AN UNHAPPY RETURN
By Francis Rizzo III
A strong game by Cristobal Huet, a pair of goals by Smithtown's Chris Higgins and a bad night for the Islanders' special teams combined to give Montreal a 5-3 win in both teams' return to NHL hockey
While the Islanders failed to convert on an early powerplay, the Canadiens did not, taking the first lead of the night thanks to a hooking call on Jason Blake. With the PK specialist in the box, Montreal's Alexander Perezhogin took a pass from Alex Kovalev and bulled his way through Sean Bates in the slot. With an opening, he whipped the puck stickside for his seventh goal of the season.
The locals had an excellent chance to tie things up with 6:43 left in the first period. Picking up a bouncing biscuit in the neutral zone, Oleg Kvasha blew in on net, but pressure from Sheldon Souray and a solid save from Huet combined to keep the Isles' off the board.
In the second period, the powerplay once again was the Islanders' undoing, as a penalty to Alexei Zhitnik set up the Canadiens' second goal of the night. Thought the Islanders couldn't convert with a lengthy two-man advantage just before the halfway point in the second, Montreal had no such problems, thanks to another assist by Kovalev. Fed the puck at the point, Craig Rivet put a hard shot on goal that was deflected in front before finding the back of the net.
Just before the period ended, Long Island product Chris Higgins made it two goals in two games against the Islanders to put Montreal up 3-0. Saku Koivu stripped the puck from Alexei Yashin in the Canadiens' zone and fired the puck through center ice to Higgins. Carrying the puck in on Snow, he faked a pass and fired a wrister down low and in.
On their fifth powerplay of the night, the Islanders finally broke through, thanks to the usual gritty crease work of Mark Parrish. Controlling the puck in the Habs' end of the ice, Brent Sopel passed to Alexei Yashin down low, who spun and fired a quick shot on Cristobal Huet. The rebound off Huet's leg pad landed right in front, where Parrish hammered it into the open net.
Unfortunately for New York, the Islanders put their opponents back on the powerplay, this time a two-minute 5-on-3 opportunity that was cashed in quickly. Souray slid the puck down to the right post, where Koivu tucked it across the crease to a driving Michael Ryder for the tap-in and a 4-1 lead. The remaining advantage was partially killed by a Montreal penalty. Then, when shorthanded, the Canadiens scored again, as Higgins picked up his second of the game.
The Islanders didn't give up though, picking up a second goal off a neutral-zone turnover. Taking the puck just outside Montreal's zone, Miroslav Satan skated a few strides and unleashed a slapper that found Huet's five-hole. That lack of quit paid off again, with the teams skating at four aside. Satan flew up the wing, and using Brad Lukowich as a screen, fired a wrister that snuck behind Huet.
OFF THE ICE: Three Stars of the Night: 3. Alex Kovalev, 2. Saku Koivu, 1. Chris Higgins... During the break, Kevin Colley announced his retirement from hockey. Called up from Bridgeport to fill out the line-up were Rob Nilsson, Wyatt Smith and Joel Bouchard, while Tomi Pettinen was sent to the Sound Tigers... For the Islanders, John Erskine (healthy), Eric Godard (virus) and Petteri Nokelainen (knee) were scratched, while the Canadiens sat Jose Theodore (heel), Garth Murray (shoulder), Mark Streit (healthy) and Niklas Sundstrom (healthy)... Higgins had two goals in his first trip to Long Island as an NHLer, after picking up a goal in his first game against New York... After two games of a four-game season series, Montreal is up 2-0, having won at home and on the road.
--additional reporting by Brian Bohl
Garth Snow on taking some positives out of the game for the stretch run:
"We out shot them and out chanced them the first two periods, but we didn't have the lead to show for it. Coach came in and said we dominated the first two periods, and we can find some solace in that."
On preparing for Thursday's game against the Devils:
"We knew how big the game was. All we can do is come back and practice tomorrow. This makes the next game even more important."
Alexi Yashin on the team's early opportunities:
"We didn't get the result, but I think we put in a good effort. Guys had a lot of scoring chances. We just couldn't get the puck in the net."
(12) Oleg Kvasha-(79) Alexei Yashin-(21) Robert Nilsson
(7) Trent Hunter-(16) Mike York-(81) Miroslav Satan
(55) Jason Blake-(17) Shawn Bates-(37) Mark Parrish
(45) Arron Asham-(28) Wyatt Smith-(11) Mattias Weinhandl
(77) Alexei Zhitnik-(3) Brent Sopel
(14) Chris Campoli-(24) Radek Martinek
(4) Joel Bouchard-(25) Brad Lukowich
(30) Garth Snow
(39) Rick DiPietro
(21) Chris Higgins-(11) Saku Koivu-(73) Mike Ryder
(42) Alexander Perezhogin-(71) Mike Ribeiro-(27) Alex Kovalev
(38) Jan Bulis-(20) Richard Zednik-(35) Tomas Plekanec
(14) Radek Bonk-(22) Steve Begin-(47) Aaron Downey
(8) Michael Komisarek-(79) Andrei Markov
(51) Francis Bouillon-(25) Mathieu Dandenault
(44) Sheldon Souray-(52) Craig Rivet
(39) Cristobal Huet
(75) Yann Danis