Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
After allowing five goals in three consecutive games against the Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, you would not have been alone in not liking the Islanders chances too much heading into their own 'house of horrors' against a team they do not seem to match up well against, the Philadelphia Flyers.
In dropping the first two games of the season series and allowing over 80 shot attempts both times, New York fell to 33-77-11-6 lifetime in Philadelphia with one regulation win over their last 24 games in the city of brotherly love. But this is a team riding high in the confidence department lately with a remarkable turnaround from the first half of the season, and they put a halt on all the bad mojo in capturing a huge 3-1 victory.
Although they did allow another 80 shot attempts, 36 came in the opening twenty minutes of Flyers domination, where the Islanders were fortunate to come out of tied at one thanks to a power play goal by Anders Lee, as he deflected John Tavares' bullet snapper from the right wing faceoff circle to collect his 19th goal, pushing him to within one of his second 20-goal season and just six off his career high, set in 2014-15 over 76 games.
Back to basics it was in the second and third periods, as the team held the potent Flyers attack to only 44 shot attempts the rest of the way, 19 on Thomas Greiss' goal, who was as cool as a cucumber in recovering from 10 goals against in his previous two starts. Greiss, fresh off a new contract extension that should keep him with the Islanders for three more seasons, never seems to panic and that creates a feeling of calm that resonates to the entire team.
"There's just no panic, there can't be," Tavares told Newsday after the win. "We were definitely a little hesitant in all three zones, Greisser was huge for us there. And we got the goal and everyone pulled their socks up."
Pulled their socks up and started playing defensive hockey, as they had during this run with the last three games being the mind-numbing exception. There was Thomas Hickey covering Adam Pelech with a brilliant defensive play on Jacob Voracek. Jason Chimera hustling back, using his incredible speed, to break up a potential 3 on 2 in the second period. Dennis Seidenberg and Calvin de Haan putting in huge efforts as both went past the 20-minute time on ice marker. A huge penalty kill late in the game, up two goals, as Hickey took an unlucky high sticking penalty.
It all came together on this frigid night with an opportunistic offense, led once again by the first line and their huge power play marker in the first. Chimera netted his 12th off a simple but brilliant Andrew Ladd pass in the second and Casey Cizikas faked himself out first before Mason bit as the center slid his 6th for the insurance marker just 1:21 into the third. Other than Wayne Simmonds jamming his 22nd past Greiss in the first period after the goaltender had made a remarkable behind the back glove save, the Flyers would get nothing and like it.
Chimera, to Newsday, called it "one of the best road games of the season the final two periods. A great team effort," but Tavares cautioned there is still "a long way to go" with 30 games left on the regular season schedule, 20 of those coming on the road.
But make no mistake, the Islanders are high on hockey right now. Since a 2-1 loss to Florida on January 11, they have been one of the hottest teams in the league with a record of 9-2-2 for 77% of all possible points. It's a run that has vaulted them back into the playoff conversation for real, not just fantasy speak.
With the shift in the standings after last night's results they are one point behind the Flyers with three games in hand, but it's now the Boston Bruins they chase. With a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks, they jumped the Flyers into the second wild card position and lead New York by two points, having played four more games.
Fold your tray tables and put your seatbacks in their upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened. We'll be landing shortly. Where? We don't quite know yet.