The New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens concluded their season series with the Canadiens taking the final third game by a score of 4-2 and sweeping the regular season 3-0. For the Islanders, it was good to get these games over in November than have to play the Canadiens in March or April while still in the playoffs race. For Montreal, it’s more separation from other teams in their division and a message to the NHL that they’re making another serious run for the Cup this year. But this series will also shed some light on what the Islanders can do to improve the hockey club and make a stronger push to the playoffs so if they have to meet Montreal in the playoffs, they’ll be better prepared.
The Islanders current record is 10-8-3, good for a 90 point pace. Now consider that out of the 8 losses, 3 have come from the Canadiens, all this month. The Canadiens are on pace for 127 points and are in the top 3 in the NHL behind Dallas and the Rangers. The Islanders have lost all six games to Atlantic Division teams so far this year. The Islanders averaged 2 goals a game against Montreal, which is just below the average of Montreal gives up a game at 2.23. So the Isles have scored about what every other team have been able to do so far this year. The Montreal has a 3.55 goals against average and they ended up scoring thirteen goals in three games with three of those goals as empty netters. So by the numbers, it was business as usual for the Canadiens. The real sticking point once again for the Islanders was the power play. Similar to last years playoff run when the Isles didn’t score on the man advantage, the Islanders went 0-11 on the powerplay. In any kind of series, if you can’t score on a powerplay chance, it’s going to be a long series like Islanders fans experienced.
So with the Islanders only relying on a 5-on-5 game, unless the Isles would win a game or two, the defensive numbers don’t look so good. For the exception of Travis Hamonic, who ended the series with a +3 and Nick Leddy with a +1, the rest of the defense took a hit. Was it a bad defensive game? Not all can be blamed on them really. In the second game, Jaro Halak did not have his stuff and gave up 3 goals in one period, while throughout the series the Islanders never got any secondary scoring except for Anders Lee midway through the third period of last nights game. Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson (2) were your only goal scorers. It’s going to be a tough night when your team is just one line.
Should there be a blame game? I don’t think so, maybe Halak in the Brooklyn game. We saw another puck go in the net thanks to another broken stick (Bailey), we had the referee become a physical influence in the first game and when you’re a hot team like Montreal, the puck bounces your way. The Islanders are still tinkering after 20 games, still trying to get players to mesh. It’s even more clear now that Hamonic has requested a trade. Can the Islanders rebound from this? Sure, there’s plenty of time in the season to get things fixed, but if you were to ask me after watching them play the Canadiens: Can the Islanders get past the first round? My answer is no, for the same glaring issues that haunted them last year. Let’s see how they play against teams they should beat this time around.