The New York Islanders completed a completely futile four-game road trip by picking up zero standing points and helping three Eastern Conference teams break free of early season slumps, the most recent benefactor being the Montreal Canadiens. The trip's finale was Sunday's 4-2 loss in Montreal, where the Hockey Club from Montreal's young forward trio of Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller flashed skill and chemistry that the Isles lacked.
With shots 23-20 for Montreal at even strength (31-26 overall), once again a chief culprit was the Islanders' floundering penalty kill. The battered unit conceded two more goals on five opportunities, the second goal a near-backbreaker on a four-minute penalty late in the second period. The Isles power play at least canceled that disadvantage with two goals of its own, but it was two Montreal power play goals that swung the game in the second period.
(Typical of how things are going for the Isles, that call was one of those dubious "automatic" double minors for high-sticking, where Thomas Hickey was sent off for having the nerve to let Brian Gionta lift Hickey's stick into his own face.)
Michael Bournival's goal during the second half of that double-minor made it 3-1 at the second intermission, and though the Isles got one back early in the third -- Brock Nelson getting a health look on the power play and the first line -- another mistake saw the Islanders give up one more insurance goal to Galchenyuk to finish the game's scoring.
You won't want to hear it this way after an 0-for-4 trip, but this was actually a close and competitive game at even strength, though with the two-goal deficit at the end of a road trip, the Islanders definitely faded late in the third. (The Shot Attempt/Fenwick Chart at Extra Skater depicts that story fairly.)
Their Metro rivals are all rebounding, often thanks to the Isles' direct generosity. So this loss will drop the Isles into sixth place in the Metro Division and puts them very near "Club In Crisis" mode with three Western Conference (read: better) teams visiting this week.
Making things more ominous, Travis Hamonic might join Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Vanek on the "Key Players Out Hurt" list. More on that below.
Only Half a Special Teams Disaster
The Isles PK can't win enough board battles, can't stop enough seam passes, can't keep play out of their zone enough. When Cal Clutterbuck returns, it's time to put him on the second unit.
But at least the slumping special teams story wasn't all bad: The Isles power play broke its own rut, with Pierre-Marc Bouchard thundering a slap shot high past Carey Price to tie it at 1-1 in the second period, and Brock Nelson oopsing a goal home from the top of the crease after nice passing by John Tavares and Frans Nielsen behind the net.
Before either of those, an earlier power play saw the puck work free from a scrum in the corner to set Kyle Okposo up alone on Price. Price stopped his backhand deke that time though.
After the Islanders pulled back to within one on Brock Nelson's power play goal, the Canadiens pushed impressively for the middle part of the third period. The Isles survived that push until Casey Cizikas won a battle with Douglas Murray and chipped the puck from the right wing boards to Michael Grabner in the slot for a point-blank opportunity. However, Francis Bouillon made an excellent diving play to block Grabner's shot.
That missed opportunity hurt, because soon afterward the Islanders top pairing would be victimized for another insurance goal. Travis Hamonic failed to hold in a rolling puck at the offensive blueline and was slow to get back to join Andrew MacDonald as the Canadiens sent three forwards in ahead of the first backchecker, Josh Bailey. Once again the young combo of Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Eller combined to score, Galchenyuk left free in front of the net to convert.
(Of course, while we're airing grievances: That clear never would have happened had the refs caught P.K. Subban yanking Michael Grabner's stick out of his hands as the puck went behind the net. That allowed Andre Markov freedom to ring the puck around the boards and start the rush.)
Potentially Devastating Injury of the Night
Hamonic left the game with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, his head hitting the end boards after a collision with Max Pacioretty,, who knows all too well what it's like when a player takes advantage of an opponent in a vulnerable position.
Hamonic looked a little dazed and was slow to get up. With the Isles down by two goals though, it was an obvious precaution to have him miss the final three minutes.
A couple of minutes later, in the final minute, Pacioretty elbowed Aaron Ness after the whistle and Matt Carkner went after him for some shoving, but Pacioretty wisely just barked and kept his gloves on. I'm sure Pacioretty learned all this from Zdeno Chara.
The Goalie Situation
Kevin Poulin allowed four goals, though none could be put squarely on his shoulders. The first goal was the most stoppable, as Gallagher had the better of the angle and beat Poulin far side, but it was still a great scoring chance. (On the goal, Gallager made a positively brilliant play at the blueline to kick a lead pass -- deflected behind him by Colin McDonald -- off his trailing foot and up to his blade before crossing the line. Good stuffl.)
Otherwise, the Canadiens twice scored after making mince meat of the Islanders penalty kill, passing the puck around and through the zone with freedom on goals that would have required heroics from Poulin. Overall, he was acrobatic and not overly scrambly. Given his veteran alternative, he's probably earned a few more starts.
There is no replacing Vanek right now, but the Islanders coaching staff at least showed some creativity by putting rookie Brock Nelson in that spot on the first line. In Columbus they used a mix of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Josh Bailey in that role, but with 18 healthy skaters they returned those two to their previous lines and tried out the rookie.
Nelson has been a healthy scratch at times (including last night) this season, but that has seemed to come almost from seniority pecking order reasons than for any major deficiencies on his part. He fit in fine both at even strength with Tavares and Okposo and on the power play.
Nashville visits the Coliseum Tuesday night, after getting trounced in New Jersey tonight. Another slumping team, you say...?
More from Lighthouse Hockey:
- New York Islanders vs. Montrael Canadiens Preview: Something has to give
- New York Islanders vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Full Coverage
- Thomas Vanek Injury: Winger leaves ice in Columbus after first shift, 'upper body' injury
- NHL Power Rankings, Nov. 6: All Agree the Isles are..."Meh"
- Source: Video of Rob Ford Dressed as Maple Leafs Mascot Carlton the Bear Surfaces