The New York Islanders lost their fourth straight game thanks to a series of familiar mistakes that undermined an otherwise decent effort against an injury- and trade-weakened Montreal Canadiens team playing out the string.
The 3-1 final was a fair result: The Islanders offense (outside of Mathew Barzal, there’s that refrain again) couldn’t convert, Jaroslav Halak let in a soft one, and the Isles conceded two others after defensive zone fire drills.
Putting an exclamation point on it: Antti Niemi, playing on his third team this season after getting blown out of Pittsburgh and Florida, shut the door as the Islanders finally kept up sustained pressure throughout the third period. (To be fair, Niemi has a .922 save percentage with the Habs, a sharp contrast to the .872 and .797 he put up with the Panthers and Penguins in a handful of games for each.)
By the end, the Isles out-attempted the Canadiens 80 to 52 overall but only outshot them 28-26 — and just 8-5 in the third, as tons of possession and looks only created wide or blocked shots.
Barzal got things started with another blazing rush of a goal, torching the Canadiens to break in on goal, Connor McDavid-esque after a nifty neutral zone hook-and-ladder handoff from Jordan Eberle and Thomas Hickey.
I like Juulsen's game so far, but he got introduced to the harsh reality of the NHL on that play, Barzal is ridiculous.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 1, 2018
But Paul Byron equalized at the midway point of the first period after repeated Isles failures to get the puck out of the zone.
In the second period, a penalty kill featuring Tanner Fritz with Casey Cizikas left a loooong opening for Jonathan Drouin to pick his spot on Halak.
The Islanders give Jonathan Drouin an eternity to shoot the puck, and he scores his 10th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/dYm7jd9WwP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 1, 2018
Nikita Scherbak doubled the lead five minutes later, which gave the feeling that all was lost. The Canadiens who survived the trade deadline were playing with renewed life, while the Islanders looked to be carrying their woe-is-us vibes through another hard-luck night.
Doug Weight swapped Barzal and John Tavares to mix things up, and gave Barzal a couple of extra shifts as the second period wound down. It felt like panic-urgency was setting in, but the Isles had no answers.
If this were any other game, devoid of the context of the Islanders now three-month-long swoon, you could chalk this one up to “decent effort, tough goalie, just wasn’t our night.” The new additions were fine — Brandon Davidson refreshingly calm and actually making good passes from defense — they let up a completely manageable number of shots, and the offense created chances in the third that required some good bounces and Niemi saves.
But it wasn’t convincing, and given everything else, it comes down to this: They only put up one goal — relying on Barzal yet again — and made critical defensive miscues that led to goals their goaltender couldn’t stop.
Trailing Columbus by four points for the last wild card spot, the Isles had a chance to regain points against one of the East’s weakest teams. They missed, again.
They get another chance against the same team on Friday, this time at their rent-a-home in Brooklyn.