Playing without an ill John Tavares for the second time this weekend, the New York Islanders managed an even worse result than Saturday's shootout loss in Newark: A regulation loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Brooklyn.
The damage was exacted by an ex-Islander, the brother of an ex-Islander, and a 22-year-old goalie playing in his third North American game. With or without their captain, the Isles mostly outplayed, but only briefly outscored, a team they should beat. Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark (29 saves) kept it close for Buffalo, Matt Moulson scored the equalizer against the run of play in the third, and Sam Reinhart potted the winner with too many Islanders too far up ice.
A costly loss for a team trying to keep pace at the top of the Metro, a wasted opportunity with just two points from three games against inferior opponents over the last four days, and an ominous start to November, if you're a calendarist kind of fan.
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After a methodical start, the Isles began to increasingly tilt play their way until they finally broke through in the second period. The goal came from the fourth line, which sent missile after missile -- bodies, not just pucks -- toward the net as Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin each took a stab during a scramble that left Ullmark on his back.
At the end of that chaos, it was Calvin de Haan who goscoredt the goal, faking a pass and then whipping around to send a seeing-eye shot off the near post and in.
The Islanders looked well in control of play through two periods and were flying through the neutral zone on rush after rush in search of an insurance goal in the third. So naturally, then hockey had to be hockey: An Isles dump bounced off the linesman, the Sabres came back the other way, Travis Hamonic stepped up and missed Zemgus Girgensons at the Isles blueline, allowing him to break down the left wing and cross to Moulson, who made a great extra effort to jam the puck home.
The Isles looked more angered than rattled by the equalizer against the run of play, but Ullmark continued to make saves to keep them from getting that second goal. (They had an argument for a power play, too, when Nicolas Deslauriers pretty clearly knocked the net off during an Isles chance, but this was a night without penalties. Like, literally: Zero penalties were called.)
Those continued missed opportunities would haunt them.
Each forward push left them a little exposed, and with the fourth line on the ice and slow to get back it was a missed Marek Zidlicky pinch at the point that created the backbreaking two-on-one: David Legwand's pass eluded Brian Strait's reach so Reinhart could sling it home for the go-ahead goal.
The Sabres bottled up after that, and the Isles pulled Thomas Greiss -- who took his first regulation loss as an Islander, though deserved better (20 saves) -- but didn't mount much more threat.
Fun Broadcast Note of the Night
MSG showed a shot of Brock Nelson's family in the stands, in town to see him play Saturday in Newark and tonight in Brooklyn. Evidently Mrs. Nelson is on a mission to see Brock play in every NHL building, which is such an awesome hockey mom thing to do.
A collective failure by the team, and you'd hope someone would step up with Tavares out. A few did -- or at least did their best -- so a consolation shout goes out to Mikhail Grabovski, who was everywhere pushing for the attempted insurance (and later, tying) goal, Frans Nielsen, who continued to shoot and push forward like the team was missing its top center, and Nick Leddy, who continues to be Nick Leddy even if the points aren't currently accumulating for him.
Blown Lead, or Failed Chances?
It will go into the books as "another blown third period lead" etc., but frankly I don't count one-goal leads toward those, as the narrative itself almost implies one should sit on a one-goal lead...which is a fine recipe for blowing them. No, this one goes into the books as a(nother) failure to build on a one-goal lead, despite creating many opportunities to do so.
In contrast to the third period against the Hurricanes, where the Isles sat and paid, this time they pushed and came up empty. Credit Ullmark, and fault the Isles who tread too far on the aggressive side of that line between pushing and protecting.
The Isles don't have to stew on this one for too long. Tuesday night they have a chance at revenge on the Devils as they debut their None More
Brooklyn Black third jerseys.