They lose games they should win, and win games they should lose.
Save for the power play, forty minutes of tonight’s game were about as bad as the Isles have played all season. They were dominated in zone time, shots, scoring chances and lacked the desperation that you would expect of a team that is about to go belly up on a shortened season.
For the third time this season, the Isles gave up a goal on the first shot of the game (:49) according to Arthur Staple, when Travis Hamonic dropped off the puck behind the net for Andrew MacDonald who was muscled off by Colby Armstrong, who fed a wide open Travis Moen directly in front of Evgeni Nabokov. From there, it got worse.
The Canadiens would extend the lead on the first of two Max Pacioretty goals, this one on the power play with Lubomir Visnovsky in the box. On the play, both defenders (Mark Streit and Thomas Hickey) were down on the ice and the Canadiens had three men between the Isles defenders and the net.
The Isles finished the period with as many icings as shots (outshot 14-3) and they spent the majority of the period chasing in their own end, losing puck battles, waving sticks instead of skating and being out hustled everywhere. They did manage to carry a power play into the second when Lars Eller slashed Keith Aucoin at 19:29.
The Isles pulled within one just :34 seconds into the second period when Matt Moulson tipped a Mark Streit point shot past Carey Price for his first of the game. Despite the close score, Montreal continued to outpace the Islanders and regained their lead at 8:30 when Pacioretty got his second of the game when Josh Bailey turned the puck over behind the Isles net, Andrew Macdonald abandoned his net-front post to chase David Desharnais, and Travis Hamonic wasn’t able to rotate over to an uncovered Pacioretty to Nabokov’s right.
A few minutes later, Joe Finley tried to fire up the team by boarding Lars Eller, having a sweater square dance with Brandon Prust and yelling to the Isles bench. Unfortunately, it put the Canadiens on a power play.
The Isles power play struck again at 16:57 with Matt Moulson connecting on a feed from John Tavares from behind the Canadiens’ net to pull them back within one heading into the third period.
The Isles were able to control the third period as special teams threw the rhythm off early and the Canadiens were forced to ice the puck several times in the early going. Frans Nielsen scored the game tying goal off a beautiful zone entry, pull up and feed to a streaking Frans Nielsen who walked down the slot and beat Carey Price. It was an even strength goal (for a change) for two players that really needed to get going and provide some secondary scoring. If those two players can start to connect like they were late last season, this team may have a chance.
Regulation ended in a 3-3 tie, but the Isles carried all the momentum going into overtime. After some wide open exchanges between the teams, John Tavares carried into the Canadiens’ zone and fell, but managed to poke the puck to Grabner to the right of Price who fed Thomas Hickey who was left all alone on the other side of the net for the easy tap in. Big goal to score for the first of a career.
And so it goes.
Make no mistake, this game was bad, there was the impending doom sense for the majority of it, and the outcome should have been far worse. The random line combinations, the disinterested first two periods and the lack of any creativity in game planning (chip and chase, smart hard hockey etc.) are becoming commonplace and eroding the good will of the fanbase at this point. For all the talk of “passengers” in years past, there are far too many along for the ride right now.
Obviously, benching everyone who appears to be not playing up to par would leave them too shorthanded to even play a game, so what needs to be done at this point is anyone’s guess. Garth Snow indicated today that he was not going to be doing anything major in terms of a shakeup, but it’s apparent something needs to be done. Has coach Capuano lost the team? Have some players tuned out? How can they continue to come out and sleepwalk through large stretches of games lately?
Capuano indicated that he was proud of the team after the game. He shouldn’t be. They got lucky, and the thing with luck is, it turns on you quickly. Luck isn’t a strategy and it doesn’t motivate. It’s going to get late pretty early, and this team needs to figure it out soon or they can start lottery watching.