In what proved to be one of their biggest tests of the young season, the Islanders bent but never broke after blowing a two goal lead against the New Jersey Devils, ultimately winning 5-4 in overtime in a game that was quite exciting and gave the Isles a share of first place.
John Tavares scored twice while Keith Aucoin, Mark Streit and Brad Boyes added goals of their own, the latter one as the game winner.
For the Islanders to continue battling the way they did in this game given the circumstances, and on the road no less speaks volumes. To get seven of the 10 available points is something that one cannot take lightly, especially with the team now coming back home to play a string of games in the tri-state area, a bulk of them in Nassau.
There were defensive breakdowns that lead to a few of New Jersey's goals, the most notable issue being the lack of ability to clear the puck when it mattered. Twice this cost the Islanders, and you could sense with the way the Devils were buzzing on those shifts that it was only a matter of time before they would be able to put the puck past Evgeni Nabokov.
Both Nabokov and Martin Brodeur had their moments, and in general the goals they gave up were more a product of their lack of defensive support than anything they did. There were a lot of desperate saves of the flailing variety at times, and they both made huge stops at key points while also giving up goals on second and sometimes third chances.
The Islanders were flying high after their win over the Penguins on Tuesday and you could sense that early on, and they wasted no time getting some good chances in on Brodeur and it looked like the floodgates would open once Tavares converted on a nice passing play made by Boyes. But the Devils were able to storm back.
Defensively the Islanders are still trying to find their way, and they are getting there. You had some solid plays from guys like Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Brian Strait but you also had a few lapses by Streit, but he helped to make up some ground with his goal in the 3rd.
For those who like offense however, then this game was for you. And on that note, if you also like huge defensive plays by forwards, Casey Cizikas had that covered for you with his head first dive to knock the puck off of David Clarkson's stick on a breakaway with a man advantage.
The players and fans were undoubtedly buzzing all night and into Friday morning about this one, with a couple of days to let it soak in before getting ready to take on these same Devils Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum in advance of the Super Bowl.
Strait Signs Extension: On Thursday afternoon, many did a double take at the news that the Islanders had re-signed Strait to a 3-year contract extension, having only played six games with the team this year after being claimed on waivers two days prior to the start of the season.
But the Islanders have seen enough to know what they have here, and were comfortable in signing the defenseman at a great rate ($775K per season). All you can ask from a defenseman is to be solid, and for Strait he has provided a nice presence.
The Penguins didn't want to lose him, but due to age and AHL service needed to try and pass him through waivers to keep him down in the minors and the Islanders pounced. The Penguins liked what they had seen last season out of the 25 year old, and so did the Islanders' scouting staff.
That carried over to this season, and the Islanders are thrilled to have a guy like this. And lets face it, we should be too. Everything about him so far is better than what we had last season out of Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau so it's a welcome sight. In a perfect world, Strait would slide in as a 4-5-6 guy with the Islanders bringing in a solid top-4 guy next year. But as far as depth goes, along with some of the young talent in Bridgeport, the depth is quickly improving on the back end for this team.
Visnovsky Reporting on Wednesday? Speaking of top-4 defensemen, news broke late Friday morning that Lubomir Visnovsky is ready to report to the Islanders, with plans to fly to New York on Wednesday February 6th (Kevin Schultz has the story at Islanders Point Blank). Visnovsky's son is undergoing surgery on February 9th, and after originally planning to stay there to see that through it's been determined it's not absolutely necessary to have him there for it.
Why he wasn't here to begin with, we'll never know. But one has to wonder if the Isles fast start has had him thinking twice about all the drama he caused rather than originally admitting he had a problem at home with his child. I know we're New Yorkers and everything, but we certainly would have understood that family matters should come first.
Be that as it may, the Islanders are down a good, experienced, solid defenseman in the top-4 and that is what Visnovsky will provide. They lack a guy who is slick enough that he can control the puck and clear it out of the zone when necessary. He might be on the small side, but puck possession is key in today's NHL and if you have guys constantly losing control or handling the puck like a hot potato, you will get caught more often than not (those two goals for the Devils, as an example).
I'm glad Visnovsky's got his family situation squared away, and honestly look forward to seeing him on the blueline. He's a fine defenseman, and the Islanders on paper look much improved with him in there.