Before this afternoon’s game at Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres had already met twice in the month of January. Both contests ended well for the Isles; 5-3 on the 15th and 5-2 on Friday.
Perhaps, then, they were a bit overconfident at the opening faceoff, costing them a goal 15 seconds in that began the downfall to a 5-3 loss.
“The five guys we sent out to start the game, obviously the compete level was down,” said Interim Head Coach Jack Capuano.
Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad took advantage and pushed the puck past goaltender Rick DiPietro.
“They beat us off the wall. We weren’t strong on our sticks on that first goal,” said Capuano. “It’s uncalled for, obviously, to start the game like that.”
Yet he notes that the situation was Buffalo’s success as much as it was the Islanders’ failure.
“Give them credit, they got the puck behind the net,” said the Isles coach. “It was a good play, and we lost coverage in front. It’s no different from the goals we scored when they lost coverage. It’s just a situation that we have to be better at.”
For the remainder of the first period, the Isles couldn’t get their gears moving. Things began to look up, however, early in the second when left-winger Matt Moulson capitalized on a power play opportunity with help from John Tavares.
This line had a great game; Moulson’s second goal was assisted by PA Parenteau and Tavares. Their combination is an element of the Isles’ game that clearly clicks. They work seamlessly as a unit and generate a lot of chances.
“Everyone knows about me and Matt, and our background, but PA is really starting to fit nicely and we’re starting to get along really well with him,” explained Tavares. “We just think the game a lot the same, so it’s really easy to read off each other. He competes hard; he wins a lot of battles. Matty’s going for the net, and I’m just looking for those two guys.”
Moulson echoes these sentiments.
“Johnny and PA are two easy guys to play with,” he said. “We all want to compete out there, win our battles, and help this team win. It seems like we know where each other are all the time. We enjoy playing with each other.”
He hesitates to take credit for his own accomplishments today, instead giving credit to his line mates.
“I think it’s a testament to the guys I play with. I don’t have many goals on my own. A lot of them are those two getting it to me. I just try and capitalize on opportunities.”
Moulson also acknowledges that with the productivity of the first line comes a lot of responsibility.
“We just have to capitalize on a couple more chances and get this team wins,” he said. “If it means scoring three or four goals a night, that’s what we have to do.”
Three players, however, cannot be expected to make or break a game on their own. Capuano points out a team-wide problem.
“I thought all the lines were good tonight,” he said. “We could’ve generated a few more. We had our chances. There were some rebounds there for us, if we got to the paint.”
This is not to say the team’s performance today was poor; in fact, they did outshoot Buffalo by 11 and work with fervor in the offensive zone.
“I thought we worked hard. Our offensive zone pressure was good. Our cycles were good,” said DiPietro.
The game was tied 2-2 at the end of a feverish second period (another Sabres goal was scored by Tyler Ennis) but Buffalo scored twice early in the third to cement a lead.
Despite a nice goal from defenseman Jack Hillen, the Isles just couldn’t get back in the game and an empty net goal from the Sabres crushed any hopes of a last-minute comeback. Hillen’s success represents the Isles’ blue line integrating itself in the third period the way Capuano likes.
“If we’re going to generate offense, that’s the way that I want us to play. You saw it in the third period,” he said. “We were at the offensive zone down the walls. Our D would join in the rush, and we had quite a few shots and opportunities. That’s the way that we have to play.”
Clearly, success for the Islanders is a matter of hard-working parts smoothing out their kinks and coming together to function successfully as a whole.