It’s just the 10th Canadiens win in their 50 games this season, and as terrible as they are, they are closer to the Islanders in standings points than the Islanders are to the second wild card position.
Coming off one of the Islanders’ “best efforts of the season” against the Bruins a few nights ago, this loss was another bullet point on their stalled season. The Isles can’t string goals together consistently, can’t build off impressive wins, and can no longer even be counted on to handle the teams in the lower rungs of the standings. The more fitting factoid: Their loss came in Andrew Hammond’s first NHL start and first NHL win since March 2018.
The Canadiens have started to be incrementally better under their new coach, but the Isles have long lost the luxury of such excuses. They almost didn’t even get a point out of this one, needing a late equalizer to send the game to extra time.
Lineup-wise, “day to day” Josh Bailey returned to the lineup to replace “day to day” Oliver Wahlstrom, who was hurt during the Bruins game on Thursday.
Ilya Sorokin started again with Semyon Varlamov still in Canadian COVID quarantine limbo, and Sebastian Aho remained in the lineup for his third game in a row in place of Andy Greene.
Matt Martin took an early roughing penalty against Michael Pezzetta, but the Isles killed that off and indeed it was the only whistle for the first seven minutes of the period.
The Canadiens had more jump and the better of play through much of the first period, and it paid off with a good bounce for the opening goal at 9:01. Jeff Petry’s point shot went off Ryan Pulock, who was battling Pezzetta in front of the net. Ilya Sorokin had played the original trajectory, leaving him off to the side of the crease as the redirected puck sputtered over the line.
Two minutes later, Cal Clutterbuck helped change the tide a bit with a big hit on young Cole Caufield as he took a pass in the Canadiens zone. Josh Anderson took exception and tried to take Clutterbuck out as they passed in the neutral zone, then tried to get Clutterbuck to fight.
Per usual, Clutterbuck played unaware and Anderson was penalized, completing the Clutterbuck Bait Cycle.
The Isles couldn’t get anything going on that power play — though J-G Pageau hit the side of the goal frame on a cross-slot one-timer — but they looked more into the game afterward. A couple of soft but legit hooking calls on the Canadiens in the final two minutes would help set up an equalizer in the next period.
First Laurent Dauphin went to the box for reaching on Sebastian Aho’s neutral zone deke, causing Aho to lose his footing. The Isles had a little movement but nothing too impressive with the 5-on-4, but as time wound down Anthony Beauvillier kept the puck in at the blueline and drew a hook from Jake Evans.
That meant the Isles would have 37 seconds of 5-on-3 — their first of the season — to open the second period, and a full two minutes to try to tie the game.
The Islanders didn’t convert the considerable possession they maintained during their 5-on-3 time, but they did finally pop one in with 30 seconds left on the 5-on-4. Zach Parise sent the puck to the net after some good cross-zone movement, and Palmieri drifted down to the backdoor to backhand the rebound in at 1:29.
Palmieri off the rebound! pic.twitter.com/4qzx6sdb1V— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 20, 2022
The Islanders then controlled the majority of play throughout the period, but their shots were muffed, went wide, or stopped by Hammond. Brock Nelson, Palmieri and Barzal were among those with good chances, but nothing was going in.
Then Sorokin left in a soft one late to let the Canadiens escape the period with a regained lead. With 1:11 left in the period, Anderson had the puck along the left-wing goal line and was afforded way too much time to assess his options. He waited patiently and watched Sorokin steal a glance to any passing options, then lean off his near post. Anderson potted it up high over Sorokin’s near-post shoulder.
That sent the Isles to the intermission again trailing by one, and a 1-1 draw on a period where they outshot the visitors 13-5.
The Islanders opened the third with a good forecheck by Zach Parise that fed a shot off the post by Pageau, which drew a brief cheer as the red light momentarily and incorrectly turned on. Hammond initially didn’t see the shot, but he had to react quickly as the puck next rolled along his leg pad while Josh Bailey tried to jam at the rebound.
That good start aside, the Isles uncomfortably traded chances for a while, pushing for the equalizer but also exposing themselves to counterattacks and neutral zone disruptions. Parise’s combo with Beauvillier wast the most successful in terms of generating chances, but like Parise’s entire season, it was always close but no paydirt.
In the final half of the period the Isles were getting more looks, but it was a transition play that finally paid off. Kieffer Bellows had a quieter period but another strong game overall as he attempts to take advantage of injuries and scratches to attain a continued spot in the lineup. And his subtle touch was key in getting the equalizer.
Taking a quick neutral zone up from Aho, Bellows deflected the puck up and past his defenseman. Brock Nelson was streaking through the neutral zone and got to that chipped puck first, and released a low shot before Hammond could get set.
Nelson’s tying goal came with 2:57 left, and they continued to press for a regulation winner with a few late chances. But Sunday afternoon OT and a breakaway drill was in the forecast.
It wan an eventful overtime, with the Canadiens having the better looks but the Isles having a mix of time where they held the puck too long but might have generated a chance if they’d gone for it. Beauvillier probably had the Isles’ best chance, shooting high on a 2-on-1 rush.
With the final seconds ticking down, Adam Pelech kept Nick Suzuki from getting a breakaway by hustling back to check the forward off the puck after the Isles exhausted their options in the offensive zone.
In the shootout, Beauvillier scored on a nice sweeping forehand-backhand move. But Caufield and Rem Pitlick each converted speedy moves on Sorokin, but Barzal and Nelson could not beat Hammond.
The Islanders have another western road swing, beginning Tuesday night in Seattle. Will all of these players still be on the roster by road trip’s end?