FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A few thoughts as the second week of this road trip begins... And we go from -15 a week ago to the low 80s on Monday:
-- I focused quite a bit on Calvin de Haan in Monday’s game story. That may have given short shrift to some other key contributors to Sunday night’s 4-2 win over the Stars: Kevin Poulin, who was solid again after giving up a couple of stoppable goals in the first period to finish with 29 saves; the Vanek-Tavares-Okposo line, which continues to be one of the best trios in the league and the remaining four D (Thomas Hickey, Matt Donovan, Andrew MacDonald, Brian Strait) who played a smart third period with Travis Hamonic out due to illness for the final 20 minutes.
-- There’s a reason I focused so much on de Haan, though. Jack Capuano, never one given to overpraising or hyperbole, said a lot when he noted postgame: “It’s a pretty remarkable story.” De Haan wasn’t supposed to be a contributor this season, wasn’t going to be a first-pair man once he came up and wasn’t going to have the confidence to make the two plays he did to lead to the tying and winning goals in the final 4:16 of the third.
More high praise from another Islander who tends toward the cautious, this time John Tavares: “The way he can skate to avoid contact and make plays, there’s not too many guys in the league who can do that.”
De Haan’s demeanor helps a lot too. He’s a pretty calm guy and his expression doesn’t change much. Also worth noting: When he got torched by Sidney Crosby in OT in his second game, then by Corey Perry in Anaheim a few days later, he was at his stall, awaiting our small media contingent. There are 10-year vets who would’ve hid from us after those kinds of moments.
So I’m loath to join the overpraising chorus, but Garth Snow may have hit the jackpot again from the 2009 first-round. It just took a little while for everyone to see it.
-- In a theme I’ll follow up on with Tuesday’s story as the Islanders have Monday off in South Florida, Tavares could have gone on tilt when Trevor Daley slashed Tavares’ stick in half to prevent an easy tying goal in the second period and neither referee made a move.
As captain, Tavares could have demanded an answer. As a star in the league, he could have expected the benefit of the doubt that plenty of other A-listers get. Instead, he steered clear at the next TV timeout and let Cal Clutterbuck and Okposo get the weak explanation from Dan O’Rourke, who apparently told Okposo it was a “battle play.”
“It was pretty obvious to everyone,” Tavares said afterwards. “Sometimes it’s just best to not get more upset about it by talking to the refs. It won’t change anything.”
Tavares went through a similar Zen moment last season, taking the beatings and no-calls in stride rather than blowing his stack. Thomas Vanek noted during the Islanders’ low moments last month that they were an easily distracted bunch when it came to missed calls. If the captain and star is letting it slide and trying to channel his frustration, that sets the right example.
It did a season ago, and maybe that was a factor in the stretch playoff run. Maybe not. But being the sort of team that can shake off missed calls and two-goal deficits is the sort of team that can make another playoff run, improbable as it seems now with the Metro Division refusing to lose.
-- Oh, and Tavares got away with one when he jabbed Ryan Garbutt in the stomach. So, both ways and all sometimes.
-- Tuesday marks the first time in this 9-3-0 run that the Islanders will face a team down near them in the standings. Obviously, that’s hard to do when you start off the streak 29th in the league, but the Panthers have been similarly up and down this season. No time to take a night off, especially with this stretch to follow: at Tampa, at Philly, home to Philly, at the Rangers, home to Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Boston, then the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.