When Butch Goring says of Al Montoya, “There’s no doubt about who’s the number one man now” [sic], there’s a good chance he can no longer be lumped in with the rest of the three goaltending heads. He was again stellar making 30 saves and was absolutely clutch in bailing out his team on a third period five on three for 1:34.
The Big Cubano is the only goaltender on the roster with a winning record right now at 4-3-1 and has a 2.07 GAA and .933 save percentage…in his last three outings, he is 1.35/.950. It is of course a small sample size, but it’s the only one there is to go on. He should start until he can’t.
Tonight was a nice balanced effort by all of the lines. The first line got things started in the first. With Paul Szczechura in the box for high-sticking Marty Reasoner, John Tavares was able to dig a puck out of the corner to the right of Jhonas Enroth and pass back to PA Parenteau who fed Mark Streit at the left point. Streit put one toward the net that Matt Moulson deftly deflected in for his 8th of the season.
Fireworks started a little while later when Nino Niederreiter lined up wee little Nathan Gerbe for a monster hit. The unfortunate part was that Gerbe didn’t have the puck and Nino left his feet a bit and basically knocked Gerbe into the Isles bench. He was not happy. This touched off a tilt between Matt Martin and Zack Kassian with a bunch of punches thrown for both parties. Martin was able to get Kassian’s sweater over his head and he was somehow able to Rob Ray his way out of the rest of his gear. The bout ended in a draw, with no extra misconduct for Kassian’s clothing malfunction and the Sabres ended up with the power play. The facewash undercard of Nino/Gerbe was a treat to watch…very David/Goliath and Nino really didn’t look like he knew what to do.
One has to wonder if the cries for physicality and toughness are really the right move for him in particular while he is trying to adjust to the speed of the game. The last thing you want him doing is “overdoing” things to avoid the healthy scratch.
The second period was the sloppy period of the game. There were a couple of scoring chances for both sides, and in particular, the Grabner/Nielsen/Okposo continued to create quality scoring chances they fell just short of cashing in on. The Isles carried their 1-0 lead into the third.
In the third, the Isles started lethargically and let the play come to them with some weak skating and poor zone clearance that allowed Jochen Hecht to tie the game at 1-1 at 1:54. Jason Pominville sent a weak shot toward the net that deflected off Andrew MacDonald’s skate and into the slot that landed on Hecht’s stick who beat Montoya. It was unclear who’s responsibility Hecht was, but Nino was the closest to the area and he whiffed on the coverage.
This time, the Isles roared back. At about 4:45, John Tavares had a shift that is something Islander fans haven’t seen in a long time. He skated through the majority of the Sabres zone, dodging hits, bouncing off hits by Christian Ehrhoff while putting the puck between their skates and digging it away from the boards. It may have been the momentum that the team needed as each line seemed to generate pressure and feed off of it.
Soon after JT’s shift, Kyle Okposo hit his first post in a couple of weeks…so he looks to be officially back! Then Tavares hit a post and Moulson just pushed the rebound wide while crashing the net with reckless abandon. But for the second game in a row, both Josh Bailey and Brian Rolston would figure in the scoring. Bailey, initiated a hard working forecheck against two Sabres behind Enroth’s net and dug the puck free to David Ullstrom who found Rolston in front for the five-hole backand. It was the first NHL point for Ullstrom.
The Isles continued to skate and apply backchecking pressure for most of the rest of the period and were particularly impressive during the five on three which saw Josh Bailey and Mark Streit in the box (Bailey on a relatively weak call for kneeing) and we saw Travis Hamonic leave the ice after taking a shot off his hand. Again, Montoya was unbelievable and was arriving in spots to block shots with an efficiency and purpose. He was square and in control and the penalty killers looked to be freer to pressure puck carriers rather than to collapse.
- It’s funny how you can go from losers of ___ of___ games to “the Islanders have points in three of their last four games” in the NHL overtime system isn’t it?
- We really need to not see so much Jurcina/Mottau with a one goal lead with under five minutes left in the game. Any pairing on the ice must include at least one of MacDonald, Hamonic, or Streit.
- It looks like there is some emerging line balance . Lets hope that continues to grow. Bailey looks like a new man since he’s been working with Ullstrom and Rolston.
- Hamonic and Amac had four blocked shots a piece. That type of stuff is contagious.
- This looked like the best full team effort of the season.
- Tavares is generating a ton of chances. The goals and points will come. Even if they don’t come, it’s probably no coincidence that the other lines are starting to get more chances too. When he is working like that, other teams still have to deploy their best against him.
- Michael Grabner needs to finish a couple of more of those breakaways…please! I can’t beat a guy up too much who generates things most other people cant even come close to generating, but man, if he could just get a couple more.
- Christian Ehrhoff….phhht. I dodn’t think he did much tonight, but seriously, after looking, the guy played 32:48 (Jordan Leopold left the game early). Ahh, impressive and not impressive at the same time.
Next up, the Blackhawks on Friday….let’s do this thing.