The New York Islanders lost Lubomir Visnovsky to a concussion and lost their way in the second period to drop yet another game to the Carolina Hurricanes, who are 21-5-5 in their last 31 meetings with their new division rivals. These games are so often entertaining, with lots of run-and-gun pulling the defense of both sides out of their comfort zone. Too often it's the Canes who survive the chaos.
The final score of 4-3 was both deceiving and valid: An awful second period after Visnovsky was injured left the Isles down 3-0 and fans thinking of what else could fill a Saturday night. But the Isles' play to get back in the game, starting with a Matt Moulson power play goal late in the second period, at least ensured the night was not a total sunk cost. And their first period forced good saves from Cam Ward when the Hurricanes aggressive penalty kill wasn't sending the Isles back to restart again and again in their own zone.
The Isles lost a full two points in the regulation loss, but the loss of their most important defenseman is the bigger concern. Visnovsky played only six shifts and 5:23 before leaving in the first period, never to return. The Isles announced during the game that a concussion was diagnosed -- either a sign of refreshing honest clarity about an injury, or that Visnovsky's injury won't be a brief one. We'll see.
Canes Penalty Kill Ruins First, Wheels Fall Off in Second
After shots were even (7-7) but the Hurricanes' excellent penalty kill kept things scoreless in the first, everything fell apart in the second period. Lubomir Visnovsky's absence with a concussion did not help, but quite simply, the Hurricanes finished their chances, while the Islanders didn't finish theirs. As Carolina built 1-0 and 2-0 and 3-0 leads, the Isles had golden opportunities to get one back but couldn't convert.
One example where the game could have gone 1-1 instead of 0-2: Right before the Hurricanes converted a power play to make it 2-0, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas did well to threaten a shorthanded goal on a pressured 2-on-the-goalie.
On top of that, the Isles committed demonstrable mistakes on each goal: A speedy counterattack victimized the Isles on Carolina's first goal, with Michael Grabner inexplicably failing to follow through on his back check all the way to the goal, releasing Jiri Tlusty just in time for him to pick up the rebound and score.
The Hurricanes powerplay pulled Matt Carkner and Brian Strait away from their posts enough to enable a pretty passing play finished by Jordan Staal.
Then with Carolina putting the Isles on their heels, Travis Hamonic's clear around the boards didn't get out, and Riley Nash fed Jeff Skinner getting in behind Andrew MacDonald to backhand high past Evgeni Nabokov.
Over a 12-minute span, the game had gone from anyone's contest to what looked like a slippery path toward an ugly loss on home ice.
Third Period: Comeback Attempt, for a Bit
However, the Isles would regroup and make it respectable, even making the final minute with an extra attacker pretty riveting. For looking like the game was out of hand, the Isles mounted a game attempt at getting back in the game in the first 10 minutes of the third period. They survived a ridiculous penalty on Pierre-Marc Bouchard (he was mauled in front, crosschecked down by Komisarek, and called for a high stick because his stick hit Hainsey after Komisarek accosted him) and continued piling on the pressure.
But that's also going to invite some counterattacks, and the Canes appeared to seal the win when the Isles got caught after a mind-boggling futile pinch by Matt Carkner left Andrew MacDonald to defend a two-on-one which Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty converted perfectly to make it 4-1.
And yet, it still wasn't over. Relying heavily on their top two lines -- and Bouchard in particular exhibiting some of the flashy hands for which he was signed -- the Isles used two late power plays to work the puck quickly and pull the score back to 4-3. (Kyle Okposo's goal at 18:59, which followed Frans Nielsen's at 13:19, was technically even strength though it came two ticks after Justin Faulk's penalty expired.)
In the end, still a loss. But rather than a completely frustrating one in the wake of losing Visnovsky, this one at least showed the Isles exhibiting an it's-never-over attitude that helped them in last spring's playoffs and should be useful in the future.
Encounters of Ill Humor
Contagious Skinner? It was really funny to see Eric Staal throw a Skinner-esque fit when called for a penalty in the first period. He slashed Andrew MacDonald's stick out of his hands, then fired it away after he was called for it, then gave MacDonald a petulant shove when MacDonald told him to grow up, probably.
Staal wasn't the only star using his stick contrary to factory guidelines: For the second game in a row, John Tavares was slashing back at people, finally earning a penalty after slashing Drayson Bowman.
That was nearly a suspension, part I: Early in the first, Michael Grabner backchecked as Nathan Gerbe danced into the left wing faceoff circle, lining Gerbe up on the blindside. Contact looked like shoulder to head, and very nearly one of those blindside backcheck hits the league has tried to remove. Thankfully Gerbe got up quickly with at best a stinging ear.
That was nearly a suspension, part II: With the Islanders on the power play, an outlet was fed up to Matt Moulson on the left wing, forcing him to turn his back to the offensive zone to retrieve the puck. Mike Komisarek hit through him from behind, thankfully driving Moulson to the ice rather than to the boards -- but a couple degrees different and Moulson could have been stretchered off.
That was nearly a suspension, part III: With the Canes up 2-0 and in control, they caught the Islanders on an awful line change that created a 2-on-0. Evgeni Nabokov did well to stare down Tuomo Ruutu and force Nash's shot wide, but a diving Matt Carkner ended up crashing into Nabby's head and driving him and the net to the end boards. Alas, the league won't suspend you for hurting your own player, but that was very nearly a Jurcina on the goalie. Nabby got up and stayed in the game.
This four-game homestand concludes Tuesday with Vancouver, the best visitor yet, coming to town. Someone will have to step up to fill Visnovsky's absence.