For the second game in a row, the New York Islanders outshot the opposition but could not solve a hot Atlantic goaltender. For the third game in a row, the Islanders managed only one goal. For the fourth home game in a row, the Isles took home a regulation loss.
The result was a 3-1 loss to and season series sweep by the Montreal Canadiens, completing a lost 0-3 homestand during a season when Nassau Coliseum's swan song had otherwise been a resurrected version of Fort Neverlose.
Five times, the Islanders had power plays that could have helped spark their suddenly struggling offense. Three times those power plays came after they were already behind. Only on the final one, with the goalie pulled for a 6-on-4 and time winding down, were they able to convert. But an earlier one provided the key margin: A shorthander conceded to give the Habs a 2-0 lead early in the second.
There were other chances -- John Tavares with a power play rebound and (later) a breathtaking, defense-splitting solo break here, Matt Martin with a gaping net there -- but Josh Bailey's goal with 2:17 left was the only success. Meanwhile, a counterattack goal and a Halakian miscommunication between Michal Neuvirth and the defense while on the power play were the difference.
- In his return to the lineup for the first time since January, Matt Donovan played 13:42. Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan logged over 24 minutes each.
- Michael Grabner had 9:11, lowest among all forwards.
- Third-lowest among forwards was Nikolay Kulemin (12:37), though he was on late with the extra attacker.
- Dale Weise, who took the first two penalties, somehow protested the second one (perhaps compensating for the debatable first one) -- a textbook boarding from behind on Anders Lee that could have been much worse for both Lee's health and Weise's eligibility to continue the game.
- Whether it's just the "luxury of depth" or just because, I still don't want to see Ryan Strome sit any more games, and not when the offense is hurting. Find a spot and sit a grinder already.
- Other young guys like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee generated shots though. Just nothing past Price.
It's too simple to say the story was Carey Price. But Price was his usual self, and that sure didn't help the Isles' cause.
"Carey Price was Carey Price," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "He's a dominant player. He's a special player. Again tonight, he was a true leader for us."
"For whatever reason we’re a little snakebitten," Head Coach Jack Capuano said. "They have an MVP goalie there," Capuano said. "He played well. He made three or four saves that were outstanding and could have changed the game around."
So it goes.
Offensive results in hockey are variable enough that you will go through droughts like this even when you're doing good things. The Isles aren't doing great things, but they're doing enough to have expected a different result during one of the games during this homestand of tight losses.
Almost to underline that fact: John Tavares went pointless in this three-game homestand, but it sure wasn't because he wasn't active and pushing play. "Snakebitten" fairly applies in his case.
Signed for his skill and his ability to calm the room, Johnny Boychuk sounded that voice of calm again, via Newsday:
"There's a little bit, but at least it's happening now when we can fix things," Johnny Boychuk said. "A month from now [if the Isles play like this], we're going home. So we have time to look at the video, see what's wrong and try to correct it."
Tonight it was a counterattack -- a familiar story in the Isles losses to the Canadiens this year -- that created the opening for the opponents, with Tomas Plekanec scoring early in the second.
Two minutes later, with the Isles on the power play, Max Pacioretty cashed in shorthanded when Neuvirth left the puck behind the net on the wrong side of Boychuk, perhaps thinking another partner was coming in from the opposite side. It was similar to a mixup Jaroslav Halak has made a couple of times this season, and re-emphasizes the importance of attention to detail. (Yet hilariously, the NBC Sports studio braintrust cited this as a reason Halak should have started.)
Despite that costly mixup, Neuvirth had some moments among his 27 saves, including stopping Pacioretty on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the first, and another break by Brandon Prust late in the same period.
With a visit to Chicago Tuesday followed by a three-day break, this may prove to be the Isles' toughest stretch of the season. Thankfully they aren't used to going a full week between wins and haven't made it a habit.
But this comes at a bad time: The Rangers have won four in a row while the Isles have lost three in a row in regulation, creating a three-point gap behind first place in the Metro while the Rangers have four games in hand. The Penguins lost, but themselves have three games in hand while trailing the Isles by two points.
The upcoming schedule, light as it is, is critical for playoff positioning.