First Period Recap: The Islanders came into this game on paper as the lowly David to the Ducks' massive Goliath. As such they came out as anybody who's up against all odds should do: flying and taking it to the Ducks with every chance they had.
Having lost nine straight, their coach on the hot seat, and the Ducks returning from a big road trip in which they battled two of the NHL's best, it was not hard to see why this one had all the makings of a big stinker. And for most of the first period it looked like it was headed that way in a handbasket aboard a bullet train.
However even before that the Islanders power play that came into the night ranked 21st in the league and had scored just three times in its previous 11 games burned the Ducks for their sluggishness. John Tavares took a brilliant wrist shot that was saved by Jonas Hiller, but the rebound popped right back out to the Islanders. They controlled the puck, composed themselves, and worked it immediately back in front where a ricochet found its way back to their captain's stick who shoved it back under Hiller to make it 1-0.
If you heard a noise that sounded an awful lot like a whistling tea kettle around this time, that was likely the steam coming out of Bruce Boudreau's ears.
The Ducks did sort of wake up for a few minutes following this goal, however their momentum was quickly squashed as the Islanders began working chance after chance in the Anaheim zone, most of which generated a high-percentage shot.
Were it not for Jonas Hiller in net, the Ducks would easily have been down two, three, or maybe even more goals by the end of this frame, but the Swiss netminder continued his brilliant streak he's been on for the past few weeks.
Late in the period the Ducks would get lucky and tie the game. Off an offensive-zone faceoff, Daniel Winnik forced a turnover behind the Islander net and got the puck to Cam Fowler at the point. Fowler ripped a shot that deflected in front and found its way to a wide open side of the net where Saku Koivu won the race to the puck and backhanded a shot that narrowly found its way in past Nilsson and crashing defenseman Travis Hamonic. The play was reviewed to see if the puck went in before the net came off the pegs, but thankfully the goal stood.
The period would not go away quietly though as the Islanders forced Jonas Hiller to make three more stellar saves in the dying seconds of the period. In all honesty the Islanders were the horribly unlucky ones to not go into the locker room up by at least a goal.
Not long after this Hampus Lindholm inexplicably left the Anaheim bench.
The Ducks trudged off the ice to what they had to know was going to be a verbal ass-whooping from their coach with the score even, and their opponents leading the shot column 13-7.
Second Period Recap: Other than Hampus Lindholm returning and us learning that his absence was nothing more than an equipment issue, the second period didn't start a whole lot better. The teams traded shots, however the Islanders were constantly first to the puck, won battles, and generated the far-better scoring chances. It didn't take long for them to jump back into the lead.
Thomas Vanek took a puck off a won faceoff in the offensive zone and ripped a wicked wrist shot underneath Hiller's arm. It was another "Oh crap." moment but it almost felt justified as the Islanders had been the significantly better team to this point.
And speaking of faceoffs, the depth the Ducks had at the center position and remarkable improvement in that department virtually disappeared tonight. As much as Matthieu Perreault may have been going through a slump on the scoresheet, his prowess in the circle has been invaluable and tonight it was sorely missed as the Isles won 35 faceoffs to the Ducks 27. David Steckel and Ryan Getzlaf were the only ones 50% or better.
Midway through the period, the Ducks saw another one go down as Mark Fistric left the game for an undisclosed injury that we have since learned is the dreaded "Upper Body" in nature. He would not return.
Down to five defensemen yet again, the Ducks steadily began to fight back but effort after effort proved pointless. For much of this period it was clear that the chemistry was not there. Passes missed sticks left and right and the puck support required to maintain good possession was almost nowhere to be found.
They finally broke through however when Daniel Winnik set up Andrew Cogliano for a tap-in goal with what will likely win "Pass of the Year" for this team. After winning a battle for a puck knocked out of midair, Winnik did well to keep possession of the puck despite two Islanders defensemen bearing down on his back. Rather than try to skate the puck out, however, Winnik tossed a blind behind-the-back pass through the wickets of one of the New York defenseman right onto the tape of Cogliano who had most of an empty net to put the puck in.
The game was tied 2-2 but the Ducks weren't back in it just yet.
Saku Koivu took a hooking penalty and the Islanders deadly-looking power play took to the ice again and started a stretch of six straight shots for the Islanders, who were unlucky not to score again when a scramble in front caused the puck to squirt out to a wide-open Brock Nelson who ripped the puck wide with Jonas Hiller down on his back and legs flailing in the air.
With just over two minutes remaining the game changed. Corey Perry got a great chance in on Nilsson, who stuck his entire blocker and stick into the Ducks forward's face. Perry, being who he is, took exception to this and shoved the Islanders goalie back. As you can likely imagine this pissed off everybody on the ice in a white jersey (as well as their mothers) and caused a big rumpus behind the net. All three members of the Ducks big line were involved and when the dust settled, it was Corey Perry who had the extra minor penalty and was sitting in the box alongside Dustin Penner (serving the extra minor) and our old pal Cal Clutterbuck sitting in the other sin bin.
