The New York Islanders became the latest victim of the surging Ottawa Senators and inexplicable goalie Andrew Hammond, whose Cinderella way-better-than-his-AHL-numbers start to his NHL career offers at least some of that explanation.
With the Senators' 2-1 win, Hammond's record improved to 9-0-1 in his young career, and he did one better than his no-more-than-two-allowed standard established thus far. For the Isles, it was a missed opportunity to jump into first place overall in the East and potentially the NHL pending Anaheim's result later in the night. It was also an unprecedented third home loss in a row.
The Isles were by no means awful, but they were far from the play-pushing standard we've come to expect. Though they began the game pushing play, Ottawa kept them contained and the urgency seemed lacking -- other than John Tavares, who was his usual force and came back to bail the Isles out defensively twice on one shift.
Ultimately, it was a battle of traffic goals, as all three goals were scored with the goaltenders' view obscured. Too often, the Isles didn't have the traffic they needed to get past Hammond, though the game and the near-miss deflections were close enough that the bounces could have gone either way.
To underline that point, both Ottawa goals came in the second period, a period where the Isles outshot the Senators 22-9.
Matt Puempel scored the first goal when he slapped a wobbling puck in the low slot over the shoulder of Jaroslav Halak, who was compact and square but completely screened by Bobby Ryan.
Three Islanders power plays in the second period offered the Isles' best opportunities to take the game back, producing nine shots but not enough that were hard for Hammond to see. Despite those shots allowed, the Senators penalty kill was impressive in its aggression, forcing the Isles to the perimeter, which prevented the desired traffic down low.
After the 0-for-3 run, the Senators were rewarded for some nice sustained work in the Isles zone when Kyle Turris redirected Erik Karlsson's loping shot inside the far post. It was 2-0 for the Senators, and the Isles' second-period effort went for naught.
The third period did not resume the Isles' push until it was too late. Not until Tyler Kennedy ended the Hammond's shutout with eight minutes left did the Isles get proper traffic and interior pressure in the Senators' end. His deflection was reminiscent of Turris' goal, though on a harder shot by Lubomir Visnovsky.
It was the Isles' first goal since Anders Lee's tally in the first period against the Rangers, a four-period-plus drought long enough to probably initiate panic somewhere in microsample fandom land.
Kennedy's goal brought the crowd alive for the first time since the run of power plays in the second period, and the rest of the game played out like a proper final visit to Nassau Coliseum. Ottawa called a timeout with 6:08 remaining to give their players a rest and diffuse the rising crowd. The Senators then did well to equalize the pressure a bit, though the Isles had a few close chances through traffic with Halak pulled.
Without much work on the night, Halak did have to stay awake -- and stopped a would-be backbreaker when he stayed with Bobby Ryan to stop his solo break into the Isles zone with 4:30 remaining.
Overall, Hammond was "Reggie Hammond," and the Isles were the ocuntry bar that offered little resistance to his schtick.
The Isles are back at it at home tomorrow night to face the Canadiens, who were the Senators' previous victims on Thursday night.