Improbably and frustratingly, for the third time this season the New York Islanders lost a game in which they held a 3-0 lead. This time the Isles at least salvaged a regulation point out of the ordeal -- though this time they suffered the indignity against a far weaker opponent than the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, their previous assailants.
The Islanders had the better of play throughout the game, including during the third-period catastrophe which was not so much "collapse" as it was "series of lazy events."
The Isles entered the third period up 3-0 and outshot the Sabres 14-6, but Buffalo scored on half of those six shots, in a span of 5:12. The sequence didn't reflect particularly well on surprise starter Kevin Poulin nor the defense in front of him. After 45 minutes of good work and a power play thanks to a diving call on Zemgus Girgensons, the Isles shut off for two critical mistakes that changed the game.
Jhonas Enroth was then perfect in the shootout, stopping Kyle Okposo and John Tavares with pad saves and forcing Frans Nielsen to hit the crossbar with his backhand. The Isles had a point, and an otherwise solid effort, wasted, against an opponent they should take two regulation points from.
Sixty minutes. Always about those sixty minutes.
What the Islanders Did Right
Nick Leddy opened scoring with a slapshot after good corner work from Kyle Okposo in the first period. John Tavares netted his 14th and 15th of the season in the second, one on a fantastic individual effort and the other on a great combo from Okposo and Josh Bailey.
If there was a positive to this game, it was the really nice work from that top line, including its latest left wing in Bailey. Chemistry? Maybe. Certainly something to watch and build on.
What the Islanders did Wrong
Even after Kevin Poulin lost his shutout on the 18th shot he faced and the first of the third period, everything was swimming along smoothly with the Isles up 3-1 approaching the midway point of the final frame when...the Islanders started playing as if everything was swimming along smoothly.
First they were caught lackadaisical on a power play that could have finished the game. Johnny Boychuk was pedestrian racing back, while Nicolas Deslauriers (who scored the Sabres' first goal) waited for the perfect moment to spring Zemgus Girgensons with a step on Boychuk to beat Poulin on his near post. If there was a shot for Poulin to stop and stem the tide, that one was it. But the players in front of him failed him.
Just 1:50 later, Calvin de Haan was too lenient in allowing Chris Stewart to slip behind him to receive and convert a give-and-go with Drew Stafford, which Stewart slipped through Poulin's legs as the forward raced laterally across the crease.
This was a wasted point and a wasted chance at a regulation/OT win, which is important to standings tiebreakers just as the Rangers and Capitals are starting to creep closer to the picture at the top of the Metro. In a sense it's a relief that it didn't come from the completely collapsing as in the previous blown 3-0 events, but then consider the quality of the opponents.
Regardless, it's frustrating and just about inexcusable that it happened yet again, and you hope they don't take any solace in having played 50 good minutes against arguably the worst team in the league.
To regroup, the Islanders next play Monday at home against the Washington Capitals, one of the subjects of this year's Winter Classic and one of the teams trying to climb up into the conversation with the Isles in second place.
We'll see if their starting goalie is off IR for that one.