The Isles might’ve escaped with something better had they cashed in during the second period, by far their best period and the frame where some mid-winter-level luck would’ve given them a multi-goal lead.
Instead, they only managed to tie it at 1-1 before a couple of quick Flames strikes in the third put it away. That’s twice within a week that the Islanders have looked fully outmatched against Travis Hamonic’s new team, so good riddance and relief that they are in the West.
First Period: Just like last week, basically
The first period was pretty well in control of the Flames. The Mathew Barzal line was the only one to consistently offer a threat, while overall the Islanders again had trouble handling the Flames speed and versatile puck-handling.
The Isles survived a mid-period Flames power play, after wasting one of their own, but overall they appeared lucky to reach the first intermission tied 0-0. They weren’t exactly blitzed like last week in Calgary, but still...baby steps at best.
Second Period: This could go either way, maybe
Over the first two periods, but moreso in the second, Anders Lee had sooo many close calls on pucks that were flirting with an inviting wide open net but eventually skittered out of his reach.
But before those, and before the Islanders finally stemmed the tide a bit, it was the Flames who struck first, early, on a power play thanks to a Nick Leddy slashing penalty.
Matthew Tkachuk delivered the damage with a filthy between the legs move at the top of the crease. We’re used to “net-front” hulks pulling a tight pass back and around the goalie in that situation, but this one was between his own legs and then lifting.
Matthew Tkachuk casually sniping between-the-legs, top-shelf beauties pic.twitter.com/AtEfG7EZYg— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 27, 2019
But the Islanders answered a few minutes later, and that seemed to inspire their best stretch of the game. First Andrew Ladd, in his first game since November, won a turnover in the Islanders zone to create a two-on-one for Valtteri Filppula and Josh Bailey. The Handsome Filppula fed Bailey, who took his time to locate a five-hole shot from the right wing circle and tie it at 1-1.
A couple minutes later, the Isles had an extended, multi-line shift of dominance inside the Flames zone. Their work brought the crowd alive and created multiple good looks at net, eventually drawing a penalty.
The power play that followed was actually a really good one, with control in the Flames zone for almost the entire two minutes. With pressure resuming, 40 seconds later they drew another penalty and decent but not quite as impressive power play.
Still, no dice, and you had to worry that would come back to bite them.
Quote of the Night
“The ref is dying to make a call on the Islanders, I’m guessing, because that was weak.”
>>Butch Goring after a horrendous interference penalty called on Matt Martin for the crime of skating in front of Johnny Gaudreau off a faceoff
He’s talking about this:
Ironically, a textbook call put the Islanders short 5-on-3 soon after when Cal Clutterbuck’s clearance sailed the length of the ice and over the glass. On the ensuing faceoff, Sean Monahan did exactly what Martin did on his penalty — except worse, he actually faced Nelson and physically put his arms on him to keep him from reaching the point.
No call, naturally, because while stupidity is contagious, it is neither consistent nor reliable.
Casey Cizikas, Johnny Boychuk, Adam Pelech and Robin Lehner did some fantastic and painful work to get the Islanders to the second intermission without conceding on that 5-on-3. Great positioning, great decision-making, sacrificial shot blocking.
Third Period: Relief, then terror
So the Islanders opened the third period by killing the final nine seconds of the 5-on-3 and the remainder of the 5-on-4 that followed, for what looked like an essential and maybe pivotal PK success...
...except the Flames scored twice, two minutes apart, to grab a 3-1 lead with the third period barely five minutes old. First Mikael Backlund snapped one from the faceoff circle between Cal Clutterbuck and a possibly screening Ryan Pulock at 3:15. The Best Fourth Line In Hockey, which struggled much of the night, did not live up to its name on this sequence.
Then Rasmus Andersson was allowed to walk in from the blueline uncontested and wind up at the top of the circle for one that Lehner might have wanted back. That made it 3-1, and for the first time in a while — or okay, for the first time outside of the last Flames meeting — a two-goal deficit looked insurmountable.
The Islanders never mounted anything suggesting a comeback. The rest of the game proceeded at pedestrian pace. They pulled Lehner for a sixth attacker with a little over two minutes left, then committed an egregious too many men penalty on a clear that was bouncing into their zone.
WIth a little over a minute left, Cal Clutterbuck made a power move and nice dangle toward the net, creating a wide open rebound for Casey Cizikas, but he was hooked (no call) and couldn’t get a stick on the puck. Pelech followed up with a big wind-up but was stopped by a sprawling Smith’s glove.
That was it.
The last five games have looked a lot like October-early November and that is a very bad sign.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) February 27, 2019
On-point thread here from Carey:
Here's the thing that is deeply alarming, more so than not being able to land a Duchene/Stone. It is Game 62. How in the world does Lamoriello and/or Trotz think the October lineup (+Toews) will outperform the one with Dal Colle/Ho-Sang at this point? See the annotations below: pic.twitter.com/3OiGJYLYvE— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) February 27, 2019
Up Next: Pajamas Night
This one hurts, and it it’s the first of three in a row against really tough competition at home. Next is the Maple Leafs and a one-time Isles captain’s first game back, Thursday. Then the very next night come the Capitals, who won tonight and now have a share the Metro lead.
Pro tip to all the external Twitter and media moralizers out there opining on what Islanders fans should do Thursday: It is entirely possible, even cognitively consistent, to think both that the Other #91 had the right to leave free agency, and also that he did it in the worst possible way. Likewise, to remember his contributions to the NYI while also booing (or ignoring) the hell out of him. ‘Cause he’s the opponent now.