March 20, 2013

Isles Blow Golden Opportunity, Fall to Sens in Final Minute

For about 40 minutes everything was going extremely well for the Islanders as they appeared headed for another huge win in their attempt to propel themselves into playoff contention. Had the final 20 minutes gone any differently, we would be of a different mood.

But the third period pretty much went the worst way it could have possibly gone.

After building up a 3-1 lead thanks to Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Islanders once again found themselves flat-footed to start the frame and would give up an early goal. At this point, you knew what was going to inevitably come of that.

It didn’t take long to get the tying goal, even though Evgeni Nabokov made some nice saves as the Isles passive play got the better of them. But a team can only endure so many breakdowns in this league before you're going to find yourself in a whole lot of trouble for it. That trouble came in the form of a Sergei Gonchar broken stick, which sent the puck in a slightly different direction and Nabokov clearly not in any sort of position to stop the deflection from Zack Smith from getting by him.

For the rest of the period, the Islanders would pretty much play evenly with the Senators and even took the lead at one point when Keith Aucoin got the puck past Ben Bishop. However, he did so with his skate, and although it looked unintentional, the war room in Toronto felt otherwise and the goal was waived off.

Frustrations were high when Gonchar put the Sens ahead 4-3 with exactly one minute remaining. The Islanders had several chances to get even in that minute but Bishop stood strong and shut the door, allowing the Sens to ice the game with an empty netter with nine seconds left.

As far as losses go, this one leaves the sourest taste in our mouths. Howie Rose and Butch Goring referenced the game against Buffalo earlier in the season, and I agree with them - the feeling from this game was much worse.

The unfortunate part about it is that good games by some unlikely suspects have gone to waste. Okposo looked as good as he has in several months, making some nice plays to create scoring chances and goals for the Isles. Bailey fit into this category as well.

Aucoin, after struggling for a while before being banished to the press box for an extended period of time also had a strong game, his first since being inserted back into the line-up a couple of games ago.

And then there's Nabokov, who as usual looked strong for much of the game but was fighting a losing battle when his defensive support vanished in the final 20 minutes.

The movement on the powerplay was fine, and the Isles did get many good scoring opportunities from them. But after Visnovsky scored on one of the attempts, the powerplay softened a bit and became more lethargic as the game grew on. The team finished 1-for-6, and one has to wonder what tune we'd be singing today if they had just one more goal to play with.

What concerns everyone now is that this is a tough game to rebound from. Yes, losses like this do happen. But they are not good for a team in the Islanders position, which is fragile not only because of their position in the standings but because of the inexperience and lack of solid veteran support as far as skaters go.

The big question as we enter the back-to-back home games against Montreal and Pittsburgh: can the Isles get all four points? Because to seemingly have any shot of putting themselves in a solid position, they pretty much have to thanks to the massive 3rd period meltdown.

- Chris

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