Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Remember, remember the month of November. Although that line is modified from the movie 'V for Vendetta', it very much applies to the New York Islanders, who are all too happy to move past their month of horrors and see the calendar flip to December 1.
Going back to the 2011-12 season, the 11th month of the year was not too kind to head coach Jack Capuano and his squad. New York went 4-7-2 and 4-10-1 in back-to-back full seasons, putting them firmly behind the proverbial eight ball as the season ticked past the thin red line that separates the playoffs from an early golf outing. Things seemed to improve in 2014-15 with a monster 11-3-0 month before the team tailed off yet again the following season with a mark of 7-6-1.
If you're counting at home, that's 26-26-4 over the past four full seasons heading into 2016-17. With New York just completing their November last night at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game they would will themselves to win 5-3 after surrendering a 3-0 third-period lead, it gave the Islanders a 4-5-4 mark this time around, just 46% of all possible points and only 2 regulation wins in 13 tries.
That's the big picture. With the team getting off to such a disappointing start in their first year under new owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin and second year in Brooklyn, you have to scale down and micro-analyze, looking for positives. And lately, there are some showing up.
Anthony Beauvillier's scoring might be down, but his play is still worthy of being in the NHL at age 19. His confidence will continue to grow as time moves forward. Brock Nelson was re-inserted on the top line with captain John Tavares and Josh Bailey last night, and the trio had a strong offensive game, producing 18 shot attempts. Scott Mayfield stepped in and did a fantastic job replacing injured Adam Pelech, producing two assists in 14:22 of competent defensive hockey. Thomas Greiss continued to be a calming influence on the entire club in front of him, never getting frustrated as a big lead evaporated in the third, instead bearing down and not letting anything else beat him the rest of the night.
Good things started to happen - not going to use the term, not going to do it - as New York benefitted from some gratuitous bounces on the Jason Chimera and Casey Cizikas goals and a rare blunder from Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray on a Johnny Boychuk blast from a bad angle along the boards. And lastly, Anders Lee continued to reap the rewards of some good old fashioned hard work, collecting his fourth goal in his last four games, putting him just shy of a 20 goal pace after 22 games played.
"At this point, this is big for us. It was an ugly third, but jeez, we won the game. We need that kind of momentum with a big game tomorrow (tonight vs Capitals). It's nice when you start a back to back with a win", Lee told the media postgame. "We have faced enough adversity I think at this point for an entire season and we've been frustrated and it's been a tough spot. We dug ourselves a hole and we need to dig ourselves out. We're sick of taking consolations. Enough of playing well, or playing Ok, and not winning."
The first two periods were the best New York has played, perhaps all season. They relentlessly forechecked the Penguins and pressured them into making mistakes, capitalizing on anything that was given to them while maintaining good gap control and mixing it up at every opportunity, especially with Patric Hornqvist, who drew the ire of Travis Hamonic on a number of occasions.
The third was an uphill battle as the defending Stanley Cup champions expectedly pushed back forcefully and the Islanders lost their structure and focus. Players forgot to backcheck, Chimera literally gave a free 'walk off the boards' pass to Justin Schultz and two Islanders went to one Penguin, allowing none other than Evgeni Malkin to stand all alone in front of Greiss on the tying goal. This will all make the game tape as mistakes made while trying to protect a 3-0 lead at home. These are mental mistakes that simply cannot happen at this juncture. It's not a new system, not a new voice either behind the bench or wearing the 'C'. Players all know their responsibilities. They have to eliminate these late game breakdowns in concentration.
At the end of the day, a win is a win. And this one came at a crucial time. It's the second straight for New York for only the second time this season and, arguably, only their third win against a real good hockey team in 22 games. They are now 3-2-0 in their last five and could have something to build on. Victories over teams like the Penguins tend to do that more so than ones over the exhausted Calgary Flames, coming off a back-to-back and ending a six-game road trip.
"That was a real good hockey team we beat, and we did it with some guys who still are not playing their best. Some players simply need to be better", head coach Jack Capuano said in his postgame press conference. He also stepped outside of his comfort zone, singling out Mayfield and Greiss as players who contributed greatly to the win and saluting the fans, saying the atmosphere "was terrific, it really does give a boost to our hockey club when the fans are that engaged".
Given what we have seen so far after the first quarter, it's hard to say what we will see tonight. An Islanders team who has turned the corner and will use this victory as a springboard to finally get their 2016-17 on track? Or more of the same inconsistency that has them at 8-10-4, to begin with? Won't be too long to find out. Check back in at around 9:30pm this evening.