Islanders had quite a week of thrillers, big wins and more
If anyone were to do an Islanders version of “Last Week Tonight,” summarizing recent news, they sure would not be strapped for material. “ ‘Eventful’ is a good way to put it,” Doug Weight said Friday night when someone suggested that description for the week.
Actually, the Islanders’ short-term saga comprises eight days, starting with the amazing comeback against the Red Wings the previous Friday night and ending with the second of two consecutive shutouts one week later. In between, there were tales of a billboard and a benching, a backtrack after a dig at the fans, a blizzard of shots on goal, a visit from the Rangers and an appearance by commissioner Gary Bettman, who said all is rosy with the franchise.
All of it represents a slice of life for a team good enough to reach for the playoffs yet flawed enough to make the race extremely difficult. Tack on fan discontent regarding a mostly stagnant decade and an uncertain future and you have a peak-and-valley stretch that made the stock market seem like the Rock of Gibraltar. It could turn a person into a sleepless wreck, especially if the person happens to be the coach.
“It’s hard. It’s an emotional ride. I have trouble getting away from it. It’s crazy,” Weight said after the 3-0 road win over the Hurricanes on Friday night, which followed a 3-0 home win over the Rangers. “I want it bad. We work hard for the players because I think we really have a good group here. We have a good team. I think we’re a playoff team. They played like it tonight and I’m proud of the guys.”
The week ended on a good note for him. He made the debatable decision to start Thomas Greiss on Friday and was rewarded with a shutout. Weight — aided by his eagle-eyed assistants in the press box — also shifted the tide in that game with a successful challenge that overturned a third-period goal by the Hurricanes that would have tied the score. But there were some rough seas, with absolutely no guarantee that the sailing will be smoother in the next seven weeks.
A quick synopsis:
Prologue — The tone for the crazy stretch was set the previous week with Garth Snow’s Newsday interview. His statement that the team’s struggles this season were completely attributable to injuries and his assertion that he will not make deals did not sit well with a fan base that has run out of patience with a 12-year tenure that has produced one playoff series win.
Friday, Feb. 9 — Boos turn to delirious cheers at Barclays Center as the Islanders score four goals on one five-minute power play, overcome a three-goal deficit, go ahead, lose the lead and win in overtime. One of the most unusual wins in years and a potential season-changer . . .
Sunday — Except that the momentum does not carry over, with two late goals by the Flames netting a painful loss for the Isles. Likely NHL Rookie of the Year Mathew Barzal is not put on the power play or six-on-five at the end because Weight is unhappy with his play.
Tuesday — With chants of “Snow Must Go!” echoing through Barclays Center, the Islanders allow 51 shots in a 4-1 loss to the fellow wild-card candidate Blue Jackets. Weight decries the atmosphere at that night’s game, which is taken as a slam at the fans.
Wednesday — At practice, Weight revisits his comments, saying he meant it was the team’s fault for not doing anything noteworthy to produce electricity in the building.
Thursday — A campaign by fans to raise money for a “Snow Must Go” billboard in Brooklyn is so successful that there are substantial funds left over. The organizer plans to donate the surplus to Anders Lee’s Kancer Jam charity. Lee politely declines the donation in a social media missive that is supportive of Snow.
On the ice that night, the Rangers again bring out the best in the Islanders. “It’s fun to play in such an exciting game with the whole city, the whole hockey base in New York excited,” says Barzal, who assists on all of the goals in a 3-0 win.
On the telecast between periods, Bettman says of owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky: “They’ve brought a new energy, a strong commitment and the resources necessary to give this team a bright future.”
The headliner, though, is Jaroslav Halak, who becomes the first Islander in 28 years to make 50 saves in a shutout.
Friday — If there is anything more improbable than a shutout by a team that has given up more goals than anyone else in the league, it is a second straight shutout. By Greiss, no less. He enters the night with a 4.03 goals-against average and .885 save percentage but is exceptional in a 3-0 win at Carolina, which the Islanders leapfrog in the playoff race.
Weight praises the work of Greiss and the team’s defensive commitment. That is personified by Johnny Boychuk, whose injury absence was one of the items Snow cited in his interview. On one shift, he blocks a shot within five feet of Greiss and makes two crushing hits. On his next shift, he scores. Afterward, Boychuk, whose name is on the Stanley Cup and who has been through various swells of different seasons, says what he probably would have said if the team had lost: “It was a huge game. Now we’ve got to forget about it and ramp up for the next one.”