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Flames 3, Islanders 2: Blown again

The Isles enter the third with a lead and do what they do.

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Calgary Flames v New York Islanders
It’s not your’s not your fault.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Matthew Tkachuk scored twice in the third period to tie and then defeat the New York Islanders 3-2 in regulation.

Relative to their form of the last two months, it was an alright efffort, er, first 40 minutes, for the Islanders — they weren’t completely blown out of the building! — but with the all too predictable turtleshell of a third period, where they were outshot 19-7, rolling out the welcome mat to allow the visitors to take the game.

This despite two fairly lucky goals to put them in the lead and another win-worthy performance by Jaroslav Halak, as he stopped 39 of 42 shots while left hung out to dry for much of the third. The Isles looked a gifthorse in the mouth and said, “no thanks.”

Injuries: The Isles also lost Cal Clutterbuck to a potentially scary injury after a stick to the throat in the third period. The Flames lost Mike Smith to a leg injury with just one second remaining, when John Tavares took a bad-angle shot with Halak pulled for a sixth attacker.

But they leave Brooklyn with both points, because they managed the minimal effort required to beat the Isles.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz | Corsica]

First Period: Just one goal?

Casey Cizikas was your unlikely game-opening scorer and it came in a likely Casey Cizikas way: He sealed off the boards, on a forecheck, intercepting the clear only to have the puck skitter ahead of him toward the goal. With ex-teammate Travis Hamonic bearing down to reach the puck at the bottom of the faceoff circle Cizikas dove forward and poke a shot to the corner pocket past a stunned Mike Smith.

That goal came just 3:09 into the game — so, enough time for a few Flames scoring chances off the rush already.

But the Islanders calmed things down and were not completely outplayed in the period (shots: 11-9 Isles), partly with the help of two power plays (the Flames also had one) to break up the flow.

Ross Johnston also handed Ryan Lomberg his lunch in a vast size-mismatch fight that came off a faceoff, with Lomberg initiating some sort of pre-faceoff agreement as the Flames were objecting to Johnston’s physical play.

Credit to Lomberg for stepping up and doing the thing for teammates, etc., and hopefully the one big punch he received doesn’t factor in his future cranial health. He didn’t return to the game, however, so you wonder.

Second Period: Still a low-scoring game?!

In the second period the teams shared a pair of goals and some more power plays, this time with the Flames having two opportunities to the Isles’ one.

The Isles doubled their lead to 2-0, again just three minutes into the period, when Mathew Barzal saucered another sweet pass to Anthony Beauvillier, whose shot from high in the zone went through a screen and benefited from a slight deflection.

The Flames got on the board right before their first power play expired, with a pretty tic-tac-toe connection play off an offensive zone faceoff, Ryan Jankowski finishing it off. That one was a pity, because Jaroslav Halak had just saved their bacon stopping a series of chances in tight and doing uncomfortable-looking splits to keep the puck out.

The Isles killed off the next Flames power play though, without too much drama. But they did little on their own extra-man opportunity that carried over to the third period.

The main drama, or mini-heart attack, of the period was Nick Leddy being in the wrong place at the wrong time to receive a hard shot that went wide of Halak and hit the Isles #1 defenseman on the inside of the knee.

Third Period: Here it comes...

As mentioned, the final 43 seconds of that power play died harmlessly to open the third.

Good thing Pierre McGuire wasn’t covering this one...

The Isles then lost Cal Clutterbuck when he went in for a check behind the net right as Curtis Lazar spun and got his stick up. The shaft of Lazar’s stick went right across the side of Clutterbuck’s neck, and he looked like he was having trouble gathering his faculties on the bench.

The first five minutes also feature another series of consecutive chances that Halak stopped, and a Jason Chimera-led rush that was stopped by a turnover just inside the blueline, followed by Chimera wiping out on the backcheck in the Isles zone. It’s just too much.

