Philadelphia's Wells Fargo/Wachovia/First Union/Core States Center has been a house of horrors for the Islanders. But after breaking their impossibly long drought in that building last month, the blue and orange squad from New York is suddenly rolling there.
It took a Herculean 45 save effort from Evegeni Nabokov and a shootout, but suddenly the Islanders have won two in a row in the building that formerly struck fear in their hearts.
With Travis Hamonic out for several weeks (announced as two by the team) after facial surgery stemming from a puck to the face, young Aaron Ness made his NHL debut.
Amidst a patchwork defensive corps (Dylan Reese would leave this game due to injury), Ness saw 14:25 of action in his league premiere.
The story of the night, other than Nabokov's spectacular night between the pipes, belonged to "The Great Dane," Frans Nielsen.
Nielsen, who would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, was inked to a four-year, $11 million extension, announced during the game.
How did the 27-year old celebrate? With one of his patented backhanded goals in the shootout against Philadelphia netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, of course. It gave the Islanders the lead in the so-called "skills competition" and turned out to be the only one they would need on this night (John Tavares added an insurance goal soon after).
The Islanders were 1-0 shootout winners, escaping Philly with an improbable 2 points in the standings. Their season record stands at 22-22-8 with 30 regular season games remaining. It'll be a tough task for them to make the playoffs, but their play is much improved over the last few months.
It's not a stretch to think that this team is finally becoming a regular playoff contender for the coming years after so much heartache and disappointment.
One glaring weakness, exposed again on this night by their paltry 18 shot effort, is the inconsistent scoring. If a top-liner doesn't have a big night, goals just don't seem to come. This lack of offensive depth must be addressed in the offseason, perhaps earlier.
The trading deadline for Garth Snow and the league's general managers is February 27th.
Kyle Okposo, this page's primary focus, rang a shot off the post but recorded no goals for the ninth game in his last ten. John Tavares and Frans Nielsen each needed an assist to reach 100 in their careers, but will have to wait at least until Thursday (2/9) night against Montreal.
The team sits just four goals shy of scoring 10,000 in franchise history. I'll be on hand on Thursday night in Nassau to see if they get it done.