Let it be said that the New York Islanders were more than ready for the start of tonight’s game, especially impressive since it started a half hour earlier than most home games.
The Islanders badly needed a regulation win and two points, and not to waste another brilliant Ilya Sorokin masterpiece. They controlled the run of play basically all night, aside from a couple of stretches early in the third period. They generated over three expected goals at five-on-five. They still scored only two goals and none after the first advertising break in the game. But they pulled out the win.
To his credit, Sam Montembeault kept the Canadiens in the game after giving up the two early goals. However, Sorokin is a tough opponent at the other end of the ice, and the Islanders are lucky to have him. He got just enough support tonight.
Better yet, the Islanders got basically all positive results on the out-of-town scoreboard, but more on that below in Notes and Thoughts.
On the opening shift, Brock Nelson and Simon Holmstrom entered the zone two-on-one. Nelson kept all the way and skated into the slot wide open, but Sam Montembeault came up with the puck. The new Barzal line had a strong first shift as well, and the traditional fourth line followed up with a goal. They got the puck deep and forechecked, requiring Montembeault to clear it up the wall. Noah Dobson received the clear at the blue line, found a lane, and snapped it toward the net where Casey Cizikas had been crashing to tip the puck through Montembeault’s legs. 1-0 good guys.
The Islanders took a 2-0 lead before the first commercial break. They didn’t relent and kept the puck in the offensive zone for most of that stretch, forcing Montembeault to be sharp. Drawing an offensive zone face-off, J-G Pageau won the puck back to Scott Mayfield, fresh off his own cut-in try. Mayfield fired the puck toward Montembeault, and he made the initial save off his shoulder but conceded a friendly rebound to Québecois Anthony Beauvillier. 2-0 Isles.
Coming out of the break with an Islanders’ defensive zone draw, the Habs jumped on the Islanders, and Ilya Sorokin had to make a big save on Nick Suzuki. Shortly thereafter, Kirby Dach hooked Alex Romanov, giving the Islanders the first power play of the night. The first unit looked good, actually attempting to shoot. I counted four attempts, two of which (both from Mathew Barzal) reached Montembeault for big but un-taken-advantage-of rebounds. The second unit didn’t look quite as good, and neither unit scored, but it wasn’t the momentum killer that the power play usually is and actually led to some dangerous zone time for the Lee-Barzal-Nelson supergroup—Lane, don’t be afraid to line them up together when you need a goal, please.
Cizikas entangled with Jesse Ylonen and left the ice shaken, so Pageau hopped over the boards in his place and led a two-on-one with Cal Clutterbuck. Pageau opted to pass to Clutterbuck, and Clutterbuck lifted the puck over the net. Cizikas stepped into the tunnel area but didn’t go all the way down and appeared to be okay. It seemed like he thought he was cut, but he never left the bench.
Near the end of the period, on yet another two-on-one rush came Anders Lee and Holmstrom. Lee kept it and made Montembeault make the save. A couple of minutes later, David Savard, of all people, dropped quite the deke around BLANK and found space to shoot at Sorokin, who made a solid save and allowed the Islanders to clear. And then in the final minute, Joel Edmundson got the puck over to Dach cutting in uncovered, but Sorokin snagged it.
With just about two seconds left in the period, there was a center-ice faceoff between Nelson and Jake Evans, who battled on the opening faceoff and later on in the period, too. Well, they battled on this draw, and Nelson landed awkwardly on Evans’ leg. Evans could put no weight on the leg. The clubs went to intermission with the Islanders leading 2-0.
Over the first few minutes of the period, the Isles and Canadiens traded some chances, but the pace was much less frenetic. Sorokin made a couple of strong saves, as did Montembeault, and then Cizikas got called for a pretty weak slashing call. The Islanders killed it off, fortunately. Mayfield and Christian Dvorak exchanged shoves and tangos, and it appeared they were going for two and two, but then neither went into the box.
However, they went right back on the kill because Hudson Fasching got called for a trip, although the replay showed that his adversary stepped on his stick. The Islanders killed that one off, too. Neither Montreal power play felt threatening, and the Islanders were able to lead a rush the other way. Beauvillier, always loving to play his hometown team, fired hard on Montembeault to force a rebound that came out to Dobson, but Montembeault stopped that, as well.
