As you'd hope when the Islanders face a team playing it's second game in two days, the Isles came out controlling play in Ottawa this early evening, opening scoring in the first minute with John Tavares' 25th goal of the season and outshooting the Sens 13-8 in the first period. Despite some shaky moments from young Sens goalie Robin Lehner, that would be the only goal they managed during the first frame, and that failure to convert their chances would cost them.
The thin 1-0 lead at the first intermission -- and still at the halfway mark of the game -- became 2-1 for the Sens within a four-minute span of quality powerplay work by the Senators. A nifty collection and shot by Milan Michalek was followed by a howitzer upstairs by Jason Spezza. Within a four-minute span, the 1-0 lead the Isles held for half the game was gone.
Many things led to the eventual 5-2 loss, but the most symbolic of the "it's not your day" feeling came halfway through the third:
With the score 3-2 and the Isles pressing for the equalizer, great hustle by David Ullstrom forced a turnover in the Senators' zone to short-circuit their breakout and create an Isles odd-man situation. Kyle Okposo tracked down the puck but was too slow to feed Frans Nielsen in the slot, so he set up a one-timer at the point for Mark Streit ... whose appoximately $200 composite stick promptly broke.
The Sens went the other way with Streit missing his stick, and Chris Neil redirected Nick Foligno's shot over Evgeni Nabokov. Comeback over. Unrealistic pre-deadline playoff illusions presumably blunted, too.
Another symbolic sequence today: The PK's pendulum of success and luck has swung back the other way. In the second period, the Senators came out much stronger and earned some powerplays. They only landed three shots on goal on their three powerplays, but two of them found the net after good puck moving quarterbacked by assist king Erik Karlsson.
The Isles PK still rates in the top half of the league, but it's been more porous lately -- and that's to be expected on some level. As has been noted, Evgeni Nabokov's PK save percentage was at a level that no NHL goalie sustains for too long. Runs like they had from January going into February are bound to regress, and declining to use PK talisman Michael Grabner (he had zero SH minutes today) is also asking for trouble.
Kyle Turris finished things off with an empty net goal. Some expected he'd miss today's game with a suspension for his hit on Joe Corvo yesterday (I myself did not), but the league cleared him.
Casey To The Rescue: Early in the third, Mike Mottau gets turnstiled by Jim O'Brien, but Casey Cizikas is hustling back and breaks up the scoring chance before a shot can be unleashed.
Oh, Did We Mention Mottau's Back? Why Mike Mottau thinks a weak backhand pass up the middle from behind his goal line is a good idea, I don't know. The result was the backbreaking third Senators goal, with O'Brien giving them a 3-1 lead just 5:13 into the third period.
Mottau came off IR and reunited his greatest hits pairing with Mark Eaton, making Steve Staios the odd man out. Harrumph.
Cizikas on the PK: Cizikas logged 1:09 on the PK and looked okay, but frankly his coverage on the second goal gave the Sens too much space. His EV play was better, and it will probably take a while for him to get in sync with the other Isles PKers if he's to remain on that unit.
Grabner Not: I mentioned Grabner saw no PK time. He also was bumped from the Frans Nielsen line by David Ullstrom for Nielsen's final three shifts of the game. His final shift was actually with Cizikas and Nino Niederreiter as Jack Capuano appeared to shorten the bench as time wound down. Not sure if there was another factor for Grabner's last shift ending with 7:01 left in the game.
Overall, Capuano still relied extremely heavily on the top line, with Tavares, Parenteau and Moulson each getting over 21 minutes, while Grabner, Cizikas, Ullstrom and Matt Martin received between 11 and 12:20 (Grabner).
PAP The Opportunist: P.A. Parenteau is going to get paid. Soon after Mottau's crucial turnover, Parenteau picked up a deflected shot in the slot and put it stick side past Lehner. There was new life there, for a moment. Plays like that indicate a player who can push offense and generate some on his own -- not someone simply riding the gift of first-line and PP time.
PAP The Penalized: Starting to think P.A. Parenteau's penalty condition is a liability -- but not quite for the reason you might think. Indeed, the minors he takes are a concern, though they're often a result of engagement. It's the amount referees simply look the other way when he's fouled that makes me wonder if he has some kind of reputation among referees where they don't give him the benefit of the doubt. Again tonight, he was jobbed from behind with no call, then called for a costly tripping minor soon after. Remarkable, really.
Before today's game according to Behind the Net he'd taken 18 minors and drawn only 11, which is at least the inverse of what you'd normally expect from a scoring forward. (Tavares: 7 and 22, respectively. Moulson: 1 and 13.) He's more vocal (ahem, we remember a certain fist reference) on the ice, and perhaps that goes against him. But it's a Catch-22, as getting repeatedly jobbed makes one want to let the refs know the negligence is unappreciated.
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Something about the next 24 hours will probably make this game fade from memory. And yet, be prepared not to see much from the Isles over the next 24 hours. Enjoy the league-wide frenzy.