The power play that followed saw the Islanders register two more dangerous shots but also make a critical mistake. A turnover at the blue line put the Ducks up ice with a shorthanded 3-on-1 break. Matt Beleskey looked to pass to Nick Bonino, but didn't have an angle and opted to take the shot. Nilsson made the save but put a nice juicy rebound to his left side where a crashing Cam Fowler potted it. It was the second shorthanded goal of the season for the Ducks and the first of Cam Fowler's career.
But these penalties to Perry turned out to be the biggest mistake the Isles could make, even before the shorthanded goal. They woke up the Ducks big line that to this point in the night had been dominated by the Islanders top unit.
The very next shift, the now-free Perry followed Daniel Winnik across the blueline where Winnik set him up with a nifty little drop-pass. Perry absolutely undressed Calvin de Haan with a slick stickhandling move, literally spinning him in circles. De Haan stuck his leg out and tripped Perry, but Perry maintained possession of the puck and his forward momentum kept him sliding toward the Islanders net, where from his knees Perry rifled one off the glove of Nilsson and into the net.
It was an absolutely incredible goal that will be on highlight reels for weeks around the NHL (and if it's lucky about three minutes on SportsCenter). Two goals just 31 seconds apart took a game the Ducks looked like they had no business being in and made it suddenly that much brighter with the score now inexplicably sitting at 4-2, Ducks.
The period ended with the shots even 12-12 for the period (25-20 total in favor of New York) but the Ducks on top.
Third Period Recap: With the Islanders now once again backed against the wall they came out strong to start the third period and once again got some solid offensive zone time. They got the first five shots on goal of the third period, but Hiller stood tall to them.
However, the Ducks had finally broken the young Isles defense and the visitors began surrendering more chances.
Saku Koivu made a nice bid for his second of the night with a laser-beam of a slap shot that was snagged out of the air by the quick glove of Nilsson.
Hiller also made a gigantic glove save off a blast from Thomas Hickey that he likely didn't see until the last possible second.
At the 6:18 mark of this third period, the Ducks finally got their first power play of the night (at this point the Islanders had already had four) as Andrew MacDonald [no, not Andy MacDonald, mind you] went off for tripping Saku Koivu.
With no guarantee of any other chances in this game, the Ducks big power play line went to work and made sure it didn't go to waste. The Ducks systematically wore down the Islanders penalty killers while earning several shots on net, but the Islanders failed twice to clear the zone when given the opportunity. With the kind of high-pressure penalty kill the Islanders run, this is asking for disaster as the guys on the ice will run out of gas quickly. And they did. This gave the Ducks time and space to maneuver the puck.
Getzlaf on the point sent a pass diagonally across the zone to Corey Perry down low, who tapped a puck to Cam Fowler, who rocketed a shot from the top of the left circle. Nilsson was equal to this shot but left a rebound his tired penalty killers couldn't sweep away from the waiting stick of Nick Bonino. Bonino rang the rebound off the goal post where it bounced to the waiting stick of Corey Perry who finally slammed it home.
This was clearly the final nail in the Islanders coffin.
Even though they did manage to get a few chances back, they never really threatened for the remainder of the contest, and the Ducks just continued to bear down on them and figuratively punch them until time expired.
Even old man Teemu Selanne got close to breaking his long dry spell as he snuck in to a two on one break with Emerson Etem. Etem tried to find his elder, but the pass was well blocked by the recovering defender.
One of these days, Teemu. One of these days.
The time ticked down and once again the shots finished even 12-12 (37-31 in favor of the Isles), but the Ducks walked away tonight 5-2 winners.
The Good: The power play looked systematic on its first chance. Efficient movement, excellent control, and zero panic even under a high-pressure penalty kill that the Isles tried to force on them. The depth scoring woke up big time. The Koivu line registered two goals, and all three of them got on the scoresheet. Likewise the Ducks found a way to finally break an opponent that looked as though they were going to grit one out. Recovering from a slow start is very difficult, but the Ducks found a way to do it tonight.
The Bad: The penalty kill did score a shorty, but looked very out of sorts tonight. They surrendered on their first time out, and nearly every Isles power play after that had at least one extremely dangerous chance. It was far from the dramatically improved and at-times dominant PK we've seen over the last few weeks or so.
The Ugly: The first 38 minutes of the game. They say the first game home after a tough road trip is a tough one to play, but the Ducks looked pretty content to get pushed around by a team who has probably about half of their size (not to mention is the worst team in the worst division in hockey right now).
Next Game: Wednesday, December 11th at 7:30pm vs. the Minnesota Wild