In a 4-1 loss that extended their home woes, the New York Islanders hung with the Boston Bruins for a period before making enough mistakes to yield a two-goal lead that a team like 12-2-2 Boston is very unlikely to give back.
The Islanders' inability to win at home, equaling their worst 10-game start at home in franchise history, again cost them a chance to tie for eighth place in what is a bubble of very flawed teams in the Eastern Conference.
Then again, if eighth place -- hey, we're just speaking hypothetically here -- merely got them a first-round date with an efficient machine like the Bruins, then a four-game clinic would ensue.
First Period: Hairy Start, Solid Finish
Things started out hairy, with the Bruins really pushing play and keeping a high tempo. That led to one crapstorm of a shift with Casey Cizikas' line hemmed into their zone and narrowly avoiding a goal against. Considering that bullet dodged, it was ll the more deflating that Evgeni Nabokov allowed a point shot by Adam McQuaid through his arm for the opening goal. It was McQuaid's first goal of the season, because the Islanders are generous like that.
The Isles rebounded, however, and ended the period outshooting the Bruins 11-10 and tied 1-1.
That tie came thanks to a fantastic rush by Josh Bailey down the right side -- have we mentioned he should really be used on right wing lately? -- where he held, held, held as Kyle Okposo drove the net, then slipped the puck around a sprawling defenseman to find the trailing man Casey Cizikas. Cizikas did well to outmuscle Patrice Bergeron and lift the puck high into the net past Tuukka Rask.
Rask made some fine saves -- doing well to rob Michael Grabner, standing tall on a vicious wrister from John Tavares -- but also fought the puck a bit. Alas, the Isles were never able to capitalize on the rebounds.
Each teams also took turns displaying some fine penalty killing, too. The Bruins' PK was more impressive because it was in their zone for most of the two minutes, but they pressed the Isles to the perimeter and never let them set up, despite some nice finesse plays to try to create space.
Second Period: Things Fall Apart
After an even first period, the Bruins jumped the Isles early. If Nabby was 95% culpable on the McQuaid goal (will concede 5% remainder for McQuaid having such a wide-open shot), then he suffered a tough break as the second period opened.
The Tavares line lost a defensive zone faceoff, and Bergeron's line worked them down low, then fed Andrew Ference back at the point for the shot. With Brad Marchand sneaking behind Thomas Hickey to the front of the net, Ference's shot hit Hickey in the leg and took a perfect bounce to Marchand in stride, where he backhanded it easily past Nabokov.
Then it got worse. Marty Reasoner's line suffered a rush that was technically 3-on-3, but played out like 3-on-2. All of the Islanders cheated toward Milan Lucic as he charged up the slot, with Travis Hamonic and David Ullstrom each canceling themselves out as they left David Krejci open for the one-timer. (Ullström's failure to pick up anyone on that play makes you wonder if he'll go right back into the doghouse.)
To twist the screws further, Mark Streit took the puck over the Bruins line and Chris Kelly essentially tried to slew-foot or can-opener him, then held Streit's stick. Streit gave him a face shove in retaliation and, naturally, got the only penalty on the play.
The Isles killed most of that off until Lubomir Visnovsky was penalized for clearing the puck over the glass, creating effectively a four-minute stretch of PK time, which helped spoil the period and prevent the Isles' efforts at a comeback.
That one killed, a few Isles chances on Rask followed -- a partial Grabner rush here, an Andrew MacDonald shot off the crossbar there -- and second period shots went from 12-6 after all the penalties to 12-12 by the end of the frame. But Rask stopped everything that made it through, including a modest chances during a powerplay for the final minute and a half of the second period.
Third Period: Sealing the Game
The Isles pushed, but the Bruins protected well, keeping most attempts to the outside for the duration of the third period. They play positionally well, they have the talent to carve out leads, and the sophistication to keep them.
In contrast, the Islanders' last move was another early goalie pull for the sixth attacker -- an okay move, if you actually have a plan. But once again, the Islanders appear almost surprised to play with the sixth attacker, and end up expending their last energy trying to prevent goals into the empty net. This time the Isles at least had possession, but were forced to dump in and did not retrieve. Within 10 seconds of the pull, the Bruins were leading a 3-on-2 the other way. A 3-on-2, when the numbers on the ice were 4-on-6.
The Bruins didn't score that time, but the rest of the spell was ineffective and naturally ended that way, Gregory "Not Colin, Okay?" Campbell doing the damage.
Predictable Result against an Elite Team
That maddeningly recurring problem aside, for the run of play this actually wasn't an awful game for the Isles, considering the quality of opponent. (Mostly the Isles face fellow bubble teams or bad teams, but the Bruins are one of the few elite teams on the schedule.) Nabby should have had the first goal, they lost a bounce on the second, and multiple mistakes compounded things on the third.
It was just clear the Bruins outclass the Isles and had the finishing touches the Isles lacked. The Bruins also did a good job mitigating the Islanders' first line outside of a few shots from distance. When the Bruins started out the second period by striking quickly, they were able to play to the score for the rest of the game.
Though Rask was the better goalie, Nabokov made multiple big saves in the third period when the Islanders were pressing and leaving themselves vulnerable to the counterattack. If he made those saves earlier, if the Isles could have finished on their rushes, or if they turned those rushes into sustained pressure to solve Rask, maybe it turns out differently or is closer for long. But this was always going to be the toughest opponent on this homestand, and asking for a win was always going to be a longshot.
Instead, they faced the top team in the Eastern Conference and a very good goalie, and saw just how far they have to go. They are now 2-8-0 at home on the season. They have five more in a row at the Coliseum to salvage this homestand. If they can keep from getting discouraged by the optics of this, there will be points on the board to retrieve.