The New York Islanders came out flat in their 3-1 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens Friday night but still managed to battle back and make a game of it with some determined effort and solid goaltending by Dwayne Roloson.
Benoit Pouliot scored the game winner for the Canadiens midway through the third period to break a 1-1 tie while Alex Auld made 30 saves in his first start of the season to earn the victory.
The Canadiens dominated the first half of the first period, taking nine of the first 11 shots on goal in the game. With Jon Sim in the penalty box for roughing, Tomas Plekanec scored his fifth goal of the season on a rebound from just outside the left side of the crease. Roloson lost an edge on his skate blade as he moved back to that side of the net and that helped give Plekanec plenty of room to shoot.
“It’s pretty hard to get back there, he put it up and I just lost an edge,” Roloson said.
The Islanders offense seemed to abandon the style of play that had made it so successful early in the season. Although the Isles outshot the Canadiens 31-26, they often tried to make perfect passes instead of going to the net to get “dirty goals.” This was especially true on the power play which finished the game 0-for-6 despite moving the puck well along the perimeter.
The solution to the problem was Matt Martin. The young forward, playing just his second game with the big club this season, tried to rally his club by hitting anyone in a white sweater. He finished the game with a team-leading eight hits. No other Islander had more than three.
“That’s why they brought me here,” Martin explained. “That’s my job and that’s what I have to do to stick. I’m a physical player and that’s one of my biggest attributes.”
Martin also crashed the net and it paid off with 3:15 remaining in the second period when he scored his first career NHL goal by tapping home the puck from the left side of the goal crease.
“The coaches tell me to get in front of the net, so that’s what I do,” Martin explained. “The goal feels great, but it would have been better if we won.”
Late in the second period, Martin also went toe-to-toe with Habs defenseman Hal Gill despite giving away roughly five inches in height at 58 pounds to his opponent.
Pouliot’s game winner came off an odd-man rush. Jeff Halpern was in on a 2-on-1 break and found Pouliot trailing the play. His snap shot from the right circle beat Roloson at the 7:19 mark of the third period.
“I was yelling at him to pass,” Pouliot said. “He did a great play and he heard me at the last minute when the ‘D’ closed up on him. It was a perfect pass.”
Isles Coach Scott Gordon was not pleased with his team’s backchecking on the play that led to Pouliot’s goal. “I’d say three guys had an opportunity to [check] the guy who ended up scoring the goal from the blue line to the red line area but we watched him.”
Travis Moen closed out the scoring with 1:49 left in the third period when he deflected home a hard screen shot by Brian Gionta from the right circle.
The Islanders hope to bounce back quickly when they return to action Saturday night to face the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Bruno Gervais made his first appearance of the season for the Islanders but played forward in place of healthy scratch Trevor Gillies. Gervais saw 6:08 of ice time and was credited with one shot on goal.
The Islanders sent forward Rob Schremp down to Bridgeport of the AHL for conditioning. Schremp has missed the entire season thus far with a back injury.
It was Auld’s first win over the Islanders since January 14, 2006.