While the Islanders fell 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night for their sixth straight loss, their improvement over the last two games was apparent. The Islanders controlled puck movement in and out of the offensive zone for the better part of 40 minutes, even earning two shorthanded breakaways during the final period.
“It’s frustrating obviously, but we have to start somewhere,” said Islanders head coach Scott Gordon about the loss. “I think at one point (Ottawa) didn’t even have a shot in the third period and that’s encouraging. We had two breakaways and we had point blank chances in the slot that we didn’t bury. Our players just have to understand that we have to start somewhere. Certainly there were some plusses tonight that we certainly didn’t have the last two games.”
The Islanders first 20 minutes of play saw a dramatic improvement over their last few games, but the Islanders were unfortunately unable to convert on a five minute penalty served to Zack Smith for boarding at 3:09, which could have given them the early lead. Instead, Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar scored the Senators first goal at 12:20 with a wrist shot assisted by center Jason Spezza.
The assist from Spezza was just the first of four points the Ottawa center would tally in Thursday night’s contest. He assisted David Hale’s goal at 3:47 of the second and slapped one in himself at 6:17. He also assisted Chris Kelly’s empty net goal with 13 seconds left on the clock.
“We haven’t had the lead in a while here to start a game,” said Islanders forward John Tavares. “It’s tough. It takes a lot out of you, especially on the road. As much as we’ve been on the road, we were better in a lot of areas tonight.”
Overall, the Islanders compete level was much higher. They tallied their lone goal of the game in the third period when Matt Moulson scored on the power play as Frans Nielsen’s pass to Rob Schremp went long and Tavares grabbed the puck, making a perfect pass out front of the net where Moulson shoveled it in, closing the gap 3-1.
The Islanders had more than just a few chances as they outshot the Senators 29-27. In the third, Nielsen and Blake Comeau each had shorthanded breakaways as Matt Martin served time for boarding. Although they were shut down by Senators goaltender Brian Elliot, the opportunities were still positive signs for the club that has been struggling offensively.
The boarding penalty was the beginning of Martin’s display of grittiness. While finishing a check on Jason Spezza would put the winger in the box, Martin had barely any time to collect himself after the hit before Chris Campoli rushed him and the two ended up with a pair of roughing penalties.
A few minutes later, Kelly scored the empty netter for Ottawa and Martin entered into a fight with Zach Smith off the faceoff at 19:50. While there were only 10 seconds left in the game, both players took five-minute major penalties. There was little the team could do with the added momentum, but Coach Gordon was pleased with Martin’s fire.
“Matt’s a physical player,” Gordon said. “We need to do more of that. I think everybody needs to take a page from Matt’s book and know that just makes us a harder team to play against. He was in a tough spot there where he was going in to hit Spezza and as he did, Spezza turns and he can’t stop. It’s frustrating, but saying that, we got two chances off of that.”
Even though the Senators earned the two points, Tavares was still encouraged by the team’s progression.
“We competed hard today,” Tavares said. “We limited their chances much better than other nights. If we can bury a few early, get a lead and get a little more confidence for ourselves early, I think it would make a big difference.”
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