October 26, 2010

MacDonald Injury Gives Jurcina Opportunity to Continue Solid Play

Milan Jurcina might not be the flashiest name on this Islanders squad, however Scott Gordon has been using Jurcina in a role he is very well suited for, on the 3rd pairing providing some steady play for just under 20 minutes a night.

After the game against Colorado, I had asked Milan about his confidence level as it appeared to me he was playing the best he has at any point in his career.

"Yeah, it's a big thing with the confidence. A game like that (two goals vs. Colorado), it's a big boost for the confidence," Jurcina said.

Obviously, the story of that game was the offensive outburst. But there were a number of things in that game he did well including throwing some hits and making a couple of nice defensive plays.

The injury to Andrew MacDonald (4-6 weeks after hand surgery) opens up the free spot for Jack Hillen and Bruno Gervais to battle it out. But Jurcina now has a chance to fill in some of the void that is being left by MacDonald.

Since he came up with the Islanders in the middle of last season, one key aspect of MacDonald's game has been blocking shots. Jurcina has a big body to put in front of the net, but he has always had inconsistency issues when it comes to playing the body and trying to get in front of pucks.

Ever since that game against Colorado, Jurcina seems to have been using that size to his advantage with some consistency. He has brought himself up to 11th in the league among defensemen in hits with 20, and his 16 blocked shots are ironically one behind MacDonald's total of 17.

The game against Florida was a good performance for the Slovakian defenseman as he had a season high five hits in the game. Against Tampa, he had three blocked shots. He has become one of the key defensemen on the penalty kill as his 3:41 of PK time per game leads all Islanders defensemen. More often than I can remember seeing him do, I notice he is tying up opposing forwards and doing a real nice job of forcing the play to the outside.

Aside from the game against Colorado, there has not been much of anything offensively. Jurcina has an excellent shot that he has always had problems getting on net. As far as I'm concerned, we need him more for his size and defensive ability more than the offense right now.

As far as my knowledge of Jurcina goes, thinking back to his time in Boston and Washington for the most part, this is certainly the best I have seen him play. Being re-united with Scott Gordon seems to have helped him out a bit, and being brought in with three other new defensemen, all with NHL experience has really helped the Islanders in the early going this season as they try to turn around what was one of the league's worst defensive corps last season.

Jurcina is going to have to continue his recent play, and not just until MacDonald returns. A consistent Jurcina using his body to his advantage is the best thing we could have asked for after signing him to the one year, $1 million contract, and so far he is proving to be a solid, yet unheralded addition to the blue line.

MATT MARTIN TO PLAY: With Michael Grabner day-to-day, it was announced that the forward will not go on the trip to Montreal for Wednesday's game. This opens up a spot for Matt Martin, who was practicing on a line with Doug Weight and Nino Niederreiter.

Yesterday, Grabner sounded very hopeful on his Twitter account as far as playing in Montreal, which made me wonder why Martin stayed up through the night. I had thought that it was perhaps because the Islanders were going to decide to send Niederreiter back to juniors, but alas another theory shot to pieces. Oh well.

It's exciting to see Martin get his chance this early in the season, and against a team that took some shots in the preseason. Mike Cammalleri slashed Niederreiter and earned a one-game suspension as a result. Don't expect that to happen again.

This is all we have for now, in what has been a relatively quiet couple of off days. If something pops up throughout the day, be sure to check back here for some thoughts.

CHECK OUT SUNDAY'S PODCAST: For anyone who may not have gotten it yet, the podcast is up and available here. Enjoy!



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