With a dull 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay on their first road game of the season, the New York Islanders have fallen back to 3-2 and basically played half of their periods well and half of them poorly thus far in 2011-12.
The secondary scoring issue was hardly solved tonight with Blake Comeau sitting for the second straight game, but the problems went deeper than that.
Pretty much the entire lineup, top to bottom had at minimum a quiet game, though John Tavares again sparked the most scoring chances, Al Montoya did well to stop 21 shots through two periods, and Steve Staios again pulled off a few nice defensive plays that showed he's taken notes on his 1000 trips around the NHL block.
Game Highlights, and Yes You May Use Air Quotes around "Highlights"
Notes from Three Hours You Shall Not Get Back
The Lightning's opening came on the powerplay, as they flashed the twin one-timer wing weapons of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. But it was Vincent Lecavalier's one-timer that required an Al Montoya save but created a rebound Montoya could not locate. Ryan Malone found space in the slot to collect the puck and put it past an unawares Montoya.
The Islanders hadn't played well up to that point anyway and were lucky to escape the first period down just 1-0, but this lead allowed the Lightning to go into a Full Boucher Depress. Come dump or come skate to the outside, an already flat Islanders offense had no answer for the disciplined Lightning five-man defensive structure, highlighted by Victor Hedman and his 37-foot wingspan.
Lecavalier was key to the Lightning's second goal too, and this is when the Islander mistakes became prominent:
2-0: Andrew MacDonald stripped Lecavalier along the boards but then tried a quick pass to a swooping Marty Reasoner that bounced off Marty Reasoner's skate...right back to Lecavalier. That caught Travis Hamonic and Kyle Okposo frozen in position, and MacDonald stopped pursuing Lecavalier, allowing an open shot from the high slot with Hamonic as a screen. Glove side, inside the post.
3-0: Mark Eaton did well to come back solo to win the loose puck headed back toward the Isles zone, blocking out the speedy Stamkos and eliminating a would-be breakaway. However: Eaton's weak clear went as far as the blueline, where a grateful Teddy Purcell accepted the gift, skated the perimeter around a flat-footed Eaton, and victimized what can only be called the Mike Mottau Snow Angel of Despair [gif to come later]. The pass went by a hilariously prone Mottau to Stamkos, who deposited the puck without incident.
4-1: After Grabner got one back with a nice short-side shot that Mathieu Garon would probably want back, Al Montoya played a puck behind the Islanders net in a miscommunication with Steve Staios. The turnover went back to the point, and although Montoya was able to return and set to his crease, the resulting shot from the point by Brett Clark was both unimpeded and well-screened.
- Montoya ended up allowing four goals when all was said and done, so despite a lot of saves that's probably enough cover to start someone else Saturday. After being cleared from his concussion, Rick DiPietro is on this trip.
- Kyle Okposo led the team with four shots on goal, but somehow that wasn't really apparent in another quiet game for him. He missed a golden point-blank opportunity in the game's opening minutes that might have changed the direction this game took. Rather than wait a moment and slip the puck around Garon in no man's land -- probably at risk of some back-side pressure -- Okposo shot quickly but into Garon's pad.
- As part of the piecemeal fourth line, Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo each logged under 10 minutes, with Reasoner getting under a minute of PK time (Pandolof had 1:21, Josh Bailey had 1:14). But by the third period Capuano was tossing several combinations, mixing the eight non-Gillies figures on the bottom three lines.
- NDRE maybe said it best in our post-game plus/minus thread: Four defensemen had subpar games (for their ability), including MacDonald -- who's usually solid -- and none of the six were stellar, although Staios' possible goal-stoppers stood out. MacDonald is still being careful with his surgically repaired hip on off days, so it's fair to wonder if it's still keeping him from being the A+ A-Mac we came to know last year.
- So part of the flatness could be from the road trip and part of it could be from the game effects of not getting the early lead, or of how much the team lacks when Tavares' line isn't putting up banner nights. It's still quite early, but these are the variables we're monitoring.
No Shots = No Fun
The team fell into that not-shooting thing again. Tampa Bay's suddenly stingy-again defense played a big part, but still: Not enough shots. Capuano:
“We knew exactly what we were supposed to do and we didn’t execute that and we didn’t execute getting to the net,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “Really, we didn’t have any extended zone time.
The culprits in that failure go up and down the lineup.
The Blake Comeau Situation
One scratch is a message, two in a row is ... well what then? I'm assuming Comeau is back in the lineup Saturday at the Panthers, but then he practiced next to Brian Rolston and Josh Bailey leading up to this game. Trevor Gillies had just five shifts in 3:14 (including one needless one in garbage time), but of course Gillies is never in the lineup to take a regular shift. The Islanders do not currently have a non-Gillies option at forward on the roster if Capuano wanted to triple-shame Comeau.
Drama is here.
Florida presents a chance to stop it quickly.