The New York Islanders fielded their strongest lineup of the season and outshot the Buffalo Sabres 43-15, but the Isles lost 3-2 thanks to Ryan Miller choosing this night in his thus far uneven season to steal a game with 41 saves.
That's pretty much the story.
As tempting as it is to blame Evgeni Nabokov, who's let in some softies this week, for giving up the first goal in each period, his teammates made mistakes on two of those in what was otherwise a well-played game by the Isles. The tying goal was on John Tavares' stick -- what more can you hope for? -- via a late third-period penalty shot, but he hit the post for the second time in the game.
Most of Miller's 41 saves weren't of the highlight reel variety, but they were enough and in a game like this you can hope to have more than two of them get by.
This loss extends the Islanders regulation losing streak to four and their fans' funk to infinity, but it was the performance the team needed in everything but the finishing and the game-saving saves. (Granted, those last two are usually kind of important.)
Notes Strangely Resembling Bullets
- Three of the Islanders' best players -- Frans Nielsen, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic -- were caught ball-watching on the first Sabres goal. Thomas Vanek happily knocked in the loose puck to continue his NHL scoring lead.
- David Ullstrom was caught napping on the second Sabres goal. He followed his man, Christian Ehrhoff, 170 feet, but he didn't keep with him all the way on the give-and-go at the Isles blueline that sent Ehrhoff in alone to beat Nabokov.
- I couldn't tell what happened on the third goal but it didn't look good for Nabby.
- Lubomir Visnovsky looked good in his Islanders debut, though it sure started off the wrong way: He took a penalty to erase the Islanders' first powerplay. (That said, was I the only one who found it somewhat refreshing to see him take the body on a play where Isles defensemen typically passively watch the opponent penalty killer waste time in their own zone? It was a borderline call, probably the right call, but he was assertive rather than lazy.)
- Josh Bailey, who has been allergic to shooting so often in his still-young career, returned with ... seven shots and two more attempts from the fourth line?
- Just a painful outcome: Give up the first goal despite outplaying the Sabres, and you think Tavares' goal late in the first period is a sign that justice will be served. Give it up again, and you think that Colin McDonald's first goal as an Islander means the third period will right the ship. Not to be. Brad Boyes' late penalty on Cody Hodgson (who also drew the Vis penalty) was an omen that it was Miller's night, not the Isles'.
- No doubt fans will fault Tavares for missing the breakaway/penalty shot the way they do Michael Grabner. ... right?
- Officially 12,608 for this; not bad for the day after an epic snowstorm.
- It's been weird, but Stan Fischler's post-game questions have been the Voice of Reason during this slump. (He also asked Capuano about Rick DiPietro and got the standard non-committal answer.)
The histrionic web forum commentariat will
return stick close to the ledge thanks to this fourth consecutive loss, but the reality is this was the best performance from the Isles we saw this week. Unfortunately, they couldn't get the goals against what increasingly looks like a bad Sabres team, and they don't have a goalie who can steal a game back from the likes of Miller.
This, hockey; so it goes.
Coach Jack Capuano seemed to share that sentiment in the post-game, saying "we deserved better tonight," and in this case I'll agree with him:
"Our battle level (compared to) the Rangers game was night and day," Capuano said. "Our guys left everything they had on the ice tonight and just came up short."
Hopefully they take it to heart and keep this lineup Monday against the Hurricanes.