The officials whistled down play, as it appeared that Fasching had drawn a tripping call after taking one, but it turned out that he stepped on the puck. The refs gathered and made the right call of no penalty. In response, Sebastian Aho went coast-to-coast and fired on Montembeault, and the resulting pressure forced the Habs to ice it. Lamber sent the Barzal line over the boards, and they generated the first offensive zone pressure in a while for the Islanders. That being said, they weren’t playing poorly; they were limiting chances against and still outshot the Canadiens.
In the opening seconds of the period, Suzuki led a two-on-one and fed Ylonen, but the pass was behind him. Had he connected, it would have taken a hell of a Sorokin save to keep the puck out. He then made an excellent save a minute later. Montembeault responded with a great stop on a breakaway for Beauvillier.
The Islanders got a power play when Jordan Harris was called for interfering with Lee, though I initially thought the ref was calling Savard for holding Nelson’s stick. That power play looked more like an Islanders power play. The only danger occurred when Edmundson’s stick broke, and the Islanders did try to take advantage, but never really came close.
Predictably, that led to a Montreal goal. After Lee nearly tipped a point shot past Montembeault, the puck went back toward the Islanders zone. Romanov was guilty of another weak clear, this one into the neutral zone but to no one in particular, and Mayfield whiffed on Suzuki’s re-entry move. It was pretty, and it was a play worthy of beating Sorokin. The Islanders still led 2-1 and reenergized their offensive efforts.
Over various points of the third period: Fasching started and led a rush, but his shot was turned wide; Barzal also had a turnaround backhand chance from down low, but Montembeault got that one; Beauvillier centered Fasching from behind the net, but Montembeault robbed him; Matt Martin forced a turnover in the offensive zone and got the puck to Nelson in the slot, but Montembeault wiped that away.
Martin St. Louis waited until the final minute to get his top skaters on the ice and pull Montembeault despite having the puck in the Isles’ zone, though that may have to do with having only ten forwards for two periods. Defending five-on-six, Dobson did well to block and send out of play a Suzuki shot with his stick blade. Montreal called timeout, and Mayfield got the soft clear to prevent an icing whistle. The Habs brought it back, and Cizikas cleared. Clutterbuck extinguished the final rush with a poke-check. Exhale.
Notes and Thoughts
- Great tip by Cizikas, and great game by Beauvillier. Beau always plays well against the Canadiens, his hometown team.
- Ilya Sorokin. What more do I need to say?
- I agree with Isles fans that Lee-Barzal-Nelson needs to be used more. I suppose there is a balance to be straddled: If they get used too frequently, teams will start to notice and gameplan, probably reducing their effectiveness together; but on the other hand, if they use them too sparingly, thinking that “tonight isn’t the right night for it,” and then they lose, well, Lane’s going to hear from me. We didn’t see it after the one amazing rush they had in the first period, and we probably could have used the supergroup once Montreal broke through. But they pulled it out.
- In the second period, Brendan Burke dropped a Celebrity Jeopardy Burt Reynolds/Turd Ferguson joke when they showed a kid in a big hat. I don’t know if Butch understood the reference—didn’t sound like it—but if you’re reading this, Brendan, iunderstoodthatreference.gif.
- It was Mike Bossy Legends Night. They had a nice tribute video and welcomed his whole family, and allowed them to promote their lung cancer foundation. His daughter spoke with the broadcast at intermission.
- Looking around the Metro and Eastern Conference: The Capitals (to the Flyers), the Penguins (to the Hurricanes), and the Red Wings (to the Blue Jackets) all lost in regulation. The Panthers held on to top the Canucks. The Sabres game is still going on, but they’re tied with Nashville in the third.
- With all of that, the Islanders are back in a playoff spot, though the Penguins have two games in hand and would be the final wild card by points percentage. Still, the Isles are also now only three points behind the Caps with a game in hand heading into Monday’s showdown. A regulation win would put them one point behind with one game in hand. I tell ya, the ups and downs of this playoff race are going to kill me. But I love it, and I missed it a lot after the race was over in November last year.
The homestand is more than half over, and the Islanders are 1-1-1. The fourth of five games is Monday night, hosting the Washington Capitals. It’s the first of four meetings with Washington, and the Isles are battling them for a playoff spot. It’s a 7:30 p.m. start. It’s going to be a big game.