The New York Islanders concluded a disappointing five-game homestand with a very predictable 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. For the month of January, they fall to 2-5-2, which is no way to run a wild card race.
The Isles started well and the game was close through the first half, but the Bruins steadily clamped down, cold and machine-like, as they’ve done against just about everybody this year. They are so consistent and impressive, wielding an .841 points percentage, it’s a shame they employ recidivist weasel Brad Marchand.
The Islanders brought a lineup shakeup into the game — because why not? — giving William Dufour his NHL debut at age 20 and Dennis Cholowski his first game with the Isles after both were recalled from AHL Bridgeport. Cholowski took a regular shift next to Ryan Pulock, but Dufour’s debut ended at the halfway point after a goal against.
The home stand ends at 1-2-2, which is way too little to show for this stretch, characterized by offensive struggles and a power play that shoots nothing but blanks.
First Period: Another decent start
The Islanders started on the front foot and were tight on their forechecks and backchecks. It was a good start, they were clearly up and ready for this game, and they earned a power play — their favorite momentum killer — at 2:02 as Sebastian Aho drew a crosscheck from David Pastrnak.
You know the story: the power play had some looks but no close threats, two minutes gone and now time to reset the 5-on-5 momentum.
But despite the failed power play, there was not a dropoff in play and it continued to be a good period for the Isles. They killed off their lone shorthanded stint on an offensive zone penalty to Hudson Fasching (who, incidentally, was part of that good opening stretch but inexplicably passed up a golden shooting opportunity).
A few minutes later they opened scoring on a really nice breakout and rush. J-G Pageau found Aho over the blueline; Aho rushed toward the end line before slamming on the breaks and finding Zach Parise in stride. Parise’s one-timer wasn’t blistering but was shot on-end and well placed to find the gap between Linus Ullmark’s trapper and pad.
That was at 15:41, and the Isles kept up the good work through the rest of the period, earning another power play to not score on with 1:44 to play.
With two Islanders power plays, one early and one late, Dufour had five mostly uneventful shifts totaling 3:12 in the first period of his NHL career. Cholowski, making his Isles debut in place of Parker Wotherspon, logged eight shifts in the period, including some time on the second PP unit.
Second Period: The league leaders assert themselves
Surely we needn’t record that the the remainder of that power play expired without a goal, no? It is the way of things.
The second period resumed where the first left off, competitively, but the Bruins started to get themselves some more sustained zone time. Befitting the hold the Bruins have established on every foe, the ice started to tilt steadily. The Isles’ looks were reduced to one-offs, and many rush attempts were extinguished in the neutral zone. Pageau had a nice chance on a breakaway forged by his speed on the counterattack, but after his move he lost the handle and didn’t get a shot off.
One of the Bruins’ better stretches of possession resulted in an equalizer at 7:48. The Bruins cycled, Matt Grzelcyk circled the zone and found Charlie McAvoy for the one-timer. Dufour appeared to get the slightest piece of the shot on the block attempt, and that might have altered the path slightly upward — regardless, it found a gap between Semyon Varlamov’s blocker and pad.
Just over three minutes later, the Bruins took the lead on an innocent play. A shot from distance settled on Varlamov’s right leg pad, then dropped behind him in the crease. Derek Forbort beat Varlamov to the loose puck and shuffled it over the line.
With four minutes left, Aho drew another penalty. Instead of wasting the whole two minutes, Brock Nelson put the teams at 4-on-4 with a roughing penalty 25 seconds into the power play. The 4-on-4 play actually opened up a couple of opportunities for the Isles, though they were mainly solo efforts with shots from outside.
Dufour had just three shifts in the middle period, none after the 11:00 mark and McAvoy’s goal. Perhaps he was slow on the point coverage on that goal, but burying him afterward is, well, it’s a choice. Lot of good it did.
Third Period: In accordance with the prophecies
The had an early power play thanks to a rare penalty on Patrice Bergeron, but you know how that went. The Bruins had more of the puck for the first half; the Isles’ second unit at least maintained extended possession and got some point shots, but at no point did anyone in the building rationally think an Isles power play goal was imminent. Forbert did his part in blocking three immensely blockable Isles point shots.
Marchand then drew a penalty on Aho, conveniently diving into Varlamov after Aho reached into the crease. Just a few seconds into the Bruins power play, Bergeron had to leave the ice after a crazy carom sent the puck right into his face.
But losing Bergeron didn’t hurt them — and Parise losing his stick hurt the Isles. With Parise’s twig broken, the Bruins moved the puck around the zone to set up Marchand for an easy one-timer and reward for his timely encounter with Varlamov. The Bruins led 3-1 with 15 minutes to go; that’s game, isn’t it?
The Islanders got another power play soon after, when Anders Lee was tripped in the neutral zone. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Parise had the best chance(s) over the next stretch, deflecting one off the post and battling madly for the rebound to no avail.
Noah Dobson went to the box at 12:38 after a hard crosscheck on Pastrnak as the he streaked down the left wing. The Isles killed that, but the Bruins added another insurance goal on a pretty play down low to Trent Frederic with just over four minutes to go.
The Isles are right back at it tomorrow night in Buffalo against the Sabres, a mercifully more beatable opponent.