The Isles would, of course, give up their one-goal third-period lead, which was as predictable as the sunrise. It came against the fourth line of Cizikas, Chimera and Johnston after a neutral zone faceoff, though it was in part an oversight by Leddy. He left the front of the net to help Johnny Boychuk in the corner, leaving Matthew Tkachuk alone in front for a nifty deflection past Halak. Chimera identified the issue but way too late, covering no one, something Weight alluded to in the post-game without calling Chimera out by name.

That fourth-line actually followed it up with a pretty dangerous shift of sustained pressure in the Flames’ zone, including Johnston of all people walking through the defense for a chance in close on Smith.

The Isles then had a fortunate power play when Mikael Backlund lifted the puck over the glass from his own zone, but what did you expect? The Islanders scored a franchise-record four goals on their last power play in the preceding game, so of course they’ll follow it up by going scoreless — and on this one, shotless — against one of the league’s worst penalty kills.

Tkachuk nearly notched the winner for Calgary with under four minutes left in regulation, whipping a shot that deflected a bit off Boychuk, then off the edge of Halak’s glove, and finally rang off the post.

Instead, because hockey is hockey, Tkachuk’s winner came off a good tip by him and a fortunate bounce, as his deflection hit the post, bounced off Halak’s glove, and trickled over the line.

After Smith’s injury and a penalty drawn by Tavares as he drove the zone with time ticking down, the refs undid the final buzzer to require one more offensive zone faceoff with 1.1 left on the clock. Tavares lost it, the Isles lost the game, and they were credited with another 0-for power play, which is well and just.

Barzal Doghoused for Some Reason

So, I think I’ve noticed Barzal has been covered tighter and perhaps less diligent in coverage in recent weeks, though I thought he was stronger on that front tonight. (theory: The rest of the team has finally worn off on him.) But you sure think that might be a between-games thing to address rather than “prove a point while team is flailing” thing.

Doug Weight had him off the top power play and not out there for six-on-five, coincidentally after a bad Barzal pass on a late Isles power play. Asked by Arthur Staple if those moves were because he wasn’t happy with how Barzal was playing, Weight gave a simple “Yeah...” which concluded the post-game press conference.

Why is it so hard to see the forest for the trees?

Next-day update: To be fair, Weight was asked about the move with Barzal the next day for reports by Arthur Staple of The Athletic and Brian Heyman of Newsday. He explained that it wasn’t some “teach him a lesson,” just that he preferred Eberle out there with the regular first-line unit:

“That’s not the time of the game where it’s about accountability, it’s who’s going to score for us?” Weight said. “He just threw the puck away three times on the last power play. We had meetings between periods showing him what’s going on and what we have to exploit. So that’s not a teaching tool, it’s not a young guy, ‘We’re going to teach him a lesson and he’ll be a pro for 20 years.’ If you think that’s what I’m doing, in the 58th minute, fighting for our lives, you got a little bit more to think about, guys.”

And then, in a sentiment that frankly I can sympathize with given the histrionics of IslesTwitter examining and harping on every decision, there was this:

“...He’s done a damn good job, he should be proud of his year to this point and he should continue to try to get better in all areas. Because the kid sat down for 30 seconds, this is going to become… I’m done talking about it.”

Quote of the Night

“You could see it coming, Brendan, all third period. ... Talked to the coach about it and he doesn’t want the guys to sit back and not go with the lead, but the decisions they make...”

>>Butch Goring, MSG broadcast

Up Next

Awful start to another busy week: Tuesday the Isles host the Blue Jackets, followed by a traveling back-to-back as they host the Rangers on Thursday before heading to Raleigh to meet the Hurricanes on Friday.

They are in the playoff mix with key Metro games ahead, but as with tonight when they were in line for a win, it feels somehow hollow, undeserved, and ultimately doomed to fall short.

Happy Stuff

  • Great night, again, for Halak. Not so for the Islanders’ collective desire to prevent teams getting such plentiful and easy high-danger scoring chances.
  • Barzal is still awesome, even when he only has one assist instead of five.
  • In addition to some tributes to Travis Hamonic during the game, there was this with the Long Island Rough Riders sled hockey team for the opening faceoff: