It wasn't pretty and it was more wide open than either coach would probably like, but the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres played an entertainingly back-and-forth and fairly nasty game for a Tuesday night meeting between two teams that have little reason to care about the other. (Little reason, that is, unless Ryan Miller or Thomas Vanek are shopping for new homes.)
The Islanders should have won, and in regulation -- they outshot Buffalo at even strength 36-26 -- but instead let the Sabres hang around long enough for an ugly late mistake to erase their slim lead and allow the Sabres to make it a three-point game. Karma then made the Isles pay for their carelessness, letting the Sabres prevail via shootout and giving the Isles the indignity of being the first team to lose to Buffalo in 2013-14.
The Isles definitely had more zone time, more shots and more speed through the neutral zone than other recent performances, both wins and losses. But there were still moments of circus drills in the defensive zone, things that kept this game closer than it should have been -- not the least of which was the unforgivable late goal that tied it at 3-3 with two minutes left in regulation.
On that play, John Tavares won the defensive zone draw, but Brian Strait sent the weakest of low clears off the boards and right to Tyler Myers. Myers kept it in, Marcus Foligno turned and shot from inside the blueline -- and Strait fully screened Evgeni Nabokov as the puck squeaked through.
Another chance for a regulation win spoiled.
Notes of This and That
Speaking of the Circus: The ice played like the circus or a monster truck pull had been in town. The puck was bouncing from the get-go, noticeably adding at least a half a penalty killer for the Isles on two Sabres first-period power plays, and continuing to add a bit of Vegas randomness throughout the game.
That's Not the Ice: The Isles created several odd-man rushes in this game, too many of which did not even generate a shot. Kyle Okposo was glaringly guilty on two of them, passing well behind Matt Moulson and John Tavares on separate rushes. Okposo otherwise played well though.
Now That's How You Do A Toe Drag: Frans Nielsn finished a nice counterattack -- started by Evgeni Nabokov via Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Josh Bailey -- with a sharp toe curl that changed his angle enough to beat Ryan Miller glove side. Take note, Kyle Okposo.
The Goalies: Ryan Miller was tested plenty, and Evgeni Nabokov did well at the opposite end, both making big saves in overtime. One quibble with Nabokov would be on the Sabres' first goal, when he thought he had it squeezed between his pads but the puck had dribbled behind him, waiting for the first player to spot it. (Tyler Ennis beat Travis Hamonic to it.) If you're not sure in that situation, at least do the wipe-and-plug with your free glove hand.
Notes on Various Acts of Violence
Steve Ott is Your Captain?!: Patrick Kaleta was not around to bring the stupid, having been suspended for 10 games this afternoon, but the Sabres captain and ambassador Steve (tw)Ott was there to be himself and stick to John Tavares like flypaper on a third-period shift, ultimately ripping Tavares' helmet off and throwing toolish half-punches before the whistle blew and Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson both stormed in.
With Ott in the box, Tavares fired a shot that went in off Matt Moulson's pants and in for what should have been the game-winning goal.
Also in the Department Of Toolery: John Scott made his presence known by dragging his knuckles as Matt Martin popped free to convert his goal on a pass from Casey Cizikas, then later taking out his frustrations on Cal Clutterbuck, who gave as good as he got including an open-ice check from behind.
To add irony to what was an escalating give-and-take of nastiness from the two teams' fourth lines (plus Clutterbuck and Matt Carkner), Eric Boulton started the scoring play with a productive entry and pass from the right wing. Yes Boulton, in for the late injury scratch Colin McDonald, got an assist in his first game of the season. Bragging rights.
Johnny Be Pissed: Weirdly, another level of nastiness involved Tavares and Marcus Foligno, who were at each other on separate occasions after Foligno's uncalled interference reverse check on Tavares drew an inadvertent high sticking penalty on Tavares. The Sabres tied the game at 2-2 on the ensuing power play, and Tavares took his next opportunity to level Foligno and slash him for good measure. The Isles captain was lucky to escape without a penalty. (Make-up non-call/luck?)
And one more: Henrik Tallinder was sandwiched by Clutterbuck into Matt Martin in a whiplash hit, then went looking for Clutterbuck in Clutterbuck's first clear act of agitation since he joined the team. Tallinder then hit Clutterbuck from behind in open ice -- a move almost identical to Clutterbuck's earlier (and uncalled) hit on Scott -- but Tallinder was called for a penalty that gave the Isles a chance to expand their lead in the third. They failed, and it cost them when Strait gave it away later.
The new Frans (seriously...his career percentage is now higher than Nielsen's) Matt Moulson opened the shootout with another forehand conversion. Thomas Vanek immediately answered with -- stop me if you've heard this -- a conversion over Nabokov's glove. Ennis then scored the winner, with Frans Nielsen (forehand five-hole blocked) and John Tavares (same) being stopped by Miller.
Any good the Isles did in this game is at least spiritually undone by the ugly result. Simply, the Islanders should have finished this game out. They played well enough to deserve their late lead and a regulation win -- in fact they never trailed in this game -- but they also should never have allowed themselves such a slim margin for error. They coughed it up against a team playing back-to-back nights, a team playing three times in four nights, a team that had only managed one goal per game and one point in the standings. For shame.