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Panthers 4, Islanders 1: Slip, slip slide away

Brian Rolston's game is sometimes described as a post-modern interpretation of cubism.
Brian Rolston's game is sometimes described as a post-modern interpretation of cubism.

Jack Capuano returned to the well again hoping for another game-saver from Evgeni Nabokov, but this time the Islanders' luck ran out.

At best only one of the four goals Nabokov conceded in two periods was really his fault, as screens, deflections and great passing were the rule on the Panthers' goals.

The Islanders actually opened the game with quality breakouts and promising horizontal passing plays -- perhaps too much passing even -- but more often than not the execution wasn't there, the connections frequently missed.

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On that note, during his customary second intermission interview Scott Allen the Islanders weren't so much losing the possession battle (shots were 17-16 through two) as they weren't executing the offensive situations they did create: Shooting wide from inside the blueline, shooting into the chest from inside the circles, misfiring on passes down low. According to the official sheet, the Islanders put 19 shots on that missed the net entirely.

The most heartbreaking moment, when it could've taken a different trajectory, was when Josh Bailey made a nifty play down low and his backhand hit the post instead of giving the Islanders a 2-0 lead.

Game Highlights

An example of how this game went, even when intentions were at their best:

In the second period, the John Tavares line replaced the fourth line to sustain pressure in the Panthers zone for some setups and shot attempts, with Aaron Ness pinching at the half boards once to put it back in and sustain the pressure. Once the Panthers got a clear, they were off to the races with their top line with Stephen Weiss, Ness briefly misread coverage long enough to make Steve Staios' gap too large, then was unable to recover and disrupt Kris Versteeg's nice feed to Tomas Fleischmann, who tapped it in at speed.

That was more of a brief misread or miscommunication for Ness though; his play continued to be at least intriguing. He logged another 20:40 today, essentially all of it at even strength.

Later it was Milan Jurcina's turn to misread. First while shorthanded, on Versteeg's goal he left Tomas Kopecky alone to provide a blanket screen on Nabokov (though the Islanders rarely try to devote a defenseman to move the screener on the PK). Later, on the second faceoff goal allowed in the game, Jurcina was clearly slow at best to read which man to take, finding himself in no man's land and providing a screen for Jack Skille's shot inside the post. That goal late in the second pretty much sealed the Isles' fate.

As for the Islanders' good things, well the main highlight was early, when P.A. Parenteau made a truly fantastic move around Fleischmann at the half boards and initiated a rush through the neutral zone. Parenteau found Frans Nielsen streaking over the center line and escaping Weiss' coverage, allowing Nielsen to break into the Panthers zone and pot the opening goal far side on Jose Theodore.

The whole first period was level though, and five minutes after Bailey's backhand bounced the wrong way off the iron, Tyson Strachan's shot from the point off a faceoff hit Staios' knee and went into the Islanders net instead of harmlessly wide.


* Al Montoya got some much needed ice time in the third period, though it was hardly what you'd call "work." With the Panthers up 4-1, most of the play was spent in the Panthers zone, the Islanders trying desperately to chip away at the deficit and the Panthers content to take their chances (3rd period shots: 11-4).

* The best moment from Al's return was when he lost an edge and fell on his tush but Fleischmann, already preparing his shot, didn't notice the extra net and instead rang it off the post.

* That didn't mean any extra work for the fourth line though: Jay Pandolfo, Tim Wallace and Nino Niederreiter didn't see the ice in the third until after the halfway mark with the score unchanged. At that point Capuano gave them three shifts to finish out the game, which is about their average for a normal period but rare for it to be condensed within a 10-minute stretch.

* I'm fine with Matt Martin's second-period roughing penalty -- he went in for a borderline high hit on a player who was already engaged along the boards -- but it was the kind of thing the Kings did 10 times yesterday without call. Three minors called total today (the Panthers got the other two), so again one wonders if the league could, at minimum, publicly share which rulebook it's using from month to month.

* It's been almost four months since the Islanders played the Panthers, but the result hasn't changed. The Panthers have their number this year and the Fleishcmann-Weiss-Versteeg connection is a big reason why. They'll meet one more time March 25, again on the second of a back-to-back though this time as part of a run of five consecutive road games for the Isles.

* * *

This talk of rest on this back-to-back weekend isn't a minor matter: The Isles hit the road this week with two difficult games, playing in Winnipeg which provides a decent home advantage for the Jets, and in St. Louis where the Blues are quite likely to put on a dominant display of possession.

Don't sign me up for the "Islanders shrank in the face of opportunity" camp though: This team is exactly what it is and has been all season. Their lone regulation win since the impressive 4-1 victory in Philadelphia last month was the 5-2 win in Carolina: Everything else in this 6-3-2 run has been a mix of shootout and OT wins and losses. This is the NHL standings era we are in, and feel-good moments, game-changing individual efforts and bacon-saving goaltending performances do not change that reality.