The addition of Visnovsky meant that Mark Streit was paired with Thomas Hickey and the Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic shutdown pair remained intact (with Matt Carkner apparently still ailing). Boulton, Reasoner and Finley were the healthy scratches.
Curious was the absence of "grit" from the lineup in a game that boasted notable pests Steve Ott and Patrick Kaleta (who returned after a five game injury absence).
The Isles had a noticeable jump in their giddyup, but despite that, they gave up the games first goal again despite limiting Buffalo to three shots in the first half of the period. The Isles were soft in front of their net when Andrew MacDonald followed Jordan Leopold behind vacating his area and the rest of the three Islanders in the vicinity failed to rotate over to cover the white hot Thomas Vanek.
John Tavares would get the equalizer with under a minute to go in the first when he followed the rebound of a Brian Strait point shot and banged it in to the vacant left side of Ryan Miller. It was a period the Isles dominated (close score notwithstanding) to the tune of 15-4 in shots on goal. (And Buffalo blocking an additional 11).
The second followed virtually the same script as the first. The Sabres took the lead back while being dominated for large stretches in shots and possession. David Ullstrom was the culprit on the play failing to pick up former Islander denier Christian Ehrhoff as Buffalo gained the Isles zone 3 on 3. Ehrhoff walked in alone on Nabokov and buried a wrister.
The Isles got the late equalizer from the unlikely Colin McDonald for his first as an Islander and his second career tally. The play again started with Brian Strait getting a shot toward the net that Casey Cizikas retrieved and placed into the slot.
The goaltenders made some quality saves in the period and the Islanders power play with Lubomir Visnovsky moved the puck very well. That said, the Isles should not be allowing teams to hang around for this long in games they are dominating. The shots through two were 29-11 Islanders. A recipe for success to be sure, but conversion is the key.
In the third, the Sabres continued the trend of scoring first when Alexander Sulzer fired a puck through Nabokov who got a piece of it and may have been screened. Again, there was traffic in the area (in the form of Mikhail Grigorenko) that couldn't be moved by Keith Aucoin.
The Islanders had their opportunities for the equalizer. In particular, Matt Moulson had a sequence where he fired about six shots and was thwarted by about three blocks and two great saves. John Tavares hit a post on a breakaway wrist shot and was granted a penalty shot on another breakaway where he rang the post on the backhand. Brad Boyes took a late hooking penalty (18:40) that helped to squash any hope of a late comeback. Somehow, they applied some pressure with the goaltender pulled, but this time, they ran out of time.
There were positive signs to take away from this game despite the loss. The play of Lubomir Visnovsky and Josh Bailey was promising and the Isles generated pressure from all of their forward lines (with the second line being the least effective in that aspect). The defense was mobile and effective moving the puck out of the zone, but struggled clearing the front of the net. The unfortunate part of tonight was that when the Isles made their mistakes, they were big ones...and the Sabres capitalized. 43 shots is generally going to get you some goals. They need to bring that every night.
- I said on twitter that maybe Josh Bailey should be promoted to the top line. He finished with 7 shots in just under 13 minutes on the 4th line. But really, it may be better to keep him on another line if he can contiue to be that productive. The Isles need to generate pressure from spots other than the 1st line.
- David Ullstrom had the gaffe on the Ehrhoff goal, but he was very effective otherwise and in most games this season. A look at the zone entry project via Lighthouse Hockey (by Garik16) shows how effective he has been gaining the offensive zone. It's worth a look. It needs improvement across the board.
- I'm officially on the Lubo bandwagon. The guy was poised, decisive, instinctive and effective out there...particularly on the power play. He was able to get shots toward the net and drive play to the middle and get people the puck in good spaces. He looked like our best defenseman tonight.
- This is the best Islander lineup that's been fielded this season. I hope they give it a chance to gel a little bit.
- Evgeni Nabokov is struggling, but who knows if the alternative is going to be any better. This is a run of games where the Isles outplayed the opposition and still lost. He needs to be better.
- I just don't know what to say about Kyle Okposo's play. It's like the puck is allergic to him.
- Brian Strait had two assists as Visnovsky's partner tonight. Small sample of course, but that's interesting. He is now tied for the team lead in assists for defensemen with three.