Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sabres 4, Islanders 3 (Shootout): Clock Strikes Midnight, Isles Falter

Last night's game was not a very good one for either team in the building.

Offensively and defensively, the Buffalo Sabres were all over the place. The Isles were a mess on defense too and, fortunately for them, Ryan Miller wasn't very good in the first period either.

New York took advantage of the Sabres' collective miscues and skated away with a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes of play, thanks to Frans Nielsen's three-point outburst (two goals, one assist) and Josh Bailey's tally, the result of a relentless effort by Irish Cream as an Isles' penalty was about to expire.

Though not officially a shorthanded marker, it was — for all intents and purposes — his third in the last seven games. Bailey has really started coming into his own lately and showing that he can be a real solid and effective two-way forward in this league.

Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit also picked up assists in the first period.

It's important to note that Buffalo outshot the Islanders 17-9 in the opening frame, their only goal coming from Nathan Gerbe, who was left all alone in front where an Isles' defenseman should have been.

Al Montoya, who was allegedly "horrendous" in this game, made 16 saves in the period and was the big reason why the Sabres weren't ahead, even with the three tallies the Islanders put on the board.

The ice was less tilted in the second, but yet another defensive breakdown allowed Derek Roy to cut the Isles' lead to 3-2 with just 1:19 to go in the period. Matt Martin and Patrick Kaleta exchanged fisticuffs, which gave the crowd some life.

I wish I could say it had the same effect on Martin's teammates, because what transpired afterwards suggests otherwise. The Islanders continued to be a wreck in their own zone throughout the remainder of the game, and that'd come back to burn 'em in the third period, when Paul Gaustad knotted the score at the 11:46 mark.

Travis Hamonic was drilled in the face with a shot and left the game. His exact status and condition is not yet known, the Islanders will, in all likelihood, make an announcement today or tomorrow. Let's hope Hammer's alright, he's a huge part of this team and the best defenseman on it.

The Islanders were given a glorious opportunity to win this hockey game in overtime, when Buffalo got nailed for having too many men on the ice with two minutes and change left in the extra session. New York's powerplay, ranked fifth in the NHL, got right to work and produced scoring chance after scoring chance, peppering Ryan Miller with nine shots.

The only problem is, Miller stopped every last one. I'm convinced that most other goaltenders in this league would not have come away unscathed on that powerplay and the Isles would've won.

Most goaltenders — a category Ryan Miller isn't generally part of.

Then came the shootout, where despite his efforts during the game itself, Al Montoya was not his sharpest, a performance (or lack thereof) that had many pointing their fingers at him when all was said and done. How quickly they forget that, in order to have a fighting chance in a shootout, you have to at least score too, which the Islanders did not do.

Jack Capuano broke one of those rules you're simply not supposed to for a reason. He didn't go with the hot goalie; in this case, Evgeni Nabokov. Still, Montoya was pretty solid between the pipes.

But don't kid yourselves. It is not Al Montoya's fault this team fell asleep on defense for the overwhelming majority of regulation time. It is not Al Montoya's fault the Isles blew a 3-1 lead and couldn't find a way. Was he dominant tonight? No, he wasn't. But he certainly gave the Islanders a chance to win and that's all you can really ask from your goaltender on most nights.

The Islanders were not very good in this game, to say the least. The fact that they were even able to escape with a point was a miracle. At the end of the day, taking three out of four points on back-to-back nights is nothing to complain about.

Having said that, these guys have their work cut out for them going forward. The New York Islanders need to regroup, before it's too late. Time is of the essence.

Comments are welcome.


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