There was an element of deja vu to this one, but the speed with which a good night's effort disappeared was far more cruel than last month's blown 2-0 lead-turned-OT-loss in Washington. That game at least salvaged a point. This one robbed Anders Nilsson of a second consecutive shutout with under two minutes to go.
Making matters worse, P.A. Parenteau took a bad penalty after the ensuing faceoff and the Devils converted on the powerplay before you could blink, turning a near-win into a pending loss. Yes, within a 15-second span, David Clarkson scored a no-one-can-knock-me-off-the-puck goal at 18:21 of the third period, Parenteau took a careless boarding penalty at 18:29, and Marek Zidlicky's point shot found net for the winner at 18:35.
Clarkson's goal was symptomatic of how in some ways he's been the biggest thorn in the Isles side during this odd trilogy series: Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are dangerous, but Clarkson manages to hold the puck, wear the defense out, keep from getting separated, and then open up a scoring chance just when you think everybody (including Clarkson) is worn out.
His goal found just a needle's eye of space on the near post, so it's on Nilsson; but Nilsson did everything else to steal another shutout win. Not to be.
As for the rest of the game: Both teams forced good saves from the opposing goaltenders (Johan Hedberg stopping 23 for the Devils), but once again had the Islanders won this it would've been Nilsson's doing. He stopped 33, including 27 shots in the final two periods, and 6:46 into the final period the Islanders first line finally got the go-ahead goal that might've made it all worthwhile.
The Islanders powerplay had another quiet night, managing just two shots on three opportunities, while the Devils put six shots on and converted in a very big way for the game-winner with their powerplay opportunities.
There is no big lesson here though. No cliches about "learning how to win" or "finishing teams off" or "need more heart" or all those things people turn to in an attempt to find deeper meaning in coin flips. The Islanders are not a good team, they have a thin margin for error, and their best hope comes on nights when goaltending or one of their best players gives them a shot to win hockey's nightly coin flip.
Teams in this situation -- and even upper-half teams, too -- fall victim to breakdowns and late one-goal comebacks all the time. It just hurts more when your team is too rarely in that winning position and suffers that cruel fate. Not even a Bettman point to take home in a doggy bag.
(Sorry, not sure why their truncated. Via nhl.com.)
Jack Capuano Post-Game
Return to Sender: Fun to see both Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau make very John Tavares-like passes from behind the goal line to set up Tavares. The former's pass one was not converted, the latter became a pretty top corner goal for Johnny T.
Return of Haley: All of Islandersdom, or at least the most vocal, had their prayers answered when Micheal Haley -- who's been hot on the scoresheet at Bridgeport -- was recalled on emergency basis after Casey Cizikas caught the flu. Haley did exactly as he does: He threw some big hits in 10:17 of TOI (and was one of the few to knock down Clarkson), and he was even sprung for a breakaway by Jay Pandolfo, though he put it into Hedberg's body.
The Coliseum crowd rose with might have been a little extra noise than a typical breakaway in anticipation of a storybook return. Not to be. Teams get only four regular recalls after the trade deadline, so don't be surprised if Haley's indeed remains only an emergency.
Lineup Shuffle: Cizikas' departure forced a few moves, with Josh Bailey going back to center to break up the line with Frans Nielsen and Davild Ullstrom. That meant a reunion of FNGO (Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner), while Bailey stayed with Ullstrom and had Nino Niederreiter on the other wing.
And hey, Niederreiter had a nice game(!). A sight for sore eyes, that. A reward for patient ones. Very pretty kick-and-power move to get past Adam Larsson and create a solo scoring chance, along with several good anticipatory defensive plays. Those instincts are what Nino watchers are waiting for, so any sign of them arriving at this level is a small feather.
Michael Grabner also returned to the lineup and was good in both directions. Thankfully, a painful shot block on the PK was only that. As usual, he was dangerous and anticipatory himself on the PK.
Sixth Attacker: After the Avery hit the fan, the Islanders at least managed some good desperation and puck movement with Nilsson pulled for a sixth attacker. Kovalchuk displayed his newfound competence in all zones, however, by being a general menace with the game on the line.
D Pairs: With Milan Jurcina getting the healthy scratch, Dylan Reese returned to the lineup -- but next to Mark Streit while Streit's regular partner Mark Eaton. Reese looked alright in his first game since returning from the knee injury. The broadcast reported he is wearing a brace.
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Alas, a brutal outcome and a very unfair one for Nilsson. He stymied the Devils and created manageable rebounds all night long. As tough as this one was, the Islanders have that proverbial opportunity to "forget about it" and get right back at things tomorrow at Madison Square Garden.
How they respond for their bigger rivals will be a nice gauge on the mental state of the team.
Signing News: Mike Halmo
Before the game, the Islanders announced the signing of Mike Halmo, an undrafted physical left winger who's leading the Owen Sound Attack in scoring in his over age year. Read a bit more about him here.