After ending a five-year playoff drought last season, the New York Islanders made a bold move they hoped would pay immediate dividends by acquiring Thomas Vanek from Buffalo in exchange for fan favorite Matt Moulson on Oct. 27.
Vanek did his part for the short time he was in New York, but he reportedly didn’t want to be a part of the franchise’s future.
Now with Montreal, Vanek looks to help the playoff-bound Canadiens deal his former team a fourth consecutive defeat Thursday night at Bell Centre.
The Islanders appeared to have recovered from a number of dismal years after taking Pittsburgh to six games in the first round last season, and they expected to be postseason contenders again in 2014.
After a 4-4-3 start, general manager Garth Snow dealt Moulson, who scored at least 30 goals in each of the NHL’s last three 82-game seasons, plus first- and second-round picks for Vanek in an attempt to help complement star center John Tavares.
Vanek had 17 goals and 27 assists in 47 games for the Islanders, but the pending unrestricted free agent reportedly turned down a substantial long-term contract offer from New York in early February.
Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly after at the Olympics, Vanek was traded to Montreal for a prospect and a second-round pick March 5, and the Islanders (31-37-11) now find themselves right back near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
New York lost 4-1 to Ottawa on Tuesday.
”The effort has been there and will continue to be there,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said. ”We’re going to keep pushing and playing hard until the end.”
The upside is that coach Jack Capuano has gotten a long look at the Islanders’ youngsters, as 11 rookies currently are on the roster.
"They are playing hard,” Capuano said. ”When we get our team back next year and play the way we can play, I think we can make a push and get back to the dance.”
Rather than toiling away with the Islanders or league-worst Sabres, Vanek will be heading to the playoffs with a Canadiens team that has gone 10-2-1 over its last 13.
Vanek has six goals and nine assists in 16 games for Montreal (45-27-8), which fell 3-2 in overtime to Chicago on Wednesday. Vanek assisted on Francis Bouillon’s goal 10:56 into the third that gave the Canadiens a short-lived lead.
”I thought we played a solid game,” coach Michel Therrien said. ”On the last two goals, it was some bad coverage in front of the net."
Montreal sits in second place in the Atlantic Division, three points ahead of its first-round playoff opponent, Tampa Bay, with home-ice advantage yet to be determined. It has won three straight meetings with the Islanders, including a 1-0 victory Dec. 14 on Max Pacioretty’s overtime goal.
Goaltender Carey Price and defensemen Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin didn’t make the trip to Chicago in order to get some added rest before the playoffs. Price, who has a 1.32 goals-against average in the last three matchups with New York, will get the start in the second of a back-to-back set.
The Islanders could counter with Evgeni Nabokov, who is 2-0-2 with a 1.68 GAA over his last four starts. It’s unclear if forward Cal Clutterbuck will be in the lineup after leaving Tuesday’s contest with an upper-body injury.
Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk played only two shifts in the first period against Chicago before suffering a lower-body injury, leaving his status for this game unclear.