There is always a lot of excitement leading up to a local rivalry, and last night, at the sold-out Prudential Center, the atmosphere was no different. The game was a defensive battle, with the only goal of the night, at 1:59 of the first period, credited to the New York Islanders’ fourth liner, Casey Cizikas. And fitting in a game that had a lot of fits and starts, it wasn’t even Cizikas’s shot that went into the net–the puck had bounced off of him on a rebound from defenseman Nick Leddy’s shot. Cory Schneider looked like he did not see the puck, and it went over him into the net. Although the play was reviewed in the Toronto war room for a possible kicking motion, it was finally declared a goal and that was all the scoring that occurred last night.
One highlight of the night was an amazing save by Jaroslav Halak, who got the shutout in net for the Isles. The save came on Devils’ right winger Lee Stempniak wrister into what looked like an open net. But Halak slid over and spread himself, just in time to get a piece of Stempniak’s shot. Halak needed a save like this in his first appearance in net since last weekend, when Carolina ran off four straight goals and he was pulled from the game. This night certainly went a long way to get Halak back on track, in the middle of a playoff race that requires both goaltenders to be on top of their game. The Islanders currently remain in third place in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of Pittsburgh, who have a game in hand. But the point spread between third and sixth place is only five points, with Pittsburgh closing fast and at least one team from the Atlantic Division competing for a wild card spot. Every game will make a difference coming down the stretch, with the Islanders one game into a season-long seven-game road trip.
The Devils have a tougher road to the playoffs but are far from out of it. Currently sitting fifth, behind Washington (who they play today), the Rangers, the Islanders, and Pittsburgh, the Devils have played more games than any of the other four teams. They also are have been hindered by injuries to key players. Defenseman Jon Merrill was activated from IR yesterday, but both Mike Cammalleri and Patrik Elias, big offensive producers, remain on IR.
This morning there is concern too that another player may be unavailable. Last night, right winger Jordan Tootoo cross checked Johnny Boychuk into the boards at 15:00 of the second period. For the offense, Tootoo received a five-minute major and game misconduct. Boychuk, who is on the Islanders’ defensive top pairing, had just returned on February 6th from an upper body injury, and luckily, although he was extremely slow getting up, Boychuk did return for the third period. Given Tootoo’s history of supplemental discipline, it is possible the league may review this hit and give him a few games.
Finally, we have to mention that, with three New York/New Jersey area teams, there are bound to be fans of one team at the other’s arena, and chants from both sets of fans regarding the rival teams on the ice. But from my travels around the league, rarely are the chants about teams not skating that night. New York/New Jersey is unique in this way, however. Although “Lets go Devils” and “Lets go Islanders” chants were frequently heard last night, there were as many chants commenting negatively on the Rangers, who were nowhere near the Pru last night. Ranger fans in Madison Square Garden are not immune either, as frequent chants of “Potvin Sucks” many years after the former Islander has skated on the Garden ice can be heard at every game.
But, it was kind of ugly last night, on the Friday night start of Hockey Weekend Across America. There were a large number of children under age 12 at the rink, and to see them yelling along with the adults with them that the Rangers suck was very disconcerting. The Devils, who held their annual equipment drive last night, are today hosting a “Try Hockey” clinic for kids aged 4-9. We all want the sport to grow and be fun for everyone. Maybe its time for these chants to stop.