Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The roadie from hell has officially begun. Nine straight games away from Brooklyn for the New York Islanders, who entered play last night tied for fewest road wins in the entire National Hockey League at seven.
After a first period that saw them take the lead on a beauty from Josh Bailey, still their most consistent offensive player all season, they fell asleep at the wheel with the clock running down and surrendered an awful goal to Henrik Zetterberg with 0.1 seconds remaining to tie the game.
Instead of getting down, they picked themselves up, went out and executed simplicity on the road, exactly what is needed to pick up two crucial points at this juncture of the regular season, when the grind of an 82-game schedule really starts to wear down the body, no matter how conditioned or prepared you think you might be.
Calvin de Haan took a gift from the 'puck luck' gods and found the net in the second period on a power play and Bailey set up captain John Tavares with a gorgeous keep and dish to seal the 3-1 win over ex-teammate Frans Nielsen, who was singing the praises of interim bench boss Doug Weight prior to the opening faceoff.
"He has a ton of respect in that room," Nielsen told Newsday. "Everyone knows what he's done as a player. Even as assistant coach, when he comes in the room, guys look him in the eye, they know what he's saying is right. They know what kind of guy he is - he's a guy you really want to play hard for. Besides being a good hockey guy and a smart guy, he's an incredible guy away from the ice. You can see them playing hard for him. They want him to succeed. It's been fun to see that."
While Nielsen looks to being on the first Red Wings team to miss the playoffs in 25-seasons in his first season with the team, he still seems very much attached to his old home and former teammates. Since he left, Jack Capuano was relieved of his coaching duties and New York has not been able to adequately replace what he brought to the table.
Casey Cizikas has done a solid job this season trying to be that fill-in, and while improving his offensive output, is still a ways from being the consistent 15 goal, 40-50 point performer his predecessor was. Oh, and all while playing against the top line of the opponent and winning crucial faceoffs. The team still sees Anthony Beauvillier as the future Frans, but at 19-years of age, although his season would have to be considered a success at this point, he is still very much a work in progress and learning on the job.
As the team heads to Montreal, it looks to get some good news on the injury front. Cizikas left last night's game in the second period after appearing to get slashed on the hand while Cal Clutterbuck suffered a setback of his lower body injury, being pulled from the game for what Weight deemed were 'precautionary reasons'. Johnny Boychuk took a slap shot off the foot and briefly returned to the dressing room, but he was able to return and finish the game. New York could ill afford to be losing players now, one game into the trip and two away from the trading deadline.
Travis Hamonic remains at home, skating on his own, trying to return from a knee injury that has taken 20 games off his schedule and I can't see New York being comfortable with three rookies in the lineup during this crucial stretch, no matter how well Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech have performed with the big club and seeing Ryan Pulock's success in Bridgeport. Up front, Shane Prince is just about ready to go back in, so replacing Clutterbuck wouldn't be as much of a burden. Stephen Gionta is the other healthy forward but obviously, doesn't compare favorably to Cizikas, should the latter miss any time.
With two games before the trade deadline and the Islanders flying to Dallas a day early to specifically not be in the air March 1 at 3pm ET, maybe someone comes riding in on a white horse to add depth to a lineup that needs some more consistency behind its first line. Ryan Strome has been much better under Weight, seemingly more relaxed, but Brock Nelson continues to be ineffective night after night, so much so you don't even notice he's in the lineup the past two weeks. A shot in the arm might be just what the doctor ordered as the Islanders continue their push to grab the Eastern conference's last playoff berth.