In lieu of a true training camp, most teams have decided to square off against their minor league affiliates to prepare for the upcoming season. The Islanders were one of the teams that did this and on Wednesday night opened the Nassau Coliseum up to anyone who wanted to come see it - you didn't even have to pay to park.
A nice crowd of about 3,000 was on hand to watch the scrimmage between what amounted to the Islanders against the Sound Tigers, with the Tigers (Team White) coming out on top 5-3.
The scrimmage was apparently intended to be a large special teams drill, as Arthur Staple pointed out that both sides were going to get two powerplays per period. For each side though, more than the minimum were called.
It was a good way to get a look at where the special teams stood and we can see the Isles have some kinks to work out there, particularly on the penalty kill. However, this is also true for most other teams.
Of the guys with the major league team who stood out to me, I'd have to say the most notable was Frans Nielsen. All night he was winning face-offs, playing physical (or at least as physical as the teams wanted to play against each other given the circumstances) and getting into the dirty areas - particularly right in front of the net.
While getting some solid chances on the doorstep early on, Nielsen was denied by Rick DiPietro. DiPietro started off really strong before giving up a couple of weak goals. But it was good to see that early on he was able to make some solid stops. At this point, where he'll be worked in as a back-up to Evgeni Nabokov you just want to see him play solid and make saves he should so the Islanders don't lose out on points they desperately need.
Nabokov on the other hand didn't get tested as much, really until the teams traded goaltenders midway through the game. He had a few flashes of brilliance, including one of his infamous glove saves while making a split. Later on in the game while playing for the Sound Tigers team, he stood tall and made solid stops which was a good sign considering it was coming against the NHL players.
While on the powerplay the Isles had an interesting look as they had Brad Boyes at the point with Mark Streit on the first unit. Nielsen, who usually mans this point spot, was playing up front. I'm not a fan of this set-up, and it likely won't last. But the Islanders are just trying to get a sense for what they have in Boyes.
As far as defense is concerned, there are going to be some issues to work through. We already knew that, and Jack Capuano acknowledged as much during his post-game media scrum. However there were some bright spots.
Radek Martinek looked really smooth and can still skate well, which is important for a guy his age. Perhaps he can get lucky with a new contract and a new jersey number. The Islanders need him right now to be healthy in the worst way.
I felt Matt Carkner was fine, but definitely was caught flat-footed a couple of times. But I like the size, and noticed he pinched a couple of times which surprised me. His game is obviously to play rough and clear the crease when needed so if he can do that I think he'll be fine. Near the end of the game, after getting burned a couple of times he was beginning to hang back a bit more which is probably where he should be to ensure it isn't as easy for opposing forwards to get by him to compensate for the lack of speed.
Thomas Hickey has me very intrigued at what he can provide at the NHL level. We've already gone through his history and the injury issues that have plagued him, but he looked pretty good to me. He can certainly skate really well and had a couple of nice rushes where he was able to cut in towards the net and get a shot off. I'd say given the play of Jon Landry and Joe Finley from what I could see last night, he's got to be the favorite to grab that 6th D spot.
In looking at Bridgeport, Nino Niederreiter looked fantastic. The chance down in the AHL seems to have done him really good, and to be honest I was happy to see the Islanders leave him down for this training camp. He is better suited getting significant minutes rather than wasting away on a 4th line in the NHL. He'll undoubtedly be called up as an injury replacement with a good chance at sticking the remainder of the year when he does so.
I'd expect both Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart to be sent back to their junior teams in short order. Strome didn't stand out to me at all, and is still a bit small for this level. Strome will be more ready next year though for sure. Reinhart is talented, and made some nice blocks but will need some more seasoning as there are parts of his game which are still very raw, like his skating.
It was a good conditioning drill for the Islanders to go through as they prep for the short season to begin in a couple of days. Essentially at times it had the feel of a glorified practice. But there were moments you could tell that one team came together a week ago while the other has been playing competitively since October. Some of the Isles top players weren't at 100% level, but the main culprits are those who did play overseas during the lockout so there isn't as much of a concern there.
Capuano said as soon as Thursday he and Snow would sit down and make the tough decisions, but we'll have a better idea of the opening night line-up at that point. There shouldn't be any surprises here aside from Hickey as the 6th defenseman to start the year.