September 18, 2013

Isles Drop Both Ends of Split Squad to Flames

The Islanders got their first preseason games under their belts, playing a pair of games against the Calgary Flames in split squad matches.

Naturally it's tough to gauge anything in the early preseason games as it's more of a tune-up. In general vets don't want to get hurt, and that's the best strategy of them all.

But it's a good chance for everyone to get their first looks at newcomers and prospects, and each one gave us a glimpse. The game in Calgary was better for this as it was the only one that was streamed and had some more of the 'battles' on it.

Flames 5, Islanders 3 (in Calgary)

For those who watched, you had your first looks at Cal Clutterbuck and Peter Regin. I thought that both were fine and seemed to have some chemistry with Michael Grabner, who was able to use his speed to get some nice scoring chances.

Grabner was one of the best Islander players, showing glimpses of what he can do all throughout the game which included scoring a nice goal on a break up the left side just over three minutes into the game. We know what he's capable of, so it was good to see he's got his legs going in camp.

Clutterbuck did have a few odd moments, all seeming to stem from a big hip check laid on him by Denis Wideman. He went after Wideman a few times after, getting a penalty called on him on one occasion.

In the 3rd period, Clutterbuck left with an injury after an attempted check into the boards behind the net, and it appeared that he was favoring his knee when he hobbled along in front of his net minder as he tried to get to the bench. Chris Bruton ended up skating in his place and made the most of the minutes he received.

Kyle Okposo seemed to have a bit of a rough go at it, flubbing some passes and shot attempts. He had one really bad turnover that lead to a golden scoring chance by Tim Jackman but it hit the post.

The defense was something I was really curious in, as Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart all played in Calgary and all have chances to make the Isles roster with the opening on defense.

Donovan helped his cause in instilling confidence in the coaching staff. He got off to a slow start and seemed to be a bit of a deer in headlights early on. But once the second period rolled around he settled down, and by the 3rd period he was doing good things on both ends of the puck to show us that he is very capable. His highlight came on the Isles 3rd goal, when he started the cycle behind the net that lead to a shot from the point and a rebound that was put in by Riley Wetmore.

Reinhart scored a pretty goal and surprised me with the amount of times he seemed willing to carry the puck up the ice. At times it seemed like he was too willing. He's a big, solid defensive defenseman so that's where his specialty lies. I think what you saw more from him was trying to make an impression, realizing that he's up against a good 2-way defenseman in Donovan.

De Haan really didn't do much to help his case unfortunately. He had a rough go particularly on the defensive side of the ice. He got beat on one goal and his spacing was off on another. De Haan has had a frustrating couple of seasons after being touted as an excellent puck mover, but he can't afford to let the other areas of his game suffer. He'll need to tighten that up if he wants to be given the chance to beat out Donovan who looks like the favorite for the job with the first round of cuts looming.

The Isles switched goalies in the middle of the game, giving both Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson a look. I'm hard pressed to make comments either way with them because their situations were hard thanks to some careless penalties.

Poulin made some nice saves early on and kept his movements to a minimum, but once Calgary got their first goal on the board he seemed to take a step back towards old habits.

Nilsson came in and made a few nice stops, but was met with the penalties to Clutterbuck (tripping/grabbing Wideman from behind) and Matt Carkner (inexplicably covered the puck with his hand to move it out from under him). The Flames scored on both parts of the ensuing 5-on-3 and jumped out to a 4-1 lead not long after Nilsson entered. But he made some solid stops in the 3rd to keep the game close.

It was nice to see what some of the young guys had, even those who don't stand much of a chance to make the big club. But a lot of the lesser known guys looked really solid to me, and if everything holds constant and goes the way we expect Bridgeport will have some good additions this year.

Calgary 4, Islanders 2 (in Regina)

The Isles in the other part of the split squad didn't fare much better. The Calgary team here poured more on so it gave the goaltenders and defense a workout. Evgeni Nabokov and Kenny Reiter shared the nets, with each giving up two goals as well.

There's not much we can tell from not being able to see the game but John Tavares and Matt Moulson scored the goals for the Isles. The two of them have picked up where they left off and through the first few days of camp seem to have been finding their stride with Pierre Marc-Bouchard as well. I'd expect these guys to light up the preseason regardless.

It seems as though the team will make some decisions within the next day or so having these games out of the way, but there likely won't be anything groundbreaking. As far as others from this game I'd expect Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson to stick around a little while longer - especially until we find out exactly what the issue is with Clutterbuck and if he'll miss any significant time (if any).

The next game up for the Isles will be on Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils.

- Chris

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