The Islanders come into tonight's game against the 1st place Montreal Canadiens with something to prove to themselves and their fans. That their head coach is viable and they are disciplined enough to take the next step in their evolution. Thats a tall order, but I will be cheering them on.
Forwards: Moulson-Tavares-Boyes, Bailey-Nielsen-Aucoin, Grabner-Reasoner-Okposo, Martin-Cizikas-McDonald.
Defensive Pairings: Finley-Streit, Hickey-Visnovsky, MacDonald-Hamonic.
Evgeni Nabokov gets the start in net with Rick DiPietro dressing as back up.
In the first period, Mark Streit put a pass deep in Montreal's zone, behind the defense for a 1 on 1 with Price. Advantage, Price. Good start to the game for the Isles. Moen scores for the Habs after a giveaway from Hamonic, 1-0 Montreal on their first shot of the game. The defense really needs to communicate better. Per Arthur Staple, "3rd time this season Isles opponent has scored on 1st shot against -- occurred 10 times last season." Eric Hornick adds, "2nd time in 3 games Isles have allowed goal in first minute." I blame the preparedness and mindset of the Islanders. Coach Capuano does not have this team dialed in once again. Nabokov has fought off shooters well so far. The Canadiens have been clicking, especially in the Isles zone. Pacioretty takes advantage on the PP, Isles D out of position and its 2-0 Canadiens. Motreal out shooting Islanders by a 15-2 margin and have dominated play thus far. Brian Compton points out the Islanders have only 1 goal in the last 140 minutes of game play.
The Isles to start period with a PP, and Matt Moulson (Streit and Visnovski) deflects it past Price. 2-1 Montreal. Islanders starting to look better with the puck. A turnover by the Hamonic in the Isles zone results in another Montreal score. 3-1 Canadiens. Travis Hamonic and D partner, MacDonald has been off for the last three games. As crazy as it sounds, I think he should be scratched. He needs to refocus. Isles take advantage of a PP, Moulson scores (Tavares) to make it 3-2 Montreal. Despite the 28-13 shots advantage and 5 on 5 Montreal control, the Islanders are not giving up. John Tavares brings this team hope each and every game with his effort. Per Eric Hornick, the Isles now have 12 PP goals in last 11 games, even though they actually have 0 PP goals in 7 of them.
The third period starts with penalties for both teams, only seconds apart. That kills a crucial PP chance for New York. Montreal called for another penalty. Isles get a :53, 4 on 3 PP chance. Nothing gained. Isles on 5 on 4 PP. Nothing there either. Big opportunity missed by the Isles. John Tavares continues to struggle in the faceoff circle, 14/21. Montreal icing the puck 6 times in the first 8+ minutes of the third period. Nielsen works it out of the Isles zone to Aucoin, Bailey back to Nielsen with a wrist shot to beat Price, game tied at 3-3 with about 10 minutes remaining. Islanders kill a big PP chance for the Canadiens. Casey Cizikas being creative on the PK, clearing the puck. Visnovsky gets called for interference with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game. Isles kill the penalty, get a point and force Overtime. Emelin cross checks J.T. to the elbow and Tavares coasts to the bench in pain. Looks to be better now. Montreal outshot Isles 32-23 in the 1st 3 periods.
In O.T., both teams trade chances early. Thomas Hickey scores (John Tavares -from laying on the ice, Michael Grabner) and wins it in overtime for the Islanders! It's Hickey's first NHL goal. The win puts the Islanders 3 points out of 8th position in the eastern conference.
The Islanders' lacked physicality, a defensive pressence and a reliable and calming influence behind their bench, and it showed early in the game. The Isles STILL need a stronger effort 5 on 5 and can not spot these early leads to strong defensive teams. Eric Hornick notes, Isles are 1-5-1 when trailing after 2; 2-31-2 last season.
The Islanders strong PP efforts are a good positive to focus on with this team. John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Frans Nielsen, Casey Cizikas, Mark Streit, Thomas Hickey and Evgeni Nabokov had particularly strong efforts tonight. The defense, led by Streit, added to the offensive rush tonight as the game went on. It showed as well.
I also still say we can get excited about the AHL call ups. Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, John Persson, Brock Nelson, Kirill Kabanov, Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan deserve a serious look soon. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson deserve one as well. And don't forget Anders Lee. The organization really does have the depth, they just need a few tweaks right now.
Lets hope the coaching changes. That is the biggest problem holding them back right now. Say what you will, they have a lot of the pieces already. I still contend they are 1 Offensive and 1 Defensive free-agent player from a competitive line up. The Islanders will get there Isles fans. It has and will take longer than it needs too, but they should/will contend by next season and Brooklyn will only help things improve.
Per Eric Hornick, Tuesday's game against Ottawa was DiPietro's 14th gm since fite w Brent Johnson in 2011. He's allowed 3+ goals in 13 of them, and had a save % >900 only 2x.
On February 20th, the Islanders retired Billy Smith's #31.
Per NHLhistorygirl, In 16 years of playing in the NHL, Isles Billy Smith was pulled from a game only once because of injury.
Per nhlfreeagents.com, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins released former Isles (D) Mark Eaton from pro tryout contract.
The Islanders will be on NBC for a game at the NVMC vs. the Carolina Hurricanes @ 7PM.
*** I will most likely miss covering the Buffalo and Carolina games. I will try and get updated by early next week.***
Lindy Ruff has been fired as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
Brian Compton adds, Isles have had 12 head coaches since Lindy Ruff was hired by the Sabres.