanders forward.
The game was played in front of a packed Nassau Coliseum crowd, featuring both Isles and Bruins fans. In fact, the fans from Boston were loud, often and early. But the Islanders faithful would respond, letting the visiting fans know that they weren't exactly welcome at the old barn.
The first period was relatively quiet as both teams were playing defensive hockey with the majority of the play being found in the neutral zone. The Islanders outshot the Bruins 9-6, but most shots came from outside the slot with forwards looking for rebounds in front.
Fortunately for Kevin Poulin, who got the start in place of Evgeni Nabokov, he was able to stop all six shots in the period, including the first one. Ever since his call-up into the NHL a few years back, Poulin has struggled with the first shot he faces in the majority of his games. Getting the monkey off his back tonight allowed him to stay focused and keep the Isles tied at zero as the Bruins had a few in-close chances towards the middle of the opening frame.
The second period saw things open up for both teams. The Islanders would receive plenty of odd-man rushes from the Bruins who were playing very poor defensively.
Tavares would get the Isles on the board early for a 1-0 lead. Okposo would start the rush and throw the puck out in front of Bruins net-minder Chad Johnson from behind the net. Vanek would pick up the loose puck after it pin-balled off a Bruins defenseman and put a backhand shot on Johnson that rolled along his shoulders. Once gravity took over, Tavares would smack the puck out of mid-air to give his team the lead.
A few minutes later, the top-line would continue to generate offense to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead. Tavares would win the draw deep in the Bruins zone. With the puck in the corner, Okposo would work the puck over to Travis Hamonic who would find his D-partner Andrew MacDonald alone at the blue line. A-Mac would fire a slapper past Johnson to increase the Isles lead by two.
On the very next shift, Brock Nelson would get called for a hooking minor that would lead to a Bruins tally. Dougie Hamilton would get a lucky one with the puck rolling over Poulin after connecting on a nice tac-tac-toe passing play with Reilly Smith and Ryan Spooner as the power play was about to expire. Unfortunately, Michael Grabner had an opportunity to prevent this goal by scoring on a shorthanded breakaway, but the puck hopped over his stick blade as he cut across the middle of the ice.
But the Islanders would respond quickly, scoring on one of their many two-on-one rushes on the next shift. Okposo would get the puck at the Bruins blue line and send a crisp pass to Vanek that was fired over the blocker side of Johnson. The crowd erupted and started chanting his name as he finally got the goal scoring monkey off his back. It was also Vanek's 500th career NHL point.
"It's still a work in progress," said Vanek in regards to getting finding chemistry with his new line mates. "I think we're getting better each day and tonight we did a lot of good things but overall there is still a lot of room to improve.
"It's not just tonight. Each day is a learning day for myself. I think I'm playing with two tremendous players and again I think I'm getting used to them better."
Aside from the goal scoring affairs, the Islanders were playing very well defensively in their zone to solidify an excellent forty minutes of hockey. Players were blocking shots and diving to prevent plays, most notably when Matt Donovan was sprawled out on the ice and knocked the puck off a Bruins skater's stick before taking him down to the ice.
The final period saw the Islanders continue the same type of defensive play that they had displayed through the first 40 minutes of the game in what was probably the most crucial third period of their season thus far.
Playing the second night of a back-to-back schedule against a big and tough Boston Bruins squad while defending a 3-1 lead isn't an easy task. But the Isles passed with flying colors, holding on for a 3-1 lead to help them maintain their position of second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Hamonic, who had two assists on the night, agreed that it was a big period but felt that the team did several things during each period that contributed to the win.
"It was a pretty big third period for us, to say it's the biggest of the season, you can make an argument for that for sure, but we did a lot of good things throughout the game. Not just the third period. I think that we put ourselves in a good position to maintain what we were doing come the third period and I think that's probably the real story of how the game ended up."
It was easily the most complete sixty minutes of hockey the Islanders have played this season: everyone hustled; players back-checked as hard as they fore-checked; defenseman were blocking shots and taking away loose pucks from the crease to allow Poulin to earn his first win of the season.
Being that the Isles defense has been criticized as one of the team's weaker points of play, Hamonic was asked if this was a game that can help build confidence going forward. But just like he does on the ice, Hamonic was very quick to defend his teammates.
"You guys are going to write that our d-core is this and our d-core is that but honestly I think that it's kind of bullshit," said Hamonic.
"But you guys are going to write what you're going to write and I thought our d-core had a pretty good game tonight. We're happy with who we have back there as a group. We're not stupid, we see what things are written about us as a d-core but we're going to go out and we're going to play hard and I think we did a really good job tonight as a six-man unit, as we did last night to be quite honest with you. I think we're a young group out there but we're starting to play better. We demand a lot of each other and all of that outside pressure is what it is, and that's all it is."
Jack Capuano spoke of the character that exists in the Islanders locker room after the game and at the very least, Hamonic's words echoed what his coach had to say about the team.
"It just shows the character we have in the room," said Jack Capuano, "knowing that we're not satisfied with the standings, they're set higher for us."
The Islanders will continue to look higher as they hit the road for the next four games, starting off with a match-up against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.