But what the f*** is going on?
The Islanders are quickly falling off track as the season comes to a close. It’s still going to require a collapse of epic proportions for them to miss the playoffs, but they way they’re playing, that’s not out of the question. If they make it, they are at serious risk of slipping out of home-ice advantage. And they’re backing in with their asses bare. Not going to get very far like that.
Powerless Play Strikes Again
The Islanders are pretty terrible when they have a man advantage. This isn’t new. We’ve discussed it all season, which is kind of the point: how they have not figured out how to move around and change their position and stop waiting for the perfect shot at this stage of the season is absurd. It’s not like they’re trying new strategies and still failing; they’re ailed by the same things as they were early in the season. The biggest issue, and it’s been beaten to death, is a dearth of offensive skill, but there are plenty of factors at play.
Tonight, they had perhaps their worst showing on the power play of the season. They had two back-to-back 5-on-4’s with 21 seconds of 5-on-3 in between. They managed a single shot on goal, while the Canadiens recorded at least 2, and possibly more, while killing penalties. 5-on-5, the first period wasn’t anything terrible. Wasn’t great, but they looked more alive than they did the other night. And then they took their own penalties.
The Start of Tonight’s Downward Spiral
Brock Nelson was whistled for interference, but the contact was akin to walking down a crowded school or office hallway and looking at a bulletin on the wall and bumping into someone in front of you. No matter, they killed it off pretty well.
But right as the penalty ended, with less than a minute remaining in the first period, Leo Komarov showed the veteran presence for which he was signed by sticking his leg out and blatantly tripping Brendan Gallagher in the neutral zone, even though the Islanders had numbers going back. Casey Cizikas forced a turnover at the blueline as the period wound down to its final 15 seconds, but Cal Clutterbuck failed to clear when he retrieved the puck and allowed the Habs to set up for a quick goal with about 6 seconds.
Just over a minute into the second, the Canadiens swarmed the Islanders, forcing the Isles to take a penalty. During the delayed call, the Canadiens nearly scored on a wraparound attempt from Artturi Lehkonen and it seemed like the Islanders and Thomas Greiss thought the play had ended, but Shea Weber recognized the whistle wasn’t blown and slapped it past Greiss.
Five minutes later, the Islanders’ top line cruised in and Mathew Barzal found Jordan Eberle wide open on the other side. Eberle probably could’ve beaten Carey Price if he fired right away, but holding on wasn’t the worst move; he nearly did score because Price over-committed eventually, but then he made a ridiculous sprawling save to keep the Isles off the board. Going back the other way on a 3-on-2, the Islander defenders sort of just skated backwards as Montreal moved the puck around, and Drouin was the last guy to have possession. As he glided in from the wing, he took Joel Armia’s pass and got Greiss to reach out, deking beautifully around him for an easy deposit.
The game was already a long shot, and was effectively out of reach minutes later, less than halfway through. The Canadiens were buzzing and a point shot from Jordie Benn was deflected by new Hab Jordan Weal. That would be the end of the night for Greiss. Robin Lehner came in to replace him.
Trying to Make It Respectable
Though the third period was mostly a formality, it still had to be played. The Canadiens were in sit-back mode, but the Islanders didn’t control play because of it. They were playing out the string, waiting for the final horn to sound.
They had a few offensive chances by virtue of the Canadiens seemingly choosing to conserve energy and conceding a goal if they needed to, but Price shut the door when it was necessary. It wasn’t necessary very often.
With less than five minutes left on the clock and nothing left in the game, Andrew Shaw felt it was a good idea to shoulder or elbow Scott Mayfield without the puck in the head. Mayfield left the bench, possibly for concussion protocol. Shaw was called for a 2-minute interference minor, and the Islanders on the ice did nothing to immediately show him why not to do that. At that point in the game, taking a penalty wouldn’t be the worst thing if it meant giving a consistent dick a good face wash. I’ve said it before that physicality isn’t always the answer, but that was a moment where you could use some, and Barry Trotz agreed in his post-game availability with AJ Mleczko.
A response would come when Thomas Hickey leveled Gallagher as Gallagher entered the zone. The two dropped the gloves and wrestled more than they fought, but that would be the end of their nights. The fourth line would play most of the last two minutes looking to brawl, but without any willing combatants from the other side.
Thoughts and Rage
The Islanders were shut out two games in a row while getting blown out early, and I’m not happy about it. So here’s some angry babble.
Barzal had a pretty poor game. Aside from his pass to Eberle on the chance that wound up going the other way for the third Montreal goal, he wasn’t able to generate much of anything and had quite a few turnovers — which are going to happen when you have the puck a lot, but a few of them were the result of poor decisions. Eberle, too, looked a bit rough, and Anders Lee was pretty much invisible.
I liked the idea of putting Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson with Anthony Beauvillier, but all three of them have done nothing of note. I was quite wrong about that.
Two games in row a horrendous Clutterbuck turnover in the defensive zone led directly to a goal. Cizikas hasn’t really looked anything like himself since coming back, and while Matt Martin didn’t do anything to hurt the team tonight, he didn’t do much to help, either. Only thing he did was throw a few gloved punches at Brett Kulak in the final minute.
Tanner Fritz was the only guy that looked like he wanted to be there, but his linemates tonight were brutal. Komarov took an absolutely needless penalty, and Josh Bailey occupied some space.
The power play is utterly pathetic. As honsch said in the game thread, they’d almost be better off leaving the fifth man on the bench during each power play and playing 4-on-4.
Two different goalies have now been blown out in two straight games.
The team has not looked engaged the last few, and aren’t skilled enough to overcome poor efforts. As Trotz said to Mleczko on the broadcast, they need to “fix their battles.”
I’ve been trying to hope that this kind of play was just a poor stretch, and the last two games, while embarrassing, aren’t a true indicator of what the Islanders are. But we can all agree that, since the All-Star Break, they haven’t been the same team we saw in December and January, and it’s the worst time of the season to fall apart. Very concerning.
One of the few bright spots on the evening: AJ Mleczko and Jennifer Botterill did an excellent job filling in for the pregnant Shannon Hogan, whose travel at this point will be limited.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, the Islanders visit the Flyers on Saturday afternoon for a 1:00 p.m. puck drop. The Islanders were similarly embarrassed by the Flyers twice in the same week not too long ago. Not exactly the tonic they ordered after their last two games. Should be fun.