into the 2008-09 season, the Islanders knew their strongest attribute came between the pipes. On Saturday night, that was exactly the case as Joey MacDonald— subbing for Rick DiPietro— starred in net.
MacDonald delivered a strong performance for the second-straight night and—coupled with an early offensive flurry—the Islanders defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-2 at Nassau Coliseum.
Mike Comrie put the Isles on the board just 2:18 into the opening frame, putting a Richard Park rebound through St. Louis goaltender Chris Mason's legs. Kyle Okposo got the play started behind the St. Louis net and passed the puck to a waiting Park in the right face-off circle. Park fired a shot off of Mason's pads, which Comrie put in the net.
Trent Hunter gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead on the power play at the 13:47 mark of the first period, skating through the Blues' zone and firing a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle that trickled through Mason's legs. A minute and a half later, Sean Bergenheim put the Isles up by three goals, snapping a wrist shot that deflected off Mason's blocker from almost the same spot as Hunter's goal.
Scott Gordon thought his team's early aggressive style of play was indicative of what he saw in their preseason victories.
"I think first and foremost our players played with more urgency," said Gordon. "We talked about that before the game—playing with that urgency, stopping and starting, being relentless, and not letting them off the hook when they cut back on you. I thought that was pretty close to the efforts we had in the games that we won in the exhibition season."
With a little more than 2:30 left in the first, St. Louis' Brad Boyes put the Blues on the board, taking a centering pass from Paul Kariya and tipping it over MacDonald's right shoulder, cutting the Isles lead to 3-1.
Andy Hilbert gave the Isles its second three-goal of the game on a short-handed goal. Hilbert tipped a Mark Streit pass past Mason at 19:15 of the first period for the 4-1 lead. It was Hilbert's first career short-handed goal.
The Isles and Blues played a scoreless second period, but each team had its fair share of scoring chances.
Jon Sim had the Isles’ best chance in the second on a breakaway as Bill Guerin led Sim with a breakout pass into the Blues zone. Sim tried to fire it through Mason's legs, but was denied, keeping the Isles lead at three.
Just prior to that, MacDonald came up with a spectacular glove save while sprawled out on the ice. With a wide open net, it seemed all but certain the Blues would cut the Isles lead in half, but MacDonald stuck out his glove hand to keep the Blues off the board. Gordon had plenty of praise for his goaltender tonight following the game.
"I can't say enough about the job the coaches have done with him," said Gordon. "Where he is today compared to where he was in Boston speaks volumes to what they've done with him. He's a hard worker and he deserves the opportunity he's getting."
MacDonald continued his strong play later in the period, stopping Keith Tkachuk on a breakaway with a right pad save after the Blues forward exited the penalty box.
MacDonald thought that Tkachuk's breakaway was a game-changing save.
"It's kind of a turning point in the game if they would've scored," said MacDonald. "That's what my job is, to come up with the save when I have to. The boys put the puck in the net when they had to and that was the difference between tonight and last night."
Tkachuk gave the Blues their second goal of the game eight minutes into the third period, banging in a rebound off a Kariya wrist shot and lifted it over a sprawled MacDonald. That cut the Islanders lead to 4-2.
Guerin scored an empty-net goal to finish the game off with a 5-2 victory.
Three Stars of the Game: 1. Joey MacDonald: 24 saves in a solid performance in net. 2. Andy Hilbert: First career short-handed goal. Added an assist for two-point night. 3. Bruno Gervais: Two assists, 23:08 of ice time in strong defensive showing. Honorable Mention:Doug Weight, two assists for his third point in two games.
Slapshots: It was the first time the Islanders scored five goals in a home opener since the 1996-97 season…The Islanders outshot the Blues 33-26…Isles out-hit the Blues 26-16, with Freddy Meyer leading the team with five hits…Jon Sim led the team with five shots…Radek Martinek left the game due to an injury in the first period. He was being evaluated by team doctors and did not return…The game was a sell-out (16,234)...Saturday night’s Modell’s Amateur Hockey award winner is Bob Koch, the Vice President of the Metropolitan Ice Rink Management Association. He has been involved in amateur hockey on Long Island for over 30 years. Koch was joined by his wife Theresa, his daughter Megan—a figure skater, and his son Brian—a hockey player enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
93 Doug Weight - 13 Bill Guerin - 16 Jon Sim
10 Richard Park - 89 Mike Comrie - 21 Kyle Okposo
15 Jeff Tambellini - 51 Frans Nielsen - 7 Trent Hunter
11 Andy Hilbert - 45 Nate Thompson - 20 Sean Bergenheim
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Goaltenders 50 Chris Mason
34 Manny Legace
49 Steve Wagner - 4 Eric Brewer
27 Alex Pietrangelo - 5 Barret Jackman
46 Roman Polak - 77 Jay McKee
74 T.J. Oshie - 42 David Backes - 7 Keith Tkachuk "A"
22 Brad Boyes - 10 Andy McDonald - 12 Lee Stempniak
57 David Perron - 21 Patrik Berglund - Paul Kariya
55 Cam Janssen - 18 Jay Clement - 32 Chris Porter
1 - 0 NYI
2 - 0 NYI
3 - 0 NYI
3 - 1 NYI
4 - 1 NYI
4 - 2 NYI
5 - 2 NYI
Holding the stick