Brock Nelson scored twice and Travis Hamonic scored his first of the season on the day after his future with the team dominated the news, but a rare poor display from the back end squashed the New York Islanders' best efforts in a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Through the first quarter of the season, the goaltending has been a consistent strength providing a foundation as other parts of the team took turns struggling. But Friday night Jaroslav Halak had arguably his first or at most his second stinker of the season. Halak and a suddenly porous, gap-oblivious defense combined to put the Islanders behind 3-1 by the first intermission.
Despite a strong response, a combination of obstacles made sure the Isles' comeback attempts over the next 40 minutes fell just short. The loss hurts, like a blindside P.K. Subban punch to the head.
Jeff Petry opened scoring early in the first by pouncing on a lonely rebound after Brian Flynn's backhand from the left wing tricked Halak and left the Isles goalie out of position as he searched the vicinity for the puck. It was lying alone, in the crease, where Petry pounced to poke it in.
The Isles answered nine minutes later when Nelson knocked in a the rebound of a John Tavares shot while outbattling Subban at the top of the crease. Michel Therrien used his coach's challenge, unsuccessfully; had that one been overruled for goalie interference, I would fear for the future of the league as an entertainment product.
But the puzzlingly long video review must have put Halak to sleep. Thirty seconds later the Isles let the Canadiens gain the zone too easily, and Halak let Tomas Fleischmann beat him short side on a one-timer. Six minutes later it was 3-1 for the visitors, Nathan Beaulieu allowed to walk into the zone with ample space to pass or shoot. He shot from the high slot, beating Halak inside the far post.
Thomas Greiss was called in to start the second period, and was immediately called into action to stop a breakaway by Alexander Semin.
But otherwise the Islanders' second period was much better. They began with energy and good puck movement, which led to Hamonic getting a feel-good first goal of the season on a blast from the point to cut the deficit to 3-2. News of Hamonic's offseason trade request surfaced about 48 hours before this game, and the fallout for the family-motivated move seems to be that fans and teammates alike want the best for Hamonic. Not a disgruntled malcontent's trade request, this. The response from the home fans was certainly one of support.
Ultimately, however, the Islanders' push to tie the game in the second period was halted by an inexplicable interference penalty call after Nikolay Kulemin and Andrei Markov became entangled on their way through the neutral zone. (The call was made worse by the lack of a coinciding call after Markov swung his stick and took down Kulemin.)
The Isles did quite well to kill that off -- not allowing a shot to reach Greiss -- but just as Kulemin stepped out of the box, Jeff Petry's shot broke Josh Bailey's stick but carried hard enough on its new trajectory to beat Greiss and make it 4-2 with five minutes remaining in the middle frame.
The third period, then was more of the same. The Isles kept pushing and cut it back to a one-goal deficit when Josh Bailey faked a shot (shock!) from inside the blueline and set up Nelson in the high slot. Nelson exhibited the wrister we've seen hit pay dirt a few times this season for his second goal of the night.
The Isles had a stretch a few minutes later where the Canadiens were on their back foot, icing the puck and lacking a timeout to buy a rest. Nothing doing there, though, and Montreal regrouped and tightened up after that threat eased.
In the final few minutes, Frans Nielsen created a dangerous left-wing shot that forced a rebound, and Hamonic had a chance for more poetry with a shot on the rush that just missed the upper right of the net.
A final push almost set Tavares up for an equalizer but the puck squirted away so he had to pass to Hamonic, whose shot was blocked, allowing Brendan Gallagher to finish it on an empty netter with 10 seconds remaining.
Subban Suckers, Nobody Sees
On a late scramble, P.K. Subban took a blatant sucker punch at the head of Nelson after Fleischmann quite clearly shoved Nelson into Carey Price, with no call forthcoming on either side. It's likely Subban didn't see what happened and only saw the aftermath: Nelson down by a maskless Price. But still. This ain't legal:
Oh word PK. pic.twitter.com/aPx0nW1euM— Connor (@ConIsles) November 21, 2015
These teams meet again Sunday in Montreal.