December 24, 2014

Isles fall 3-1 to Habs; 23-11-0 at Holiday Break

The Islanders were looking for another five game winning streak to head into the break with, but the Montreal Canadiens stood in their way and provided one of the biggest tests the Isles have had in weeks when it comes to understanding how they stack up with the beasts of the East. Despite a nice start, the Habs build a small lead and the Isles comeback bid ultimately fell short.

The Islanders started off well, taking the first 11 shots of the game, and looked like they could be on their way to a 5th straight win. This would have been huge given the absence of Jaroslav Halak. It would have also given Chad Johnson something to boost his spirits after some rough appearances of late.

Johnson did not face many shots in the first period, which is something that can be seen as either good or bad. But in the end that didn't have much to do with anything. Despite giving up three goals on 21 shots, I thought Johnson looked solid and gave the Isles the chance they needed to win. Unfortunately, the team in front of him didn't bring their 'A' game.

The Isles did take a lot of shots on Carey Price, and he stopped all but one of those 38 shots. And in
Carey Price was sharp for Montreal. Photo by C. Hessel
the 3rd period some of those chances were from in tight. However there were plenty that were of the weaker variety and the Isles had trouble sustaining a lot of momentum and puck possession in the offensive zone.

Meanwhile, after the first period the Canadiens had no trouble setting up. The Islanders were doing more standing around and watching rather than going after the puck and Montreal was able to keep passing around at the perimeter, waiting for one of their players to cut towards the middle of the ice and finding the open man. The Isles in general did an OK job of using sticks to poke those chances away and often were the beneficiaries of pucks that flew just wide of the crease. But it was what Montreal knew they had to do in order to have success against a team like the Isles.

The Isles didn't get caught up in their forecheck, which was both good and bad. I thought it was smart they were putting some pressure on but retreating quickly more often than not because of how skilled in skating and passing this Montreal team is. However, after the first period there really was no dump-and-forecheck game and the Isles seemed more content with letting the Habs gain entrance into the neutral zone before attempting to regain control of the puck, which is not smart against a fast team. The Isles have speed of their own but didn't use much of it here and appeared to be a step slower than we are used to seeing them.

The Habs are not a large team and I felt Thomas Hickey had a few rough goes at it on the defensive end, getting knocked off the puck and even making one turnover when trying to clear the puck on the penalty kill. It didn't cost the Isles but is something we've seen a few times from him in recent weeks and is something that he has to be more mindful of.

Calvin de Haan blocked a shot by Sergei Gonchar from deep, but lost track of it and Brendan Gallagher gave the Habs their 2-1 lead after slapping home the loose puck, another blemish on de Haan's part and a play that took some of the life from the Isles for a spell until the 3rd period would come around. As a matter of fact it looked a lot like what we'd see in the old days from Andrew MacDonald.

The powerplay also disappointed once again. It aggravated Jack Capuano, and aggravated most of the Isles contingent that was part of yet another sell-out crowd at the Coliseum. I mentioned in my last post that I felt it was time for Doug Weight to flip to a new page in his book. Now it might be time for a completely new plan altogether. We can't even point to some good set-ups that the Isles had since they had all sorts of trouble even carrying the puck into the zone. Several times they turned the puck over at the blueline which allowed for some very easy clears. It's tough when you're dealing with a Candiens team that's faster than most others in the league. They are not big, but they are quick and excellent with this skates and sticks in clogging up lanes and more often than not this did the Isles in.

However, it wasn't all bad for the Isles. As mentioned earlier they did have some really nice shots in on Price even after Montreal finally woke up but he slammed the door. I mentioned in the last post that this was a nice test as Price would have been one of the better netminders the Isles will have had to face in recent weeks and he put on a show in Uniondale on Tuesday night.

Overall this is 'one of those games' a team faces after going on one of several prolonged winning streaks in the first part of a season. The Isles are sitting pretty so there's no cause for concern. But the lack of powerplay momentum along with a penalty kill that seems to have been more lucky than anything of late (how many times were they going to leave P.K. Subban open in the 3rd period?) is something that really needs to be looked at and if this team suddenly struggles will be the main culprits. If you want to be one of the best, you need to be one of the best at special teams and we can't say that for any of the units that the Isles are showcasing in these situations.

A 23-11-0 mark is fantastic nonetheless and gives the Isles a reason to hold their heads high this holiday season. This should be one of those games they shrug off and erase from memory as they enjoy time with their families before trekking up to Buffalo on Saturday, where old friend Ted Nolan actually has his club playing some decent hockey after an abysmal start to the season. The Isles truly need to avoid a letdown there.

On a closing note, I want to say Happy Holidays to all of you! Enjoy the time with your friends and family and get ready for the rest of this exciting season!

- Chris

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