It's mid-December and the Anaheim Ducks have yet to lose at home in regulation, so it defied logic to think a team on a nine-game road regulation losing streak would alter that. But still.
The New York Islanders continues to find ways to crush fleetingly resuscitated hopes and take yet another loss. On Monday night it was 49 minutes of good hockey and the chance to enter the third period with a lead to blow ... only to drop two goals in the final minute of the second period, the first a shorthanded three-on-one.
Instead of getting a power play goal to take their third lead of the game, the Isles fell behind 3-2. Then, to confirm that this was yet another one of those kicks to what's left of the fanbase's soul, they conceded a "goal of the year" candidate 29 seconds later, with 0:02 left on the clock, by the same guy who was just in the box.
That's Islanders hockey 2013-14: Stomach it!
Wish I Could Quit You
And yet ... even with every reason to fold, fold, fold, the Islanders again came out in the third period assertive, pushing for goals, as if they thought they had a chance for a comeback. This lovable behavior almost makes them difficult to hate, like a puppy tearing up your family keepsakes, then rolling over to expose the belly for a good scratching.
Sure it was mostly the first line, sure Michael Grabner can't buy a break to save a gremlin, and Josh Bailey can't find a shot he wouldn't rather pass to the corner, but overall they put a good team on its heels before making the same old mistakes, again for want of a little game saver here or there from their goalie.
- The power play worked the puck well in the opening, and John Tavares' goal was deserved after a fortuitous bounce from Thomas Vanek.
- Vanek's goal came off a good faceoff play from both Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
- Calvin de Haan not only distributed the puck smoothly two zones at a time, he also threw his body around. I'd almost trade up to draft a kid like that.
- Matt Martin fought ol Isle Tim Jackman because Jackman had the nerve to check Andrew MacDonald gently in open ice ... okay that was a silly fight, but a team in a rut like this probably needs to try anything.
- The Isles kept the Ducks' top line off the board for most of the game and got under Corey Perry's skin ... until he did a thing and was able to point to the scoreboard.
- Aaron Ness can't be faulted, given what he's got.
- Brock Nelson, you like his sense even if he didn't make too huge an impact.
- Even the fourth line did good fourth line things, keeping the puck in on the forecheck a few times when the special teams personnel from the other lines needed a breather.
They got shots, they outshot Anaheim 25-19 through two periods ... but it was the 18th and 19th shots -- so that's four goals on 19 shots at that point -- that made this game just another in a 10-game road losing streak and 10-game overall winless streak.
He and Hamonic also factored on the Ducks' first goal, when Nilsson handed Hamonic a puck he maybe should have smothered, while Hamonic in tight space at the net sent it pointlessly around the boards to the point, where it was shot back on goal.
But when the Isles needed Nilsson to bail them out on the shorthander, he thought he had the puck when really the rebound laid to his left for Cam Fowler to easily poke in. Makes some nice saves, battles, is big -- want to like him even -- but it's not enough.
My Bossy, I know many of us predicted this before the season given the Islanders' backups, but ... the Islanders actually miss Evgeni Nabokov.
Sure, there are other things going on -- other things that probably aren't solved by waiving Pierre-Marc Bouchard, no matter how much you hate his hyphen (a lot) and his non-physical game -- but the Islanders are giving up 29.7 shots per game (15th overall) yet conceding 3.45 goals per game (30th...by a desert mile).
They'll do it again Tuesday in San Jose, where they should be road-weary, deflated and outshot mightily, and surely on some of them Kevin Poulin won't have had a chance.
But they'll keep coming back with spunk despite their doomed lot. They'll keep come begging for more belly rubs. And they'll keep making you think, for a period or two, "Oh, if only they had a goalie and some structure they'd be a good little doggy."