The Minnesota Wild are battling for their playoff lives, and their road trip got off to a start that they needed to avoid.
The Islanders had an excellent effort against a fairly good team, especially goaltender Niklas Backstrom who has had the Isles number since he came into the league. Backstrom was chased after giving up three unanswered goals, two to Blake Comeau.
Speaking of Comeau, there must be something with him when playing teams from the West. He now has 10 points in just 16 games when playing teams from the other conference this season. It was a year to the day after Comeau got his hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks right after the Olympic break last season. He appears to be well on his way to notch 20 goals this year (currently at 17) which would give the Isles their 4th 20 goal scorer on the year.
I thought Frans Nielsen made some really nice plays out there, but he would tell you otherwise. Despite his three assist performance, he didn't seem too happy with his play in the postgame. I thought his play was pretty good, and can't really point to anything specific that would be considered poor. Perhaps Nielsen, one of the better defensive players in the game, has very high standards for himself and is still upset about the game against the Caps, when he was spun around multiple times by quick passing plays and Alex Ovechkin.
Al Montoya, starting after Nathan Lawson got the nod in Washington and played really well, didn't seem to miss a beat. There was no hitch in his play that would lead one to believe he was worried that his job could be on the line. Obviously, the Isles have both goaltenders battling it out for a spot in the NHL, be it here or elsewhere next season. But Montoya had taken over that starting job, and with a 1.93 GAA through his time as an Islander, the job should be his for now. Lawson hasn't been too great more often than not, and doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt just yet. For now, I see Tuesday's game in Washington as the outlier.
One of the biggest story lines in this game was Trevor Gillies returning to the line-up after missing nine games due to a suspension from the hit against Eric Tangradi in the infamous February 11th game against the Penguins. Tangradi has been sidelined with a concussion since Gillies elbowed him in the head in response to running and hurting Jack Hillen. Tangradi immediately felt the pain, and Gillies still threw some punches as Tangradi fell to the ice.
It took almost two minutes of ice time for Gillies to get in trouble again. Cal Clutterbuck boarded Justin DiBenedetto, and Gillies came in and hit Clutterbuck, causing him to fall and hurt himself in the process.
I have no doubt that Clutterbuck embellished his injury a bit. But regardless of what Clutterbuck, who appeared destined for a five minute major and a game misconduct, had done there was no need for the equally as childish actions from Gillies.
While Clutterbuck never would have accepted a challenge from Gillies, that's what you do in this situation. When he declines, everyone rides him for not fighting his own fights, and then you have guys like Matt Martin and Zenon Konopka let the hits fly fast and furiously on guys like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat. In that scenario, Clutterbuck gets frowned upon for angering the Isles once again and for not accepting the fight.
Instead, Gillies comes in and takes the "eye for an eye" approach with a cheap-shot. I don't care if it's from the front, back, side - whatever you want it to be - it was still a cheap shot and the wrong way to respond in that situation.
For Gillies, this is the exact same situation as Chris Simon in the sense that their on-ice decision making, when it comes to how to properly enforce a game is way off. Gillies has the right idea, but goes about it in the completely wrong way, especially at a time when the NHL is all of a sudden deciding to take a stand for plays like these.
Gillies has a hearing in Toronto scheduled for Friday, and will undoubtedly be suspended for quite some time. Coming off a lengthy suspension and making a decision as poor as this one won't help him at all. Over the past couple of weeks, Martin has improved his play and guys like Konopka and Haley have enforced the game in good ways, and contributed as passable hockey players on the ice. In the meantime, and I know this may not be too popular with some of you, Gillies is proving to be nothing other than what many have said about him the past few weeks - a goon.
We'll see how hard the NHL comes down on Gillies, and if Clutterbuck gets anything. He was destined to in my opinion, perhaps until his injury. He may actually be concussed, but should still get something for his action too.