CHICAGO – It was a win, but it was another game that caused the Chicago Blackhawks to shake their heads a little bit.
They're continuing to have some issues defensively, and those issues nearly cost them a game on Friday night at the United Center. The Hawks needed a shootout to beat the visiting New York Islanders 5-4 despite having a pair of one-goal leads in the third period.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored the lone goal in the shootout -- the 21st of his career -- against Chicago native Al Montoya, while the Islanders' Frans Nielsen, Nino Niederreiter and Matt Moulson were unable to get one past Corey Crawford at the other end of the rink.
Though the Hawks got the two points, it wasn't exactly a jubilant home locker room afterward.
"It's great to win," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Defensively it was perfect going into the third period. We gave up a small amount of shots and a very limited number of chances (in the first two periods) -- and everything exploded in the third."
The Isles (7-11-5), last in the NHL in scoring, blistered Chicago's defense by putting 41 shots on goal against Crawford -- who finished with 37 saves and had to make several highlight-reel stops in the third just to keep the game tied. After dominating the second period, the Hawks were thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way; the Isles outshot them 23-7 in the third period and 3-0 in the scoreless overtime.
"We've got to be more composed, particularly when the game's on the line, in our own end," Quenneville said. "Our defensive zone coverage got way out of sorts and we've got to get back to tighten it up and be more predictable … we really ran around there in the third."
Good thing for Chicago (15-8-3) that Toews wears the captain's "C" on a Blackhawks uniform. He not only scored the shootout goal, but gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission with his Western Conference best 14th goal – a shorthanded one that also allowed Brent Seabrook to tally his 200th career point with an assist.
Toews also assisted on a power-play goal by Patrick Sharp in the third that gave the Hawks their second lead in that period. Andrew Brunette and Ben Smith also scored for Chicago, but it was Toews' ability to will his team to wins like this that impressed veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell, who set up Brunette's goal in the first with a pretty pass of his own.
"Until you get to see him every day, it's the intangibles that I think separates him," O'Donnell said. "Every shift, the way he brings it. There's lots of talented guys in this League, but … that will, desire, whatever you want to call it that he has, you can't make it up. You kind of either have it or you don't and he's got it."
The Islanders don't have it – at least not yet – but they showed in this game there is talent on the roster that can cause some headaches. Kyle Okposo, Moulson, P.A. Parenteau and Niederreiter scored for New York, which came into this game on a two-game winning streak.
This was also a homecoming for the 26-year old Montoya (32 saves), a product of nearby Glenview, Ill. He played for the first time in the building that he used to watch games as a kid, when he stood for the spine-tingling national anthem many times as a Blackhawks fan.
He did it on Friday night while wearing the Islanders colors, but it was every bit as enjoyable.
"It was one of the most emotional games I've ever been a part of," said Montoya, who reportedly spent $3,800 to buy 25 tickets for family and friends to attend. "I kind of held it back, but I'm glad that one's out of the way. It was something I can't describe and something I'll never forget."
Allowing four goals and losing in the shootout wasn't exactly a dream ending, but his team got a point out of it and proved something by hanging tough with a highly-skilled team like Chicago.
"We did good things tonight," Montoya said. "You can't forget that. We went in the right direction, but a play here or a play there, it should've been our game and two points just like that. Being able to come into this building, where they don't lose, we showed up tonight and it was a big effort."
The Islanders got on the board first when Okposo scored his third goal of the season off a rebound to cap a power play 4:07 into the game. Brunette tied it 1-1 with his sixth goal at 10:27 of the first before Moulson reclaimed the lead for the Islanders four minutes later by one-timing a shot from the left circle.
Chicago owned the second period, outshooting the Isles 15-2 and getting the goals from Smith and Toews for a 3-2 lead heading into the third. Smith's first of the season, scored at 6:41 of the second, made it 2-2 and came off a rebound of his own shot from in front of the crease. Toews scored shorthanded with just 1:19 left in the second to make it 3-2 Chicago, but Parenteau's fourth goal just 46 seconds into the third during the same four-minute power play evened it at 3-3.
Sharp's 12th – also scored on the man advantage – gave the Hawks the lead back about four minutes later, but Niederreiter's first goal of the season – and second of his career – knotted it again with 11:05 remaining.
"It was definitely a tighter, more hard fought game than we're used to playing against that team," Toews said. "(There were) just a couple little mistakes that we have to get after, and learn from, especially late in that game where we're protecting a lead. If we do that, we'll be a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable in the third period trying to go for two points."