There is just something about the Rangers that gets Blake Comeau's engine revving. The Islanders forward has averaged a good, not great, .45 points per game over the course of his career. When he suits up against the Rangers, however, suddenly he's Superman.
Coming into the Columbus Day grudge match with the Isles' rivals, Comeau had put up seven goals and 11 points in 13 games against the Blueshirts. That hot streak continued today, as he recorded an assist and two goals, including the game-winner in the Isles’ stunning 6-4 comeback victory.
Easily identifiable by the red cape fluttering behind him, I put the Isles forward in the plus column midway through the second period. At that point he "only" had the Isles' first goal -- capping a strip job from Michael Del Zotto deep in the Ranger zone -- and an assist on the team’s second marker. But it was more than the offensive production that caught my eye today. Six minutes into second, he blocked a Steve Eminger shot at the point and started two on one that almost led to goal by linemate P.A. Parentau. Comeau epitomized a tireless Islander team that refused to be outworked.
+ E (and W) for Effort
Building off that last point, the Islanders played like the hungrier team today. They came out faster and kept firing all game long. They were outshot and stoned more than a few times by Henrik Lundqvist (whose performance wasn’t really 5-goals worth of awful). If Lundqvist wasn’t as sharp as he was, the damage would have been much, much worse. Islanders head coach Scott Gordon has to be thrilled with the way his team has responded in the wake of injuries to, well, everyone. The next question is how long the Isles can sustain the effort level.
+ The Rangers' Second Line
Brandon Dubinsky (1 G, 1 A), Artem Anisimov (1 G, 1 A) and Ryan Callahan (1 A) were dynamic on even strength and special teams. Dubinsky and Callahan logged more ice time that even Marian Gaborik. There was one big blemish on Callahan though, as he took an offensive zone tripping penalty with just under six-minutes remaining. That began the downward spiral that ended in the Rangers’ loss. Since the trip was a borderline call though, I’m still slotting the unit in the plus column.
- Ranger Giveaways
Del Zotto turned over the puck twice deep in the Rangers’ zone, which directly led to both early Islander goals. He and his partner, Dan Girardi, finished a combined minus-3, though both scored for the Blueshirts. That’s the double edged sword that Del Zotto wields. He giveth, but he also taketh away. And when the Rangers taketh the loss, you have to put it in the minus column.
- Gaborik’s All Alone … And … Oh…
It’s astounding how an amazing goal scorer like Marian Gaborik can be so completely awful at penalty shots. He was stoned by Rick DiPietro in the first period today after getting hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway by Doug Weight, an event that first ignited the fire for Islander fans. I’m trying to track down Gaborik's career penalty shot percentage, but in overtime shootouts he has just 2 goals in 18 attempts. How is that even possible for a 40-goal scorer?
- Isles Special Teams
This was a hard call. Until the final Islander PP goals that tied and won the game late in the third period, the Islanders were 0-3 with a man up and yielded goals on first two Ranger PPs and another just after the third penalty expired. When the Isles had their first man-advantage, they had to haul down Gaborik to prevent that shorthanded breakaway. If the Rangers/officials weren’t so accommodating with two late-game penalties, this thrilling win could have ended quite differently. It won't dampen the mood today though.
Notes and Quotes
* As pointed out elsewhere, Islanders D James Wisniewski made a lewd gesture towards Rangers pest Sean Avery near the end of the first period. (Here’s a YouTube link, but if you don’t want to watch, imagine Wisniewski kindly encouraging Avery to really scrub that hard-to-reach plaque off his back molars.)
After the game however, the D-man seemed to experience a bout of temporary amnesia “I don’t remember making any gesture,” Wisniewski said to reporters. I’m sure the kind folks at the NHL’s Hockey Operations office will jog his memory soon enough.
In the other locker room, Avery added his two cents: “Can you imagine if I did that?” Avery asked rhetorically. “[Expletive]. Last time they sent me to rehab. That’s crazy.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was in attendance, said he didn’t see Wisniewski’s gesture and had no immediate response when he fielded questions during an impromptu media scrum between the second and third periods.
“I didn’t see it, but I heard about it,” Bettman said. “My guess is Hockey Operations will look at it and do what needs to be done.”
* Comeau says his confidence is rising after a solid end to last season. “I’m just shooting the puck more. I worked hard this summer, came back in shape and I'm still feeling good. My confidence is rolling.”
As for his affinity for playing the Rangers: “I don’t know what it is. I always seem to get some bounces and play well. I guess I just like to feed off the rivalry.”
When a reporter noted the Islanders have struggled playing the Rangers at the Coliseum in the recent past, Comeau gently jabbed back, “This year we haven’t.”
* During Bettman's Q and A with the media, when a reporter prefaced a question by stating the Islanders needed a new arena, Bettman piped up, “Ya think?” The commish went on to say the team was in desperate need of a new building, but that the next move lies with local government officials.
Per Bettman, there are currently no plans to relocate any NHL franchise or to expand the league. He added that Quebec City, one rumored destination for a relocated team, would need a new arena to be considered a viable market.
* "Entourage" actor Kevin Connolly was in the Isles locker room after the game and was rather pumped about the win.