Score: Coyotes 3 Islanders 5
Coyotes: Duclair, Kempe, Cousins
Islanders: Tavares (x3), Nelson, Mayfield
Breakdown: I feel for the Coyotes, I really do. They have a solid group of young talent that has joined the team over the last two years between Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer and Lawson Crouse. In addition they brought on Nicholas Hjalmarsson and Antti Raanta (hurt) in the offseason. In this game they did the right things, they tied the Islanders in takeaways (3 each), they beat them in faceoffs (40 to 33) they beat them in hits (21 to 16) they tied them in PIM (6 each) and most importantly they beat them in shots (35 to 25) and even got on the scoreboard first scoring a nice Power Play goal by Anthony Duclair after a tripping call on the Islanders where Zach Rinaldo almost put in a goal off a rebound just second before. By all outside views they should have walked away with their first ‘W’ of the year. Insert some guy by the name of John Tavares. I should preface with the fact that this guy is good. Real good. He has been in the top 20 in scoring in 4 of the last 5 years. Somehow he plays in a New York market and yet gets next to no press but I imagine as the contract situation looms over his head not to mention the future of the Islanders team in Barclays Center he will get more press. John would go on to score a hat trick with helpers from Jordan Eberle and Adam Pelech (65th overall pick defenseman in the 2012 draft) and ultimately that served as the nail in the coffin and win for the Islanders. It was a good battle between the two teams and despite the Coyotes doing everything right, the Islanders have found a niche in pulling out wins while Arizona is left figuring that out.
Players who are not in the Spotlight but might be soon: What may not be evident for anyone looking at the score sheet was solid play from Johnny Boychuk who was positionally sound and really positioned himself well during the game. He is off to a poor start this season but should see his stats rise soon. Mathew Barzal is another one who is off to a slow start but he moved the puck around well and wasn’t afraid to fire some good shots on net, I expect to see more out of him soon. The Coyotes saw efficient play from Derek Stepan who was solid in the faceoff circle, moved well with the top line of Clayton Keller (who I maintain will be in the rookie of the year discussion) and Max Domi had a learning curve early but each game appears to show them getting stronger together as a unit (they have a combined 11 points over their last 3 games, better than a point per game). These three make up around 50% of the Coyotes goals right now (Keller alone makes up 30%).
Sidenote: The irony of these two teams is that they are similar in nature: very top line heavy goalies who are fairly average, able to win games but also not the most consistent night in and night out. Both teams have previous storied players as coaches who are within their first Calendar year as head coaches (Rick Tocchet with Arizona and Doug Weight behind the Islanders bench) both have a recent history of not a ton of success but are banking on some infusion of young talent, coaching and some less publicized star power to help propel them forward this season. Both have experience sub-optimal success on the Power Play AND Penalty Kill this year (bottom ten in PP% and PK%). With all of this in common space the Islanders find themselves at 5-3 and the Coyotes at 0-8, such is the sport of Hockey.
A game that didn’t mean much and yet, it’s another step towards competitive Islanders down the stretch and another step towards a very improbably chance for the Coyotes to make the playoffs. At year end expect to see John Tavares and Clayton Keller in the top 20 in points scored. Expect to see Max Domi, Derek Stepan, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee in the top 75.