As the camera focused in on Travis Hamonic after he inadvertently deflected home the Senators' tying goal with 1:09 left in the third period Sunday, the Islanders defenseman looked skyward. You might have even seen a hint of a smile, but it wasn't the joyful kind. It was the keep-from-crying sort.
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He and regular partner Andrew MacDonald were the shutdown pair last season. They still are called upon to face opposing teams' top forwards, but there have been some hiccups in their play to go along with ridiculous breaks, such as Sunday's and the one on Feb. 11, when the Hurricanes' Alex Semin flung a high pass that banked off Hamonic's chest and into his own net for a crucial third-period goal.
"I scrutinize every game, I know how I play. I can confidently say I'm not playing the way the results show. Even the first goal [on Sunday], I put my stick in the lane to block a shot, and are you kidding me?" Hamonic said after his stick-check attempt caromed right to Mika Zibanejad for Ottawa's first goal. "The good thing is, hopefully it's going to run out eventually."
Hamonic and MacDonald enter Tuesday night's game against the Canadiens at a minus-13 rating, tied for worst in the NHL. Plus-minus is hardly an exact science when it comes to evaluating players, but for two guys who have prided themselves on putting up good plus-minus numbers on not-so-good Isles teams, the current ratings sting.
"It is frustrating when you see those kinds of numbers and then you think back to, a number of the goals are on bounces, or off Hammer's chest," MacDonald said. "But there's also instances where we deserve the minus. It's something we're conscious of. We try not to dwell too much because it can be a mental battle."
MacDonald and Hamonic noted that they erased bad numbers early last season. Hamonic was a minus-10 after 22 games, right where the Isles are now, and finished plus-6, best among the team's defensemen. MacDonald was minus-10 through 20 games and finished minus-5, his worst rating in four seasons.
Hamonic got a few pats on the back from teammates after tipping in the tying goal, then went out and nearly won it in overtime with a rush and wrist shot that Robin Lehner barely got his glove on.
"I think I'm doing a better job now of putting it out of my head. I was up and down the ice in overtime. I wasn't short for confidence," he said. "It's not like I'm throwing a pizza right up center ice and it's getting picked off. If that was going on, then I'd think it'd be a case of me really not playing with confidence and things are really going bad."
Coach Jack Capuano began this season with MacDonald and Hamonic playing 27 minutes a game through the first two weeks before Lubomir Visnovsky arrived and got settled in. The Isles were 4-2-1 during that stretch, culminating with MacDonald playing 31:22 in a 5-4 overtime win over the Devils. The minutes have been eased back since, with MacDonald averaging 24:18 and Hamonic 23:17.
"That can take a toll," Capuano said. "We've got other guys playing well, so we're able to cut back."
Hamonic would rather play. The 22-year-old's entry-level contract expires after the season and general manager Garth Snow will be looking to lock up Hamonic long term. No amount of bad bounces can change Hamonic's future with the team.
"I watch more hockey than just about anybody else in the league, and I watch other defensemen go through the bad bounces I've had," he said. "Maybe it's a feather in my cap that I've played so well the last couple years that people are expecting better. And rightfully so.
"It's been some lousy circumstances, but I've got to answer to myself at the end of the day. People can say what they want."