Blake Comeau scored twice while Frans Nielsen added three assists to help the Islanders to an easy 4-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild Wednesday night. Al Montoya made 33 saves to earn the victory for the Isles.
“We came out with a mindset that we were going to outwork them,” said Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDoald who also scored for New York. “Outside of the first few shifts, where they had us hemmed in, we dominated the play pretty well.”
The home team broke out on top on Comeau’s first tally of the night which came on the power play at 10:31. The Islanders power play moved the puck very well with pinpoint passing, completing five passes in the Wild zone before Nielsen found Comeau who deposited the puck in the empty left side of the net.
Kyle Okposo scored the prettiest goal of the night with 1:23 remaining in the first period. Michael Grabner made a cross ice pass to Okposo in the slot and Okposo made a backhand shot between his legs that fooled Niklas Backstrom and gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead after the first period.
The Islanders extended their lead to 3-0 just 41 seconds into the second stanza when Backstrom had trouble holdling on to a shot by Matt Martin and Comeau pounced on the rebound. Wild Coach Todd Richards had seen enough and replaced Backstrom with Jose Theordore.
With the game rapidly falling out of reach, the Wild tried to get physical. Cal Clutterbuck delivered a hard hit from behind on Islanders rookie Justin DiBenedetto. Islanders forward Trevor Gillies stepped in to defend his teammate and was given a major penalty for hitting Clutterbuck from behind and a game misconduct. This was Gillies’ first game back after serving a nine-game suspension for his actions in the big brawl against the Penguins last month. He is almost certainly going to be hearing from Colin Campbell again after this hit.
After the game, Gillies spoke to Newsday’s Katie Strang.
“I just went over and finished my hit,” he said. “There was no intent at all to injure him [Clutterbuck]. I saw him hit DiBo [DiBenedetto] and I made a hit on him. That was it. I didn’t think it was from behind at all. I hit him from the side.”
MacDonald closed out the scoring for the Islanders with a hard shot from the point with 3:55 left in the second period. Josh Bailey set a perfect screen in front on the play which gave the Isles their second power play goal of the night and a 4-0 lead as the teams skated in for the second intermission.
The Wild ended Montoya’s shutout bid with 8:27 left in the third period when John Madden tapped home a centering pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard. While Montoya couldn’t quite earn the shutout, his strong play was appreciated by his teammates.
“He’s been great every game he’s played for us,” MacDonald explained. “He made that big glove save when he went post-to-post on their power play. I think that really gave us a good momentum boost. He was kicking rebounds to the corner, he was under control. You can’t say enough about the way he played.”
Isles Coach Jack Capuano was pleased with his team’s overall performance. “The first five minutes were pretty tough,” he said. “We finally got out of the gate here tonight and changed some things around. We started playing. Once we got our legs under us, we started doing the right things and we were a pretty good hockey team. You have to give credit to the guys, they’re battling and doing the right things.”
The Islanders return to action Saturday afternoon when they host the St. Louis Blues.
The NHL named Michael Grabner the league’s Rookie of the Month for February. He had 10 goals and 16 points in 14 games in February.
Radek Martinek, Milan Jurcina and Michael Haley were the Islanders scratches while Chuck Kobasew and Cam Barker sat out for Minnesota.
Jack Hillen was called for “clipping” midway through the second period on what many veteran reporters saw as a textbook hip check. Capuano also said he thought the hit was legal and joked that the last time he saw clipping called was at the Super Bowl. While respecting the officials need to make a judgment call, Hillen admitted he was surprised by the penalty.
“I did the same thing last game and it didn’t get called. The ref saw it differently and that’s his right.” Hillen also added, “I’m not a big guy to begin with, plus I skate low to the ice so it looks like I go low on him but I just put my hip there. They’re going to flip like that and it looks bad. I’m not trying to go low on anybody. You don’t see a lot of guys throw hip checks anymore.”