The Montreal Canadiens limped into their matchup against a desperate New York Islanders, sporting a dismal 2-4-4 record in their last 10 games. Without the services of stars Shea Weber and Carey Price, the Canadiens opted to start new guy Mike Reilly on defence instead of David Schlemko, while Andrew Shaw made his return to the lineup from injury.
Montreal came out of the gates strong, out-shooting New York in the opening minutes of the frame as the Islanders struggled to get out of their own end. Despite all the offensive pressure the Canadiens managed to generate, it was the Islanders who would get on the board first.
Noah Juulsen couldn’t fend off a streaking Mathew Barzal, whose speed put the visitors up 1-0 just under four minutes into the game.
Brendan Gallagher attempted to respond for Montreal, charging to the Islanders net to create a scoring chance. Though he couldn’t score the tying goal, Gallagher’s drive gave the Canadiens their first power play of the night when a slashing call was called against Brandon Davidson.
Uncharacteristic sloppiness on the man advantage saw the Canadiens give up three short-handed breakaways, but Antti Niemi ensured that the Islanders didn’t capitalize on those opportunities. At the other end, Nikita Scherbak nearly evened it up for the home team but his shot hit the post to keep it a 1-0 game.
Just over halfway through the period, the Canadiens pounced on some sloppy defensive play by the Islanders. Artturi Lehkonen found Paul Byron through a sea of Islanders, and Byron made no mistake beating Jaroslav Halak to tie the game at one apiece.
New York would get another opportunity to regain its lead when Phillip Danault was given two minutes for slashing. The Canadiens’ penalty kill remained unfazed as the Islanders power play fizzled out, without putting any dangerous shots on net.
The second period began on a similar note, as Montreal quickly started taking advantage of New York’s defensive breakdowns. The Islanders’ shoddy play in their own end allowed the Canadiens to press, and it resulted in a power play for the home team when Cal Clutterbuck was sent off for hooking.
Jonathan Drouin made no mistake on the ensuing man advantage, blasting his 10th goal of the season past Halak to give the Canadiens their first lead of the game. Both Jeff Petry and Alex Galchenyuk collected assists on the power-play marker, as Montreal led 2-1.
New York nearly responded with a goal of their own, when Anders Lee got a great chance all alone in front, but Niemi made a terrific pad save to keep it a one-goal game.
Just over five minutes later, the Canadiens capitalized on some more poor coverage by the Islanders to increase their lead. Scherbak got on the scoreboard as he potted a pass from Gallagher to make it 3-1.
Realizing perhaps that they were still in the playoff hunt, the New York Islanders upped their efforts as the period wore on. A more desperate Islanders squad created more scoring chances as the second frame came to an end, but once again, they couldn’t get one past Niemi.
A questionable slashing call against Jacob de la Rose put Montreal down a man in the opening minutes of the third period. But the Islanders went 0-for-2 on the man advantage, as the Canadiens limited the visitors to shots from the perimeter and remained perfect on the penalty kill.
Midway through the period, Ryan Pulock nearly capitalized on a Byron turnover to create a breakaway. But he ran out of ice, and Niemi calmly turned aside his shot.
With just under 10 minutes left on the board, the Islanders entered the Canadiens’ zone in droves. Pushing for another goal, New York took a more physical approach as time continued to run out.
The Islanders would go on to pull Halak in a last-ditch effort to even up the game. But luck did not seem to favour the team in orange and blue, as John Tavares saw his stick break on his shot attempt. That would be all the Montreal Canadiens needed, as the home team skated away with a 3-1 win.
- Antti Niemi has quietly been putting up impressive numbers with the Canadiens. He made 28 saves and posted a .965 save percentage to help snap Montreal’s losing streak. Between making a timely save on Anders Lee in the second period, and not giving up a goal on not one, but three short-handed attempts, Niemi allowed the Canadiens to maintain their lead. All in all, he’s been putting up a solid outing with Montreal.
- Mistakes are to be expected from the younger members of the Canadiens, but for the most part the kids looked good against the Islanders. Though the team as a whole had difficulty generating more shot attempts then they gave up, several players did end up making the most of their opportunities. Nikita Scherbak in particular managed to get on the scoreboard despite having been bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, and being made a healthy scratch.
- To tank or not to tank, that is the question. This win against the Islanders increased the gap between the Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators. Montreal now has 58 points in 63 games to Ottawa’s 52 points in 62 games.This win, though encouraging, still puts the Canadiens further away from Rasmus Dahlin.