The Islanders took their usual road trip to play both Florida area teams this weekend, one which generally has given them headaches over the past few seasons. The Isles were able to walk away with a split of the weekend back-to-back series.
Given that Evgeni Nabokov signed to stay on the Island at least through next season, Al Montoya will likely get his fare share of chances to prove his worth to the New York Islanders and the rest of the NHL. For Montoya, that started on Saturday in Tampa Bay.
Montoya stated after the game he "couldn't come up with the saves" that he wanted to. Early on he made a few nice ones, but ultimately wasn't tested very much throughout the entire game. In fact it wasn't until later in the third period where the Lightning started to pepper Montoya more and break through him, getting four goals on 26 total shots when it was all over.
Naturally, a tough loss wouldn't be without an underlying story. For the Islanders, it was a couple of old friends who defeated them. Dwayne Roloson, who has been generally miserable this season after a phenomenal run last year as a 41 year old, made 34 saves on the 37 shots the Islanders threw at him. There were multiple odd man rushes and he was saved by the post a few times, but he made his fare share of big stops.
The Winning goal for the Lightning was scored by Tim Wallace. After getting only one point - an assist - through 31 games with the Isles this season Wallace found himself on waivers where he was claimed by the Lightning. He now has three goals and five points in 12 games down there, with his latest goal being the biggest one thus far. Clearly Wallace showed plenty of emotion in scoring the game winner against his former team.
The good news from the Islander's side though is that they didn't go down easy. Tampa blew a lead, which is something that's happened to them countless times this season. The Isles got three unanswered goals to take the lead, until a few breakdowns in the third period led to another close defeat.
The Islanders didn't have much time to dwell on it, however, as they had to get ready for a 5 PM start on Sunday against the Florida Panthers. This game had a little bit more importance to it, however.
The Islanders are poised to play the role of spoilers down the stretch, and unlike the Lightning, the Panthers are playing for a whole lot, like the division lead for example.
The way that the Southeast Division has gone this year, every team has given up more goals than they have scored. It seems that any team that's in second place in the division find themselves in 9th, and on the outside looking in, in the conference standings.
The Panthers were able to get a point out of the game against the Islanders, but that's all that the team would yield. The Washington Capitals gained a point with their win over Minnesota.
In contrast to the game in Tampa, Sunday's game didn't have as much flow early on. But when both teams settled in, the Panthers got a lot of shots in on Nabokov. Nabokov stopped all but one. Meanwhile, on the other end Jose Theodore did what he's done on most nights this year and stood on his head. Both goalies were sure to flash the leather multiple times.
The Islanders were finally able to break through on Theodore, with Matt Moulson notching yet another goal for his 33rd on the season. After play resumed in the third, the Panthers got on board but Kyle Okposo quickly answered for the Islanders, leaving the Panthers to regroup and try and figure out a way to ensure they got some kind of point out of the game.
The Panthers played the last few minutes fairly conservatively, obviously aware of the fact that the Islanders were beginning to gain control and that the Capitals were putting the finishing touches on their victory.
The game went all the way to a shootout, where the Isles have done some damage this year. Frans Nielsen scored on the backhand move, which surprisingly looked like it fooled Theodore a bit. This goal was all the Islanders would need as Nabokov was perfect through them.
For the Islanders, it was their second win in the past 11 games in Sunrise. Anytime you can win in a building that gives you a hard time, and create some havoc on someone's playoff race (when you aren't in one yourself, of course) then you can take the silver lining out of that.
Overall, the Islanders had two solid efforts with different outcomes. The defense wasn't as good Sunday as it was on Saturday, but the goaltending of Nabokov gave the Islanders yet another strong chance to win a game. As mentioned earlier, it's definitely making Montoya's job harder, and he has his work cut out for him in his quest to gain an NHL role somewhere next season.
The Islanders will be back at it on Tuesday, with the first part of a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins as we enter the final two weeks of the season.