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Isles lose to Montreal despite shot advantage

Lubomir Visnovsky and Johnny Boychuk of the New

Lubomir Visnovsky and Johnny Boychuk of the New York Islanders look on after the Montreal Canadiens scored a third-period goal at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders had the distinct edge in shots over the Canadiens and in scoring chances. But Tuesday night, it wasn't a matter of controlling what little flow there was to the last game before the three-day holiday break, it was a simple matter of converting a couple of those chances into goals.

And the Canadiens had the edge there, where it mattered. A couple of small breakdowns in the second period turned into Montreal goals and that was all the visitors needed in a 3-1 Islanders loss, snapping their four-game win streak and sending them into their break with one of the few disappointments so far this season.

"Obviously, it's not the way we want to finish this time before the break," Nikolay Kulemin said. "We've played a lot of good teams lately and again tonight we didn't give them much. We've had a lot of positives in our game, but still some things we need to work on."

The biggest failing was the power play, which had an opportunity midway through a first period the Islanders controlled well and then another chance in the closing minutes of the second, after the Isles' 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit.

Neither man-advantage generated much and Carey Price, who made 37 saves on the night, was rock solid on the paltry three total power-play shots the Islanders mustered.

"We're going to have to look at changing the personnel there," Jack Capuano said. "The power play seemed to slow us down."

John Tavares was flying in the first period, with his long rush culminating in a feed for Kyle Okposo on a two-on-one that Okposo snapped past Price at 12:04 of the first to open the scoring. The Isles held a 12-3 shot edge after a period (38-21 overall) and they seemed to be able to dictate the pace.

But there were hiccups in the second and the Habs were in position to capitalize. Travis Hamonic broke his stick on a clearing attempt. P.K. Subban scooped it up, fed defense partner Andrei Markov and his one-timer beat Chad Johnson cleanly at 6:10 of the second for a 1-1 tie.

Hamonic stepped up to close out Max Pacioretty, but the Canadiens still got away three-on-two. Calvin de Haan blocked Sergei Gonchar's shot off the rush, but Brendan Gallagher quickly swept the puck past Johnson at 11:27 of the second.

Johnson started his first game since Dec. 9 with Jaroslav Halak sitting out and made 18 saves. He was better than he'd been his past few outings, but there wasn't enough offense to compensate.

"It's frustrating," said Johnson, who has won only one of his five starts since Nov. 15 and has allowed 21 goals in those games. "We were right there tonight."

There is little reason to feel the Islanders are hitting a lull, now 23-11-0 and still sitting in strong position in the Metro Division and Eastern Conference. The three-day break clearly will help Halak and some others tend to injuries.

But Capuano and his players have high expectations now and there may be a need to reflect among some Islanders before the team reconvenes for Saturday's game in Buffalo.

"There's some things in our game I like," Capuano said, "but the consistency with some guys just isn't there."

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