MONTREAL – It was a big game at both ends of the rink for the veteran defence pair of Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek.
Spacek scored in the first period and Hamrlik got the game-winner 1:32 into overtime to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-2 victory over the struggling New York Islanders for their fourth straight win on Monday night.
The pair also played strong hockey against the top line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo, but they’ve faced their opponents’ best every game since top defenceman Andrei Markov severed a tendon in his foot in the season opener Oct. 1 in Toronto. Blue-liner Ryan O’Byrne went down a game later with a lower body injury.
The play of the two Czech veterans has not gone unnoticed by coach Jacques Martin.
“They gave us offensive production as well as playing most of the time against the top line,” said Martin. “That was Spacek’s first goal and we expected more offence from him this year, but when Markov and O’Byrne went down, they’re been given the mandate of playing against the other teams’ top lines.
“They’ve done that and they are plus players (Spacek is plus-5 and Hamrlik plus-3). I’m happy with what they bring.”
Travis Moen also scored for Montreal (6-5-0), which is 4-0-0 in overtime this season. The Canadiens ended a six-game homestand with a 4-2-0 record.
Tomas Plekanec went around overworked defenceman Mark Streit and fed Hamrlik in front, and the Canadiens rearguard beat Martin Biron for the OT winner.
“There was an opportunity to jump into the play and it just happened,” said Hamrlik, who led the team with 25:34 of ice time to 24:44 for Spacek. “Overtime is going our way, but you don’t want to go to OT, you want to win in 60 minutes.”
The Canadiens have won only once in regulation time this season, but that is one more than the Islanders (1-4-5), whose only victory was in OT.
Jeff Tambellini scored a pair of power-play goals for the Islanders, including the tying goal at 15:44 of the third period after Moen had put Montreal ahead.
“We’re taking only the positives out of this game,” said Tambellini, whose team has gone into OT six times in their 10 games. “We found a way to come back twice in a really hostile environment.
“Marty Biron stood on his head and we found a way to gut out a point.”
Glen Metropolit, who nearly missed the game with a flu, had two assists for the Canadiens to give him six points in five games this season. Montreal is 5-0-0 with the gritty centre in the line-up.
Mike Cammalleri’s assist gave him points in five straight games, while Jaroslav Halak continued his strong play in Montreal’s goal, making 29 saves to give him wins in four consecutive starts.
The Islanders admit that their worst game of the season was their visit to Montreal last Thursday, a 5-1 loss, and they came out much stronger this time. No. 1 overall draft pick Tavares was especially dangerous, but was held off the scoresheet for a fourth straight game.
New York fell behind 13:34 into the game when Metropolit won a battle behind the net and fed the onrushing Spacek for his first of the season.
The Islanders tied the game 18:18 into the second frame as Tambellini took a short lateral pass from Okposo and made a deft move to tuck it inside the near post.
Moen was at the doorstep to tip Cammalleri’s pass behind Biron to put Montreal ahead.
But a Montreal delay of game penalty led to the tying goal as Tavares forced a turnover by Spacek and Matt Moulson fed Tambellini for a shot into an open side with 4:16 left to play.
There was a scary moment 6:05 into the game when Okposo’s head hit the glass hard from a check by Guillaume Latendresse. Okposo went to the trainer’s room but returned after missing one shift. He had missed five pre-season games after a horrific hit to the head from Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf.
The Canadiens are on the road for games Wednesday in Pittsburgh and Friday in Chicago before returning home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The Isles play host to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Notes: As he was for the Islanders visit last Thursday, Doug Weight missed the game with a sickness. Rob Schremp and Freddy Meyer were scratched. . .Montreal sat out Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart. . . Metropolit felt under the weather and missed the team’s skate Monday morning but was able to play.