Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Buffalo Soldiers: Montoya, Isles Edge Sabres 2-1

"You guys won yesterday. If you win again today, that's two games in a row. That's called a winning streak. It has happened before."

Indeed, the rumors are true: The New York Islanders are officially on a winning streak.

Not only did the Isles pick up their second-consecutive victory last night, they picked up their second-consecutive road victory, by defeating the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at First Niagara Center.

If you’re searching for the catalyst behind this team’s solid play over the last couple of games, look no further than Al Montoya, who “by far, over the course of the season, has been the Isles’ best and most consistent goalie,” as articulated by my good friend, Brad Kurtzberg (NYI Blog Box).

Montoya repelled 30 of the 31 pucks the Sabres threw in his direction. He thwarted a handful of point-blank scoring chances over the course of this game, not to mention that five-on-three barrage in the third period. The only goal he surrendered was the result of a lucky (and unexpected) bounce off an Islander skate that landed right on Jochen Hecht’s stick.

They only mustered a pair of markers, but New York’s offense was buzzing early and often. Jhonas Enroth was simply spectacular between the pipes for the Sabres, as John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Milan Jurcina learned (the hard way). The Islanders haven’t had a lot of games where they could roll four lines. They did last night in Buffalo.

Special teams was a major factor in this game, as it was a power play goal and a huge, momentum-shifting penalty kill that ultimately won it for the Islanders.

First, it was Matt Moulson scoring with the man-advantage in signature fashion; right place, right time. He was able to deflect Mark Streit’s bullet from the point for his eighth tally of the season.

P.A. Parenteau picked up his 13th assist and 16th point, while Streit was credited with his tenth helper, raising his point total to 12; not where we thought he’d be but, then again, this team has struggled to produce as a whole and his stats are therefore taking a hit. The captain is still on pace for a respectable 44 points (TSN.ca).

One guy who didn’t get any credit on the score sheet but quite possibly made that entire play was John Tavares, who’s no-look pass through his legs to Parenteau kept that drive going.

That goal obviously made a huge difference in the outcome of this game, which isn’t hard to figure out, given that the final score was 2-1. But it was the Isles’ Al Montoya’s incomprehensible performance during Buffalo’s five-on-three advantage that really tipped the scales. Caught in the crossfire, Al morphed into Patrick Roy (or so it seemed), and put up an impenetrable force field.


The Isles’ PK, minus one of their better penalty-killers in Jay Pandolfo, also did a nice job in supporting their goaltender, but make no mistake: If Montoya doesn’t shift into overdrive, the Sabres, at the very least, tie this hockey game.

Brian Rolston stuffed home his third goal of the campaign, off a relentless effort by that line (Rolston, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom) which produced a handful of scoring chances. Bailey and Ullstrom drew the assists, and for the latter, it was his first NHL point.

Another observation: While it’s nice to see Nino Niederreiter trying to use his size and finishing checks, he took it a bit too far last night when he decided to send Sabre forward Nathan Gerbe into the Islander bench.

The hit wasn’t the problem; it was the timing, which, needless to say, was pretty bad. Niederreiter was sent to the box for Interference, as he should’ve been. He’s young so it’s expected there’s going to be a learning curve, but the kid’s gotta learn to play with some more discipline on the ice. I’m not too concerned; he’ll learn as he gets more experience.

Niederreiter started to get involved in the offense last night, but he’s not quite there yet. Not surprising, considering he’s just getting back into the swing of things and he’s trying to develop chemistry with new (and not overly-talented) line-mates, which is both understandable and expected.

I thought the Islanders played well on defense last night, as they have over the last handful of games. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald continue to show they’re (for the most part) over that absolutely dismal start to the season. Certainly can’t complain about Mark Streit’s effort at both ends of the ice, either. Milan Jurcina was also solid and even got a few shots off.

The Isles are playing with confidence right now and they’re getting bounces and phenomenal goaltending. They need to ride this wave for as long as possible.


Comments are welcome.

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