MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens gained a little ground on their Eastern Conference playoff rivals Thursday night, but there wasn’t much celebrating going on at the Bell Centre.
Kyle Okposo scored at 0:26 of overtime to give the New York Islanders a 3-2 win over the Canadiens, with the point allowing Montreal to climb to within two points of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
When GM Bob Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau and took over behind the bench Monday he mentioned the need for the Canadiens to beat teams that were below them in the standings and said the team didn’t look “emotionally engaged” on some nights.
He didn’t feel that was the problem Thursday, but something definitely isn’t right with the Habs.
“I think our team is hard to read,” Gainey said. “Our guys are trying, but they’re not always trying the right way. It’s difficult for them when we play five, six, seven consecutive minutes and we’re not able to generate anything except moving the puck out of our own zone. But our players are ready to play. They want to play, they want to do well.”
Mike Iggulden got the first of his NHL career and Frans Nielsen also scored for the streaking Islanders (23-37-6), who won for the fifth time in their last seven games.
“We’ve been playing really well lately,” Okposo said. “I think that we’re one of the hardest working teams that I’ve seen in the league this year and it’s really paying off now.”
Tomas Plekanec and Tom Kostopoulos scored for the Canadiens (36-25-7), who saw their two-game win streak snapped but suffered only their third loss in nine games.
The Canadiens remained in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings but failed to take full advantage of a 2-1 loss by the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers. Montreal climbed to within two points of the Flyers, is a point up on sixth-place Pittsburgh and two points up on Carolina and the New York Rangers in the jam-packed East.
“It’s a huge point for us to lose,” Kostopoulos said. “If it weren’t for our goalie, we would have lost two points.”
Carey Price was outstanding in a fourth straight game for the Canadiens with 36 saves, including 28 on 29 shots in the second and third periods to get his team to overtime. He’s stopped 121 of 129 shots over his last four starts for a .938 save percentage.
“We were outplayed all over the ice for pretty much the whole game,” Gainey said. “Our goaltender was the difference for us after the first period.”
Former Canadien Yann Danis wasn’t as busy in the Islanders net but was solid when he needed to be, making 24 saves.
“I spoke to him last week and asked if he wanted to play against Montreal and his eyes lit up,” said Isles coach Scott Gordon. “It was obviously a great feeling for him to come back here and he did a great job in the first.”
With the game tied 1-1 to start the third Gregory Stewart took an extra unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after getting into a fight with Tim Jackman at the 0:07 mark.
The Isles quickly capitalized, with Nielsen tipping home a Mark Streit point shot at 0:51 for his fourth of the year and a 2-1 lead.
The Canadiens were handed a golden opportunity to tie it when Joel Rechlicz and Brendan Witt took penalties on the same play, giving Montreal a two-minute five-on-three advantage. The Canadiens couldn’t convert, but scored to tie it 2-2 within 40 seconds of the power play expiring when Kostopoulos one-timed Andrei Markov’s feed past Danis at 9:14 for his eighth of the season.
Plekanec thought he had opened the scoring at 1:46 of the first when he batted in a rebound, but Don Koharski immediately waved it off because of a high-stick and the call stood after a video review.
But Plekanec got his goal anyway on a power play a few minutes later when his pass from the right wall bounced off Radek Martinek’s stick and past Danis for his 19th of the season at 5:04.
The Islanders tied it up at 11:33 when Iggulden converted a feed in front from Blake Comeau while Price was still looking for the puck behind the net.
For a second game in a row the Canadiens fell asleep in the second period.
Montreal was outshot 17-2 by the Oilers on Tuesday night before recovering to tie it in the third and win in overtime. The Canadiens were again severely outplayed in the middle frame by the Isles but survived to enter the third still tied 1-1.
The sellout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 voiced their displeasure by booing the Habs off the ice.
“Occasionally it’s very simple execution, it’s a pass between two players that isn’t completed and that starts a string of problems that we’ve created ourselves,” Gainey said. “That’s really where we need to begin, to stop these stretches of time that we help create ourselves. If we do that, more and more of those minutes will stop being minutes where we’re hesitating and behind the play and we look completely confused.”
Notes: Habs RW Alex Kovalev missed the game with the flu, while D Patrice Brisebois was a healthy scratch Iggulden, a 26-year-old St-Catharines, Ont., native, scored in his fifth career NHL gameThe Islanders were missing seven regulars with injuries: Trent Hunter (ankle), Richard Park (ribs), Doug Weight (knee), Rick DiPietro (knee), Freddy Meyer (groin), Mike Sillinger (hip) and Andy Sutton (foot)Isles C Nate Thompson returned to the lineup after missing 16 games with a shoulder injury.