Monday, January 19, 2015

Surging Islanders pound obliging Flyers

Uniondale, NY -- Plus-minus may not be an accurate indicator of performance, but the final score definitely can't be ignored.

Nikolay Kulemin had two goals and an assist and the New York Islanders closed out a hugely successful pre-All-Star- break schedule with a 7-4 decision over the Philadelphia Flyers, in the final contest between these long-time rivals at the fading Nassau Coliseum.

John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy each scored once and assisted on another in a game the Islanders led from start to finish, with Jaroslav Halak adding 25 saves in the win.

New York will enter the break atop the Metropolitan Division with 63 points and a 31-14-1 record, and the hosts did so by posting their most goals in a home win against Philly in more than two decades.

"It's no secret, our home record was a big disappointment last year and one of the reasons why we didn't have much success," Tavares said. "You play well within your division and play well at home you're going to have a pretty good chance to do some good things, and certainly we've done that so far this year. It's important to keep that going. We can't be satisfied."

The Islanders put up four of their goals just past the midway mark of the second period, resulting in the
Flyers pulling netminder Rob Zepp after he stopped just 16-of-20 shots.

Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Claude Giroux and Chris VandeVelde all had goals for the Flyers, while Ray Emery saved 18-of-20 attempts in relief of Zepp. The Orange and Black fell to 3-13-1 overall in eight-plus back-to-back situations.

Philadelphia completes this set at home against the Penguins on Tuesday.

Zepp,  the 33-year-old  rookie making only his fifth career NHL start, had his rough afternoon begin early. Grabner took in a pass from Kulemin and blew past Flyers  defenseman  Carlo Colaiacovo before  firing a  shot into the top right corner to put the Islanders ahead just 1:32 in.

Kulemin made it a 2-0 game with a little over eight minutes elapsed, as a long drive  from Johnny Boychuk was kicked out by Zepp right to the Russian forward for him to deposit into an opening.

The Flyers had a chance to cut into the deficit with a power play early in the second  period. However, Kulemin blocked a shot from Matt Read and embarked on a  breakaway  which he finished  with a short-handed tally  to put New York up 3-0.

Halak couldn't prevent a blast from Streit from trickling through on a Flyers' power  play midway  through the middle session, but Bailey restored the Isles' three-goal advantage less than three minutes later by putting home the rebound of Travis Hamonic's initial attempt and prompting Zepp's exit.

Philadelphia answered with 4:48 left in the second when Del Zotto snuck a shot under  Halak's pads off a centering feed from Jakub Voracek. However, New York entered  the intermission owning a comfortable 5-2 lead on a Tavares goal with 7.6 seconds to go in the frame.

After  receiving a give from Frans Nielsen from the left boards, the Islanders captain  moved in  and lifted a backhander over Emery's left shoulder with New York on a 5-on-4 situation.

The  Flyers  trimmed the margin to  5-3 when Giroux converted Halak's giveaway behind his own net into an easy tap-in 49 seconds into the third period.

Philadelphia  couldn't get any closer, however, with Leddy all but sealing the outcome  by flinging a  puck that got through a screened Emery with 14:15 left to play.

Both  teams registered  goals  in the  final  2 1/2  minutes  to complete  the scoring.  VandeVelde successfully  redirected Luke Schenn's point shot for the Flyers'  final marker, with Anders Lee tacking on an empty-netter for New York with 1:03 remaining.  

"I guess we gotta get ready before the game a little bit better, but we do a good job when they score a goal we don't let down," Giroux said. "I think we played hard [Monday], just didn't execute the way we wanted."

Just let that sink in for a second, your captain engaging in a clear denial of reality. 

Monday's defeat marked only the third time in 17 instances the Flyers scored at least four goals that they lost the game. It happened in the club's home opener, a 6-4 loss to the Devils on Oct. 9 and then in a 5-4 shootout loss at Anaheim on Dec. 3.

And while we can't point to specific instances of action or inaction which directly led to Islander goals, the fact that Sean Couturier, Matt Read and R.J. Umberger combined for a blistering minus-14 should tell us that they had a horrendous game individually and collectively -- regardless of the competition -- but calls for trading at least the first two given this one outlier are completely irrational. 

Notes: The  previous meeting  between the  clubs this  season went  scoreless through regulation and overtime, with the Isles claiming a 1-0 shootout win Nov. 24 at Nassau  Coliseum ... New York posted its most goals in a win over the Flyers at home since claiming an 8-4 decision on Jan. 23, 1993 ... Boychuk finished with two assists for the Islanders, with Voracek  and  Brayden Schenn  posting a  pair of  helpers for Philadelphia ... Islanders  forward Kyle  Okposo was named the  NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday  after scoring five goals in three games ... Philly  blueliner  Carlo Colaiacovo left  the game in the third period, and following the game, both he and Nick Schultz were proclaimed to be suffering from upper-body injuries.
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