The New York Islanders lost to an average Montreal Canadiens team mired in the crowded bubble between 6th and 12th place in the East, and regulation losses like that are why they are where they are, and why climbing out of their first-quarter hole looks so daunting.
A nice goal by Josh Bailey and a net-foraging tally by John Tavares in the third period made it 3-3 and gave them new life that they probably didn't deserve, and they coughed that two-goal comeback up just 2:17 later on a game-winner by ex Islander Petteri Nokelainen of all people.
They did outshoot the Canadiens 32-29 thanks to the third-period comeback push (15-8), but it almost seemed that took what they had left in the tank. Nokelainen's goal came on a Habs line change and a frankly seeing-eye blast off the post, but Lars Eller was allowed too much time to feed him, with the entire Islanders five on the ice for a long shift.
Too Many Miles on This Toyota? Al Montoya has looked weaker in recent games. He had a very nice second period tonight to keep them in the game, but most goalies will give you a period or two. The first two Canadiens goals were on the softer side, but more subtly he appears to be relying on the belly flop or stumbling on to the butt flop/snow angel more often lately.
Perhaps a sign of eroding fundamentals? Perhaps a sign of fatigue, of relying on physical "crutches" rather than the more energy-intensive adherence to cutting the percentages as much as possible rather than hoping for the bounces? He may need some Sudsie time, or merely some rest. Hopefully Evgeni Nabokov is ready and able to give the Cubano a break.
Toyota, the Abused: The Canadiens were allowed to repeatedly run or carelessly crash Al Montoya, and why not? It's not like the officials were too concerned, so lacking any deterrence the Habs carried on. Naturally, after ignoring this for 40 minutes, the game got chipper by the third. Too predictably, the one time any contact with the goalie was called when: 1) P.A. Parenteau was penalized for interfering with Nokelainen in the slot, knocking a speeding Nokelainen down where he would slide into a leaping Montoya; 2) When Louis LeBlanc wrestled with Dylan Reese enough to at least accelerate a Reese contact with Montoya's head -- but the officials called coincidentals after Parenteau shoved LeBlanc after the whistle.
Neither case did anything to address the real issue (and you couldn't help thinking the LeBlanc-Parenteau call was a double-makeup). Both instances proved you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. The referees won't protect the goalie, but if you interfere with the crease-rushing forward you risk making it worse, and if you bother to retaliate you're just going to the box anyway.
Interestingly, in the Rangers 1-0 loss to Dallas, the refs were more concerned about protecting goalies who leave their crease rather than goalies who are just minding what's theirs. Excellent.
Continued Ineptitude with the Sixth Attacker: Have the Islanders looked like they can create -- much less sustain -- pressure with the goalie pulled this season? I actually didn't mind early goalie pulls when down by two goals earlier in the season, IF they could actually demonstrate they knew what to do. But they don't. Tonight's harmless dump in and failure to follow it up with pressure was either poor communication, poor execution, or both. Hal Gill's soft-dump goal from his own zone was all too easy.
Special Teams Loss: The Islanders only had two powerplays, one very early, but both were impotent. One shot, total. Hardly any zone time. Milan Jurcina probably had the best chance, down low. The penalty kill almost held serve, but it conceded 12 shots on four Habs tries, and a tight set play by the Canadiens what looked at the time like a back-breaking insurance goal 31 seconds into the third period.
Pretty Goal I -- Matt Moulson opened scoring on a lovely play by the first line, with John Tavares applying pressure to force a turnover in the Habs zone, P.A. Parenteau intercepting and threading a pass to an open Matt Moulson, who caught Carey Price swinging too far his way, leaving the net open for a backhand tuck.
Pretty Goal II -- Flash of Bailey, Flash of Rolston: Josh Bailey had another pretty solid game, earning 14:35 including almost two minutes of PK. His goal was a nice positional move to get open in the slot followed by a great pull to the backhand to score past Carey Price.
Brian Rolston also made a very nice play on Bailey's goal (as did Mike Mottau on the first pass ... and David Ullstrom to help create the turnover), but Rolston also made plays that show why fans get frustrated with him. His old head still sees the game faster than his body. In the second period, he saw an opening up the left lane to rush the puck out of the Islanders zone ... only to pull up at the Canadiens blueline to avoid a big check by P.K. Subban, giving up the puck and inadvertently feeding an odd-man rush for the Canadiens. Eyes bigger than stomach. Simple, fundamental play (get it in deep) ignored.
Speaking of old men, Steve Staios made some nice defensive plays, but often they were in desperation to cover for situations created by his own weaknesses. The first goal completely exposed him, as Andrei Kostitsyn easily banked the puck around him, then beat Staios to the puck again while David Ullstrom focused on keeping Chris Campoli from winning the loose puck. Perhaps Ullstrom could have released Campoli and tried to take the puck, but he shouldn't have needed to.
Coverage via the Isles MSG coverage page...
Capuano: Penalty killing "alright" but "major breakdown on the goal" ...
Dylan Reese and Josh Bailey on the game:
Super-super minus: Time Warner Cable, which did not have the MSG+2 (twice the plus!) feed available for several viewers during much of the first period, and blamed MSG. Whichever corporate bastard is responsible, just figure it out already. This season is almost 30 games old.
We may add more links/clips to this post as appropriate. You can add organized plus/minus points to the instant-reaction +/- thread, or riff away here. But file this one away as another opportunity lost, another thin margin exposed with Montoya not his best and Andrew MacDonald still on the shelf.
The Islanders host the Stars Thursday night, then begin a brief road trip in Minnesota Saturday. They have two to three games in hand on several teams above them, but are nine points out of eighth, with the halfway mark less than a month away.