October 22, 2010

Isles Defeat Bolts After Waiting Game, Remain atop Division and Conference

The Islanders faced another early season test on the road in Tampa, a building that hasn't been too kind to them in recent years. Tampa entered the game with a 4-1 record, sitting in 1st in the South East Division. Prior to the game, it was decided that Vincent Lecavalier would be playing, meaning all the big guns were going to be on the ice.

But when it was all over, the Islanders would still find themselves sitting atop the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division and off to their best start since the 2001-2002 renaissance season.

The game started out with the Islanders looking strong. It didn't take very long for the Isles to get their first goal. Doug Weight took the puck behind Tampa's net, and passed it in front for a shot by Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter got the initial shot off, but Dan Ellis kicked the rebound to the slot where Michael Grabner was waiting to put in his 2nd of the season.

Tampa Bay wouldn't answer with a goal of their own until late in the period, with Sean Bergeheim scoring on a breakaway. DiPietro had an odd approach to playing it, and I don't think he expected Bergenheim to get it off after the late deke. Either way, there were a couple of things he could have done better there. Kudos to Bergie for getting the goal against his former team. He's off to a fast start.

The second period was a slightly different game, with more stoppages and more penalties coming to both teams. Early in the 2nd, Bergenheim took a holding penalty on John Tavares. It was actually quite blatant, but Bergie being Bergie argued the call. The Islanders weren't able to cash in on that power play, and Martin St. Louis made them pay (of course). Steve Stamkos stripped a rather careless Blake Comeau of the puck at the blue line and passed it up to St. Louis. Mike Mottau did a lot to try and tie him up, but St. Louis used speed and skill to get the better of him. Meanwhile, DiPietro I don't think expected a shot to get off and went down really early, and didn't have much of a reaction to the shot. St. Louis roofed it to give the Lightning the lead.

The Islanders would tie the game when P.A. Parenteau converted on a 5-on-3 powerplay. A shot deflected right to Parenteau with Ellis going down expecting the original shot from the point to get through but couldn't move to his right in time.

Tampa Bay would get a 5-on-3 of their own, but for a full two minutes. Jon Sim continued his battle with Matt Smaby, and when Sim refused to go with him Trevor Gillies tried to get Smaby to dance. Both Sim and Gillies were penalized, something that quite frankly should not have happened there with the game tied. The Islanders penalty killers were up to the task, with Zenon Konopka, Mark Eaton and Andrew MacDonald all coming up in big ways, keeping Tampa Bay to just one shot. MacDonald injured his hand from his blocked shot, and left the ice and did not return. No update on his situation yet, but he was still with the team after the game and bandaged up.

The 3rd period had the Lightning really playing their game, and preventing the Islanders from playing theirs. There was a lot of standing around from the Islanders side. DiPietro had to make a lot of saves in the period, and came up big for some. Early on he was very sloppy, including one series where he was down on the ice with the puck going across the goal mouth and Victor Hedman missing a shot to a wide open net.

Late in the 3rd, the Islanders got some of their legs back and Comeau was able to break in on Ellis by using a power move around Pavel Kubina. Kubina tripped Comeau up on the play, which created a powerplay for the Isles that went into overtime.

The Isles didn't score on the power play, but Matt Moulson put the puck in just after it ended. The goal, however was reviewed for about eight minutes. It took a while to get the camera views that the league wanted after it looked like it was very possible it went in. One view from over head clearly showed the puck over the line in mid-air before Ellis swatted it away. It was Moulson's 4th of the year.

As far as individual performances are concerned, one notable player who didn't look too great was James Wisniewski. Sure, the ice in Tampa Bay is notoriously bad. But, he had two big turnovers in critical situations that lead to rushes the other way, one of them Bergenheim's 2nd breakaway that DiPietro stopped. He shanked a few shots too. He appears to be using different sticks, but who knows for how much longer after that performance.

Frans Nielsen looked very strong again as well. He skated hard the whole game, and won a critical face-off late when Konopka was kicked out of the circle. He continues to do the little things right, particularly on the defensive side of things. He's been chipping in with assists here and there too. Good stuff coming from Nielsen this year.

Niederreiter had a strong game, and I noticed that he finally started to get some time on the power play. It's about time, quite frankly. The Islanders have two games left to decide what to do with him, and they need to be sure he can handle the special teams so he can get consistent minutes in order to justify developing him up here and not on a top line with Portland of the WHL. He doesn't shy away from contact in the corners, and is most noticeable in getting to the scoring areas in front of the net. He and Weight seem to have some chemistry when it comes to a play like that, and it essentially created Grabner's goal.

Josh Bailey sat this one out, but it is expected that he will return Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Trent Hunter returned, so the team did not have to call up anyone from Bridgeport. However, next game may see someone sit out. I would think the early favorite for that would be Gillies. Sim could be another candidate, but when you look at how much PK time he has been getting, and how well the Islanders PK has been performing these last few games, I think he'll stick for now. Grabner had an excellent game, and needs to remain in the lineup right now. Ditto for Parenteau.

The Islanders road trip is off to a great start. They have eight of the next 10 on the road. I think its great that, in these last two road games, the Isles have not had anywhere near their best effort but walked out with all four possible points. We'll have a better read on how real this team is as the road trip rolls along, but for now it is certainly enjoyable to watch.



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