One thing about late-season games between teams who have nothing in the standings to play for: They can sometimes be entertaining, back-and-forth hockey in its natural state. Tonight was one of those nights -- and thankfully remained a close game throughout -- as you saw guys playing a highly organized version of pond hockey where only pride (and perhaps some jobs) were on the line.
With it 2-2 through 65 minutes, the Islanders came out on top in a shootout that, for fans of the shootout, even provided extra drama by going a few rounds past the minimum.
Things got off to a depressing start for the Islanders when Aaron Palushaj scored just 2:53 into the game. Welcome back, Al Montoya. But the game stayed close, and Mark Streit equalized early in the second on a powerplay rush from his own zone.
For the game, the Isles outshot the Canadiens 38-30 -- and 36-20 at even strength -- as the Habs fought through their second overtime game in as many nights.
Montoya looked alright considering his accumulated rust. Not massively tested, but rebounded from the early goal and played calm and square most of the night. Picked up longer shots through traffic well.
Matt Moulson had a nice sequence of "the little things" halfway through the second period. The Islanders had control for the first half of that period (really, they controlled all but a small section when the Habs had a powerplay), and that work garnered a powerplay where Mark Streit converted. But it wouldn't have happened without
a moving pick strong positioning by Moulson at the blueline. (Moulson's presence allowed Streit to waltz in and make a nice move on Peter Budaj, but really: When you stack three at the blueline, Moulson and pick victim Ryan White are both skating for the same space there. Moulson won.)
Just minutes after the Islanders tied it on Streit's goal, Moulson made another nice un-stat-sheet play by going down for a doorstep shot block down low to keep the score tied at 1-1.
P.A. Parenteau was called for embellishing after he was hooked at the blueline. To my eyes, he earned it. (Off-setting penalties; 4-on-4 ensued.)
Frans Nielsen gave the Isles a 2-1 lead with a sniper shot over Budaj's shoulder after Travis Hamonic played long ball with a long aerial chip pass from his own zone. I don't think Nielsen should be some scoring-line center type, but I always get a kick out of people who say he's just a nice third-line center. Every once in a while he puts a shot through the eye of a needle like that just to remind us of his skills in all three zones.
Al Montoya on Walkabout: On a 50/50 play Al Montoya left his crease and swept body-out to poke-check the puck in the faceoff circle against Louis LeBlanc. Andrew MacDonald was there to provide backup on the low-angle rebound. Crisis averted.
The Canadiens frankly looked like the tired team on the second half of back-to-backs during the second period, but LeBlanc helped them overcome that excuse for ennui early in the third period, tying the game 2-2 after a fantastic rush and setup by P.K. Subban who started in his own zone.
John Tavares was active all night in 23:25, but the Habs played him very tightly and held him to three shots on goal and one more which was blocked. He also hit the post in the shootout.
Josh Bailey had one of his Flashes, but ol' friend Chris Campoli read it all the way. Breaking in down the right wing 2-on-2 with Nielsen, Bailey did his pull-up and cut into the slot, but Campoli had laid out flat, stick out, and stripped the puck before Bailey could shoot. For Bailey, it would've required just a slightly better touch on the backhand to pull it into the forehand for what would've been an open, point-blank shot on Budaj. (Said the CBC broadcast: "Great play by Campoli, who was in the doghouse with Cunneyworth last night.")
Speaking of Flashes: You know he's so far away from being an effective NHLer right now, so you can at least appreciate the brief flashes where Nino Niederreiter does something perfectly. He did that mid-way through the third on a simple dump play where he would clearly be the second man to the puck. The defenseman he pursued, however, knew Nino was bearing down on him so he played it cautiously, and Nino simply bodied him off the puck, stole it and attempted a dangerous wraparound all in one swoop. Not to make a lot out of a little, but at age 19 it's the little things you're looking for as a trying rookie campaign draws to a close.
Overtime: OT was a back-and-forth affair befitting two teams that have nothing but pride to play for. Lots of rushes and overlapping passing plays, or at least passing attempt plays, but mostly nothing too threatening as neither goalie was called on to make a breathtaking save.
In the skills competition, David Desharnias converted on one of those "good thing the posts aren't stationary" dekes, crashing into the goal frame after drawing a Montoya poke-check attempt and putting the puck over the line. Frans Nielsen quickly responded with the "I Bet You Expected the Backhand of Judgment Didn't You?" simple forehand through the five-hole. The drill then went into sudden-sudden death or something, with Moulson converting when he absolutely had to and Josh Bailey converting to give the Islanders the evening's bonus point.
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These two 15th-place titans battled on past 65 minutes, the shootout doling out three points to put both of them in a tie for 14th (excluding the Isles' game in hand) with 69 points each. Last in the East shall be decided on another day. The Maple Leafs beat the Senators -- Montreal's opponent last night -- to provide a little breathing room for themselves to keep them out of this conversation. For now.
P.S. We haven't done separate plus/minus threads in a while, but keep those in mind if you watched this one and had any pro and con impressions of specific players or moves. We are pretty much in wind-it-down evaluation mode here.