Goaltender Rick DiPietro was the Islanders saving grace on Sunday night at the Philips Arena as he made 33 saves on 35 shots, sending the game into overtime and helping the Islanders earn their second point during their 13 game winless streak. But defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored just 1:30 into the overtime period to give the Atlanta Thrashers a 2-1 victory.
“(DiPietro) gave us a chance to win, there’s no question about it,” said Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano. “I saw him at practice the last week and he was focused, he was competitive and he was probably our best player tonight.”
Playing in his first game in 18 days, DiPietro’s performance could have been questionable. Instead, his 33 saves, including a pad save on a shorthanded breakaway by Thrashers forward Evander Kane, are the most he’s made since Oct. 18, 2008.
Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders makes a save against Bryan Little #10 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on November 21, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)
DiPietro kept the Thrashers off the scoreboard through two full periods, but Andrew Ladd did a good job of screening the Islanders goaltender, allowing Nik Antropov to score a power play goal at 2:25 of the third period from the top of the right faceoff circle sending the game into overtime.
Byfuglien’s game winner in overtime was a clean shot from the slot.
“(The Thrashers) had a lot of zone time there,” said DiPietro. “I thought Wiz (James Wisniewski) made a great play originally to come out and make Byfuglien come down the wall, but they kept the puck in the zone and Byfyglien walked down the slot. It was a nice shot.”
DiPietro wasn’t happy with the outcome. He said, “When you are in overtime you at least hope to get to a shootout.”
But to get to the overtime period, the Islanders first needed to be on the scoreboard and they got the early lead as forward Michael Grabner scored with just 13 seconds left in the first period to give them the one goal advantage through the second period.
“I think as a staff we’re getting to see what they can and can’t do,” said Capuano. “We have to try to play to their strengths and that’s obviously what we’re trying to do.”
To set up the play, defenseman Radek Martinek fed the puck to Grabner through the neutral zone. Fighting for the puck against the boards, he passed to center Frans Nielsen who skated with the puck down to the goal line and fed it back to Grabner where he battled through the crease squeaking the puck through Thrashers goaltender Odrej Pavelec.
Through 65 minutes, the Islanders were outshot 35-29, but they still had a decent amount of scoring opportunities.
Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders scores a goal against Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on November 21, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)
“I think now that we’ve had three or four practices they have an idea of how we want to play. We had chances, we just have to get the puck off our stick a little quicker,” said Capuano. “That’s one area we have to get better at for sure.”
Also in the first period, the Islanders suffered the loss of another defenseman as Mike Mottau took a shot to the face and left the game with help from Josh Bailey and the Islanders trainer after playing 6:20 seconds. The Islanders are also waiting for the return of Andrew MacDonald (hand), Milan Jurcina (hamstring), Jack Hillen (concussion) and Mark Streit (shoulder).
In the end, the Islanders earned one point, but they are still unhappy with the outcome.
“If I can say one thing, throughout this whole thing is guys care,” DiPietro said. “I hope people realize that. This eats at us. This isn’t fun for anybody. It keeps guys up at night and makes us sick to our stomachs. This is unacceptable for us. We want to start winning some games. We came in to this season with the credo that there would be no excuses and we’re not going to make any.”