Islanders End Slide, Defeat Canadiens
The Islanders scored four goals in the second period and held off some late game pressure and defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 4-3. Rick DiPietro got the win in relief of Evgeni Nabokov, who left the ice just 7:55 into the first period due to an apparent lower body injury. Nabokov is said to have a hamstring issue, and will be evaluated today.
The first shot against DiPietro came on a power play, and as has been the Islanders luck so far this season, the shot beat him. However, in a new turn of events for the Islanders and their luck, this time the post was there to back DiPietro up, and the Islanders killed off the power play unscathed.
PA Parenteau had another solid game, continuing to find ways to put points on the board. Just 41 seconds into the second period, Montreal goaltender Peter Budaj (starting for a resting Carey Price) misplayed the puck behind the net, and it came right out in front to Parenteau. He wasted no time in making a quick forehand to backhand deke before depositing the puck behind Budaj and into the net, giving the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Playing with the lead is something the Islanders have not been able to grow accustomed to yet this season. They have been plagued with a condition where, no matter which of their three goaltenders is in net, the opposing team’s first shot tends to find its way into the net. So how did the Islanders respond to finding themselves in this new situation?
Naturally, they followed up their first goal with two more in the next 10 minutes. The next goal came on a 3-on-2 rush led by the highly scrutinized Josh Bailey (read more about Bailey here at The Checking Line). Bailey carried the puck down the right wing boards while line mate Matt Martin crashed the net with speed. Showing great patience, Bailey waited for the far side defenseman to slide and help cover Martin before smoothly gliding a pass through the slot to the back door, where veteran Jay Pandolfo was waiting for the easy tap-in.
The goal was Pandolfo’s 100th career tally in the NHL, and first with the Islanders this season. In addition to scoring his first goal as an Islander, Pandolfo contributed in a number of other ways in this game including killing penalties and blocking a number of shots. He easily had his best game in the Royal Blue and Orange, and TV announcer Butch Goring added late in the game that he felt Pandolfo was “the best and most consistent Islanders forward on the ice tonight.”
Mark Streit added to the Islanders scoring minutes later when he led a 2-on-2 rush into the Canadiens zone with Matt Martin. Streit came down the right wing boards and tried to feed Martin across the slot. The puck was deflected by a Canadiens defender and bounced around above the crease out of Budaj’s reach, when Streit won the race to the puck. Using just one hand on his stick, Streit extended a poke-check and popped the puck past a sprawling Budaj to extend the Isles’ lead to 3-0.
With just over 5 minutes remaining in the second, Montreal brought the Islanders’ momentum to a halt. Lars Eller fed Max Pacioretty on a 2-on-1 break for a perfectly executed odd man rush to cut the Isles’ lead to 3-1. Pacioretty sniped the high corner on the near post, making it impossible for DiPietro to get across the net in time to have any chance at saving his shot.
The Canadiens netted their second goal of the game with just over 2 minutes to play in the second period. On a cross ice pass through the slot to Erik Cole, DiPietro’s skates got tangled with an Isles defenseman and Canadiens forward battling in front of the net, and fell to the ice. Before DiPietro could recover, Cole hammered the puck home, giving Islanders fans bouts of déjà vu from the Avalanche game last week.
However, unlike their game against Colorado, the Isles responded in a big way on the next shift. John Tavares carried the puck across the blue line and left a drop pass for Matt Moulson in the slot. Moulson corralled the puck and fired a low wrist shot towards the lower left corner of the net, where Michael Grabner was crashing. PK Subban, attempting to cover the speedy Grabner, inadvertently deflected the puck past Budaj allowing the Islanders to regain a 2 goal lead.
The first half of the third period was relatively even, and Islanders fans mistakenly grew a little comfortable watching their team protecting their 2 goal lead. Michael Grabner took a “mental-mistake” penalty, diving in the neutral zone to try and deflect the puck away from a Canadiens forward, tripping him in the process. I call it a “mental-mistake” penalty because Grabner needs to realize that when protecting a lead late in the hockey game, there is no need to challenge an opposing player so hard in a zone where he had no chance to score.
DiPietro came up with a huge glove save on the penalty kill to prevent the Canadiens from cutting the lead to 1 goal with half the period remaining. This would be short-lived, as Steve Staios (the veteran who knows much better than this) took a “mental-mistake” penalty of his own, hammering a Canadiens forward from behind in the corner drawing a penalty for boarding.
Unfortunately for DiPietro and the Islanders, the Canadiens were able to connect on this power play. Mike Cammalleri made a back door shot-pass to Brian Gionta, who was able to control the puck off of his leg and sweep it into the net before DiPietro had a chance to recover from challenging Cammalleri. In a 5-on-5 situation, the open man on the back door would have been a defenseman’s fault in coverage, but on a power play, the back door is one of the most vulnerable areas on the ice for the defending team. The Canadiens executed this play well, much to the dismay of Islanders fans – who likely began having a panic attack that would last for the final 5 minutes of the game.
However, thanks to some big saves by DiPietro, and some big blocked shots by Nino Neiderreiter and Travis Hamonic, the Islanders were able to endure the Canadiens onslaught and earn the 2 point victory. A big win for the Islanders, who needed it to keep from plummeting too far in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and to end the eerie similarities to last November’s streak of futility (20 losses in 21 games).
This was also a big win for Rick DiPietro in his first appearance since November 5th, and who continues to impress in my eyes. Many of the goals against him this season have been goals that you wouldn’t blame on any goaltender. Though his rebound control still looks a little rusty, he has found ways to keep his team in every game he has played, and added some clutch saves in the process. As much grief as Islanders fans may give him, the future of this franchise depends upon Rick’s return to health – whether as a #1 goalie or a healthy, reliable back up – and whether fans like it or not.
Some final thoughts:
Kyle Okposo is being sent a pretty serious message – he was scratched, while healthy, for the second straight game. His team winning without him in the lineup isn’t doing him any favors. I would be shocked if he doesn’t return to the lineup tomorrow night against Boston, and look forward to seeing him play with new found fire and determination. He showed two years ago that he is capable of having an impact on every shift of every game, and I am sure that this taste of the press box will remind him that is the attitude he needs to bring every night.
Nino Neiderreiter, who joined the lineup with Okposo scratched, has looked much stronger on the puck than he did in his nine game stint at the start of last season. He finishes his checks and made some nice plays in the offensive zone that led to scoring chances. I’m sure Okposo noticed the impact Neiderreiter had while he was on the ice, and I’m sure Okposo will return and be a positive influence on “el Nino’s” development when Okposo returns to the level of play he is capable of.
Josh Bailey had a strong game, notching an assist and a +2 rating. Let the confidence building begin.
Blake Comeau continues to look for his first point this season, and notched a sub-par -2 rating. Perhaps it is his turn next to sit and watch some games from the press box? With the game Jay Pandolfo just had, the reliability of Marty Reasoner in the faceoff circle, and Brian Rolston clicking with Neilsen and Parenteau on the ‘new’ second line, there really aren’t any other obvious candidates.
The Islanders face Boston on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. Look for Okposo’s return to the lineup energize the team to come out flying against the former Stanley Cup champions. In their last meeting, the final score was ugly, but the game was 3-2 until about 10 minutes to go in the third period. This will be a closer game.