When you go to the net, good things happen. Ditto for hustling to loose pucks.
The Islanders had a good grasp of this concept on Thursday night against Montreal. Three of their four goals were scored by either crashing the net or winning battles for loose pucks.
One of the flaws in the Islanders' games this season has been their inability to be able to win battles for loose pucks. But against Montreal, more often than not the team won those battles.
"It's something we preach every game," Capuano said after when I asked if it was something they focused on more heading into this game. Montreal has a banged up defense that has had a bit of trouble containing the puck around their own net. Simply putting more pressure on and crashing the crease was going to lead to good opportunities.
Mike Mottau had a forgettable time on the ice, making two bad plays on two consecutive shifts to let Montreal back into the game. Mottau would get benched in the third period. Capuano was quite frank about the situation, telling us that he "went with a short bench." Sounds like Mark Eaton has his ticket back into the line-up.
Speaking of the line-up, many folks were surprised that Kyle Okposo sat out for a second straight game instead of Josh Bailey. After Tuesday night's game, I explained why it would have made sense for Okposo to sit out a second time given how they handled Blake Comeau's benching last month. When you think about the fact that Okposo has looked even more lost than Comeau did when he was benched, to me the answer seemed simple - keep Kyle out one more game. Meanwhile, we got to see Bailey make a real nice pass to Jay Pandolfo on the second goal. Bailey still has a long way to go, but that play illustrated all that can still be good with him.
The lack of speed on the team was abundantly clear on some of the rushes that Montreal had. The Islanders did a good job of catching up with them, but must find ways to adjust to faster teams if there are no plans to increase team speed by bringing in someone from the outside.
Evgeni Nabokov injured his groin, allowing for Rick DiPietro to get into his first action since beating Washington at home back on November 5th. DiPietro did a really good job of stepping in cold and made some nice saves on tough shots late in the game. The first two Montreal goals can be attributed to misplays by Mottau. The third Canadiens goal, a power-play goal, was scored when all of the Islanders' PKers moved towards one side of the slot, with Brian Rolston caught in no-mans-land and leaving Brian Gionta wide open for two chances to put the puck past DiPietro.
When the Isles were on, they really took it to the Canadiens. Unfortunately, they let their foot off the gas a couple of times and Montreal was able to maintain puck possession for a decent amount of time at certain points, like just after P.A. Parenteau opened up the scoring. Yes, it was nice to finally have a bounce go your way but that in no way means that you can ease up a little bit. There are still some holes here and there with the Isles strategy, but this game in addition to the Rangers effort shows that it's getting there, and hopefully works itself out sooner rather than later.
All in all it was a good night where the Isles gave their fans something to cheer about. Travis Hamonic told me after that this felt like the kind of game where the team finally played like they know they could. We'll see if they put forth a similar effort for Ed Westfall night on Saturday against the Boston Bruins.