We knew the Islanders would face a major test this week as they met last season’s Stanley Cup champions followed by the Eastern Conference champs who lost Game 7 of that final at home. Thankfully the Islanders got off to a great start Thursday in St. Louis, which was key in salvaging a point in the eventual OT loss. After that period, however, it has been five consecutive periods without scoring a goal and while being thoroughly outplayed.
On Saturday the Islanders welcomed Andy Greene and Cal Clutterbuck back from short- and long-term injuries, respectively. But Clutterbuck joined a fourth line of Matt Martin with Leo Komarov at center, which is hardly an ideal ingredient for shaking another burgeoning offensive slump.
That trio was its usual physical self, but without Casey Cizikas they were no match for the Bruins top line that, unfortunately, they met on multiple situations.
First Period: No chance on that one
The first period began ugly and it did not improve from there. The Bruins swarmed the Islanders, and they were everywhere in the neutral zone to short-circuit any attempted zone exits and breakouts. Under pressure, the Isles were guilty of making some hopeful passes, but it was thanks to the positioning and reads by the Bruins that the home team got no traction.
That said, it was a tough break that got the Bruins on the board just 4:30 into the game. Patrice Bergeron took out Semyon Varlamov, with some help but not exclusively from Andy Greene playing him as he crashed to the crease. David Pastrnak picked up a loose puck and put it in for his 47th while Varlamov was still trying to regain his position.
Barry Trotz spoke to the ref but refrained from challenging, probably because there was contact from Greene on Bergeron and the last few games have reminded us that no one has any unified idea what makes for goalie interference anyway.
And that continued a theme: The Bruins, in addition to being all over the ice, were all over Varlamov. Lots of incidental contact, crease-crashing, and then bumps from Islanders defensemen too as they tried to defend the turf around their goalie. It all made for a general mess.
The Bruins’ second goal was also through fortune: Matt Grzelcyk was attempting a diagonal pass from the point but it redirected off Johnny Boychuk’s leg and into the net.
Two fortunate goals, yet a more than fair result from the period. The Islanders had a power play and a half, with that one carrying over into the second period, but nothing much generated there other than some relief from the relentless Bruins pressure.
Could’ve been worse. That’s how bad it was.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) February 29, 2020
Second Period: Gotta get somethin’ goin’ here
The rest of that power play to open the second led to better puck movement and looks, but no goal to show for it nor momentum to carry over. As soon as it expired, the Bruins resumed their territorial assault, aided with the decision-making comfort of a two-goal lead.
Before the midway point, the Isles lost Brock Nelson who left the ice after taking a puck to the face. Though he returned later in the period, that departure meant he was missing for the Islanders’ first two penalty kills of the game, which included 32 seconds of 5-on-3.
The Islanders did a great job killing off those opportunities — including a painful left-arm shot block by Johnny Boychuk — which brought the crowd back into the game with a little under half the period remaining.
However, they still couldn’t generate much until a couple of power play opportunities late in the period. They reached the second intermission with things still the same: a 2-0 hole against a tough opponent, with just 13 shots on goal through two periods.
Third Period: Just not happening
The Isles’ best chance yet to break the seal came early in the third period when Mathew Barzal dropped to Jordan Eberle at the left wing circle, then Eberle did one of his shimmy moves to weave through the defense for a chance to deposit the puck behind Tuukka Rask. But Rask got his skate out and kept the Isles off the board.
As with the second period, the Islanders at least had moments where they found more speed in transition and were not quite so smothered by the Bruins. But the visitors were sitting on house money with their 2-0 lead, so it was up to the Isles to force something to happen.
And outside of the top line and power play, that simply wasn’t looking likely today. After cowardly human Brad Marchand put the game away with a wraparound to make it 3-0, the Isles should’ve had a power play goal to at least get on the board. But the officials fell for Bruins’ reactions when a Ryan Pulock slapshot hit the top of the glass, so they whistled play dead as Derick Brassard was sending it into the Bruins net.
After that whistle, the Isles pulled Varlamov for a sixth attacker, but Barzal took a hooking penalty off the ensuing faceoff. When the Bruins penalty expired, Charlie McAvoy converted on the ensuing abbreviated power play.
The Islanders finished the game still holding on to the first wild card spot, but this was a missed opportunity to hop back in the 2-3 mix of the Metro, where the Flyers (81) and Penguins (80) remain three and two points ahead.
They are home on Tuesday against the Canadiens, who are out of the playoff hunt but are a difficult team — something they hope the Hurricanes discover later tonight. That meeting is followed by a trip to Ottawa for Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s homecoming.