Sunday, December 27, 2009

Okposo's big night lifts Islanders past Rangers

The Islanders continued to dominate the Rangers at MSG, winning for the ninth time on Broadway over a lucky 13 (9-3-1). The hero was Kyle Okposo, who snapped an 18-game drought by netting the overtime winner with 47 seconds to spare, lifting the Kings of 33rd and 7th to a 3-2 win over their bitter rival.

It felt like a pretty big relief. To get the win that way, it felt pretty good,” the pleased 21 year-old Islander forward said after a goal and two assists in a dominant performance versus his favorite opponent. Figures that I didn't start him. “I’ve played pretty well. I think I’ve been playing like that for quite some time, but the puck was just not going my way. Tonight it did.
It looked like the Isles would take care of business in regulation. Especially after getting a goal in each of the first two periods, taking a two-goal lead to the locker room thanks in large part to Okposo, who entered last night with only one assist in his last half dozen. Nothing stopped him from tormenting a weak Ranger D which couldn't deal with his line flanked by Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey all night. The former 2006 seventh overall pick's size wreaked havoc as he and linemates combined for six points (2-4-6) and a plus-six on a night John Tavares was relatively quiet without a shot.

In the game's opening shift, the Rangers came much harder than they did over a week ago. However, Dwayne Roloson was sharp and remained that way throughout, finishing with 36 saves. His goaltending along with an odd call on Sean Avery for unsportsmanlike after he took a hit from behind before pounding Bruno Gervais allowed the road team to get their post-Christmas legs. What ensued were some sloppy play from the hosts, who turned it over at the blueline to setup the Isles' first goal. Off a Dan Girardi one-timer that had no chance, predictably getting blocked, the Rangers never recovered, allowing the trio of Bailey and Okposo to easily feed Nielsen for a tap-in at 7:45.

It only turned uglier as the Rangers continually turned the puck over in the neutral zone while not testing Roloson in an odd stanza that saw each club register five shots, making paint dry on the old Garden walls behind us. In between, there also were two more bizarre calls, including a Brian Boyle delay of game which canceled out a Jon Sim hold of the stick. I realize there was only one referee due to the dreary rain storm, but if he held Boyle's stick first, how does our two-bit scrub wind up in the box as well? Anyway, the latter was another from the Avery Rules in which he got nabbed for goalie interference despite being pushed into Roloson outside the paint. Something John Tortorella alluded to later. Bettman hockey.

I didn't see much of the second due to a lengthy and more interesting debate with one of the best fans in our section about how screwed this team really is due to the contracts Slats can't get out of. We discussed pretty much everything from not bringing back Zherdev to our failed drafts along with the lack of a No.1 center who could help a ton. I won't bother naming the guy who came up. While the fun debate heated up with even a cool security guard weighing in along with my Dad, the Rangers butchered a power play- somehow permitting a shorthanded goal to scrub Blake Comeau. That half his markers and three of just 11 points have come at our expense would be so sad if it wasn't so predictable. Apparently, Mike Del Zotto and Ally (new female name for this joke) Kotalik turned it over at center and Okposo sprung Comeau for a clean break, which he cashed with a nice backhand deke five-hole for 2-zip with less than 16 minutes left in regulation.

Almost immediately, the "Fire Sather" chants started which we paid no mind to. What's the point? At this rate, the inept Slats will never lose his job. But the cost will continue to go up even if they miss the playoffs. Normal in Loser Vi$ion. With Roloson shutting the door on 15 Ranger offerings, it looked like we'd suffer another humiliation. But that quickly changed as our guys decided to put their hard hats on and make a game of it, outshooting the Isles 15-5 in the third. They got results thanks to hard work with Brandon Dubinsky playing one of his best games as a Ranger, scoring twice to force OT. His first came off some solid work from Chris Drury, who teamed with a shaky Michal Rozsival to get the puck to the net where it rebounded out to Dubi for a gimme, cutting to 2-1 with 13:53 left.

Suddenly, the Blueshirts came in waves, making life difficult for Roloson, who still dealt well with the traffic getting a piece of tougher shots and also having a post or two on his side (Dubinsky and Del Zotto).The Islanders took two penalties including an undisciplined bench minor with over three minutes remaining. But our power play couldn't cash. When Tort opted not to pull Henrik Lundqvist for a six-on-four, it looked like the effort would be wasted. But as I stood there with a nice family with kids watching downstairs near the Play By Play, some great work from Dubinsky resulted in the equalizer.

With Henrik off for an extra attacker, Del Zotto hustled to keep the puck in with over a minute to spare, pushing it into the right corner. Dubinsky then outmuscled Andy Sutton for the puck, eventually getting it to Ryan Callahan. Cally then worked a give-and-go with Rozsival before firing at the left circle, which an open Dubi deflected home with 46.6 to go, giving the kids something to cheer about. It was the only chance they had because Rollie was stopping everything. Nice to see some of our core guys get rewarded on a night Gaborik was held in check despite five shots.

"It makes it a little harder," Dubinsky pointed out. "Your juices are flowing, you've got the momentum, you're excited about tying the game and getting a point. You want to fight to get that second one and use that energy.

"We had some chances, but unfortunately they found a way to get one past Hank."

Unlike most typical four-on-fours where the damn gimmick determines the extra point, both New York clubs went for it, giving us an entertaining five minutes. The way these games should be decided. The Rangers pressed but a sliding Roloson made a great stop on a Callahan redirect and got some help from snake bit Chris Higgins, who overskated a gimme. We talked a lot about him and everyone agreed that the guy has a tremendous work ethic, winning tons of battles at even strength or PK. It's a shame he can't get one because he really gives great effort. His luck must change if this team is to make a push over this next six weeks prior to the Olympic Break.

Unfortunately, as usually happens when you miss opportunities to win it, it comes back to bite ya. With the kids thinking shootout (even I was), the Ranger tandem of Rozsival and Marc Staal backed in too much, allowing Okposo and Nielsen to gain the blueline. What followed was a nice pass play with Mark Streit working as a forward down low, quickly feeding a vacated Okposo for an innocent looking wrist shot from 45. But the puck changed direction off a sliding Gaborik fooling Lundqvist for the winner. Still one he should have had. Just watching the replay and seeing his reaction afterwards, you could tell how much it burned him inside. Sometimes, it's those kind of shots that decide these games.

While Tortorella was right that his team didn't quit, fighting hard to comeback from two to earn a point, it wasn't enough. Against the Islanders in our building, it isn't about silver linings. Once they tied it, they had to win it, making it five straight. Instead, a sour taste was left with again the little brother stealing our thunder. Even if a whiny Isle fan bitched about getting a bloody nose (probably cause he was mouthing off), we came out losers. Four of six games have been played against the guys from Long Island and the Rangers only have one win to show for it. Three lousy points and 0-2 at MSG with one more left. Islander fans who went cheered loudly and should because once again, even on a night their team got only 22 SOG, they found a way to win.

Okposo's big night.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Dwayne Roloson, NYI (36 saves incl.28/30 in periods 2 & 3)
2nd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (2 goals incl. GT w/47 secs left in regulation, 5 SOG, 2 hits, 12-4 draws, +1 in 23:59)
1st Star-Kyle Okposo, NYI (OT winner-snapping 18-gm goal drought, 2 assists, 3 SOG, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, +2 in 17:05)

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