The ship on moral victories has sailed… This team needs a real one, badly.
Jack Capuano scratched alternate captain Kyle Okposo and his most veteran defenseman (Mark Eaton) and inserted nineteen year old rookie Nino Niederreiter into the lineup hoping to catch a spark and wake up some of the “passengers”. It didn’t look as if it was going to work in the first as the Isles were being outshot 4-1 after 6:30 of play.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Islander defensive strategy is not working. They are often caught with the three forwards below the tops of the circles in support of the defense. Once possession is gained, there are limited options for breakout passes, not enough speed to skate the puck out and often, there is a weak clear up the boards that is taken by the opposing defense, and the cycle starts over again. This was the calling card of a first period that saw the Isles dominated and outshot 14-5 and extremely lucky to be tied at one.
The first goal of the game found five Isles watching after a weak backhand clear found it’s way to the stick of stick of Sean Avery who worked between the lot of them for a quick shot past Nabokov. The Islanders would answer a little over two minutes later on one of the best breakouts I remember seeing in recent games. The puck was pushed up quickly by Travis Hamonic to PA Parenteau who dished off a beauty of a pass to send Frans Nielsen alone on Henrik Lundqvist. Nielsen had so much space he almost looked shocked, but he sent a knuckling wrist shot through Lundqvist’s glove for his sixth point in the last five games.
Toward the end of the period, Mike Mottau and Sean Avery were given matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (Avery was sent to the locker room for some reason) as they nearly came to blows after a Mottau hit and the typical subsequent Avery face-wash/chirp/glove magnet trifecta. The penalties carried over into the second, and the two went at it for real as soon as the penalties expired. (By “went at it”, I mean stretched their laundry and swung each other around a little.)
The second period was the Islanders turn to dominate play as they outshot the Rangers 16-8 in the frame, but the Rangers manged to regain the lead. Ryan Callahan worked through Travis Hamonic in the corner to Nabokov’s right and fired a cross ice pass to a streaking Steve Eminger who had somehow lost Jay Pandolfo and went undetected by Marty Reasoner to bang it past Nabokov. Again, there were more Islanders in the area than Rangers.
One of the surprises of the night was the work of the newly developed second power play unit featuring Blake Comeau, Michael Grabner, Nino Niederreiter, Brian Rolston and Travis Hamonic. They had sustained pressure, fantastic puck movement, and continued the pressure for well after the power play expired on a couple of occasions tonight. (Andrew MacDonald replaced Rolston towards the end of both power plays, and was outstanding). It is not the group of guys you would expect to generate that much pressure, but it may be interesting. Sometimes things just work.
The second period also saw a tremendous five on three penalty kill for over a minute and a half. About thirty seconds after Milan Jurcina’s initial hooking call, Marty Reasoner was whistled for a trip. Nielsen, MacDonald and Hamonic were stellar throughout the kill. They were physical, moving people from in front of the net, not giving the Rangers anything to shoot at and were on for the entire minute and a half plus. That was the most gassed I have ever seen a hockey player. By the time MacDonald was whistled for a roughing (from a tremendous battle with Callahan), the three of them could barely move.
The third period saw some back and forth battling. At 6:58 of the third on an Islander power play, John Tavares showed his vision by firing a pass through the crease from the corner to Lundqvist’s left that landed right on Matt Moulson’s tape for an easy tap-in knotting the game at two. Unfortunately, the
misplay of the night is going to be Josh Bailey’s Chris Campoli-like clearing attempt that led to the game winning goal. Bailey ended up with the puck on his stick between the circles in the defensive zone, put it on his backhand and floated a weak clearing attempt that was taken by Brandon Dubinsky and quickly moved to Brad Richards who was by himself to Nabokov’s right.
The empty net goal came with less than one second in regulation off a mid-ice shot from Callahan after a furious Isles push.
Ramblings and Observations
As much as this was probably Mike Mottau’s best game this season, it is still entirely noticeable when he’s on the ice (for the wrong reasons). It tends to be worse when he is on the ice with lines three or four. It may be time to look to Bridgeport.
Blake Comeau actually looked good tonight. He was hitting, he was skating, and he also had only 10:54 of ice time. This may be his magic number.
Nino was not visible in a good way. I hope Islander fans aren’t expecting him to be a savior. His PP2 line was effective and that may be very helpful going forward.
We got a good scare tonight when Matt Martin left for a few minutes after fighting Brandon Prust with what appeared to be Islander-shoulder. The team can not afford to lose any physicality to the lineup…especially a guy who is responsible for about 20% of their hits.
The Islanders need to stop knocking opponents into their own goaltenders.
Despite some pretty poor play lately, there are probably better “scratch” candidates than Kyle Okposo. Let’s hope this is a one time thing and he has his head right because he can do well if this team plays like it did tonight.
PA Parenteau is the Isles best puck carrying forward and is generally calm and cool distributing. The Isles may want to consider re-signing him…particularly if Okposo, Bailey and Comeau don’t start coming around soon.
Tonight, the Isles outshot AND outhit the Rangers and also had more power plays. While it didn’t bear out in the “W” column, that is the formula for winning hockey games.