.500 Will Have To Wait, Isles Fall To Sabres 4-3

The New York Islanders went into last night's game looking to pull themselves to a .500 record but failed to do so, squandering a 3-1 first period lead to the Buffalo Sabres and losing by a score of 4-3 in the shootout. 

Frans Nielsen would have a three point first period, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help get the Islanders to an early lead despite starting off slow. The Isles were out shot 17-9 in the first period and Al Montoya seemed a little shaky in net. It was only his second start after missing about a month's worth of playing time due to a concussion. His first start was before the All Star break, so it wasn't a surprise that he looked like he needed to shake the rust off. But he would respond well in the second and third periods, continuing to give his team a chance to win the whole night.

“We knew it was going to be a tough weekend,” said Montoya after the game. “[There were] huge points on the line. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t come out with two points.” 

Josh Bailey would add the other goal for the Isles just as a penalty expired. Nielsen assisted on Bailey's sixth of the year as he worked his way to the slot to get a shot on Buffalo net-minder, Ryan Miller. He then picked up his own rebound and roofed it over Miller's shoulder to give the Isles a 2-1 lead after Nathan Gerbe had evened the game earlier in the period. 

Many felt that the momentum shifted after Derek Roy scored with just over a minute remaining in the second period to pull within one, but a bout between Matt Martin and Patrick Kaleta just nine seconds in set the tone for the rest of the game; the Sabres weren't going to go down quietly. It was a spirited fight with both combatants delivering plenty of heavy blows, but Kaleta's fists were able to motivate the Sabres to keep outworking their tired opponents. 

Paul Gaustad would tie the game just about halfway through the third period after a defensive break down in the Isles end allowed him to walk alone in the slot and wrist a shot over Montoya's glove. Defensive mishaps would continue to plague the Islanders after Travis Hamonic took a slap shot to the face, forcing him to leave the game with a pool of blood on the ice. Head coach Jack Capuano stated in the post-game press conference that Hamonic had been taken to the hospital and that there was no further word on his status at the time. But when your team leader in ice time, who also is one of your best defenseman is forced to leave the game, you are bound to make mistakes defensively. 

However the Sabres biggest mistake came in the overtime period where they were caught with a Too Many Men on the ice penalty. The Islanders had a full two minutes of 4-on-3 pressure to work with but saw many shots get blocked as well as many chances get taken away by Miller. Mark Streit, who was working the point with John Tavares for one-timers right in the slot, had about three in a row that were blocked by a Sabres penalty killer. Ultimately, the Sabres penalty kill is what allowed them to come into the shootout and complete the 4-3 robbery.

Montoya turned aside 34 of 37 shots during the game but was unable to stop any that came in the shootout. Brad Boyes walked right in and took a quick wrister that Montoya didn't even react too and Jason Pominville was able to come in with speed and beat Montoya through is five hole. The Isles shooters, who are typically very reliable, couldn't get the job done. Nielsen's famous backhand went wide (possibly for the first time ever) and P.A. Parenteau's wrister was gobbled up by Miller. 

Stan Fischler enjoyed preaching to the Isles locker room that three out of four points "ain't bad," but it certainly ain't good when you see the home team let go of a two-goal first period lead. The Islanders struggled to maintain offensive pressure and looked like they were running on empty after coming away with an over time win the night before in Ottawa. Each game has become that much more crucial if they intend to keep their playoff hopes alive; letting a point go to a team they are competing with for playoff position can end up being a difference maker by the end of the year. 

The Islanders are now 21-22-8 putting them 12th in the Eastern Conference and 10 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. It almost sounds dumb to say, but all the Islanders need to do now is continue to find ways to win and take as many points as possible to give 2012 an interesting finish. But no Islander fan should be devastated if this team ends up falling short. The fact that they are in 12th place and not 15th is an improvement; the fact that they are making their way out of the bottom five in the league is even better. 

It will be a fight to the finish, and the Islanders better be ready to get rough when they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. 

-Rob McGowan

The Checking Line - Isles Edition | Promote Your Page Too