October 24, 2010

Panthers 4, Isles (Tavares) 3; Other NHL Notes

The Florida trip is something that hasn't been too kind to the Islanders in recent years. While they were able to walk out of Tampa Bay with a win, they continued their losing skid in Sunrise, Florida.

Despite the efforts of John Tavares, who scored all three Islander goals, the Panthers once again walked away with a win. The Islanders are now 0-7-1 in their last eight games at the Bank Atlantic Center.

Obviously, when it comes to analyzing the Islanders, their best player was Tavares. Not only did he have a hat trick, but he also played fairly well in the other zones. Unfortunately, he had a bit of trouble on face offs last night, which is an area that he has improved on going into the season. Aside from his goals, there was one play that stood out to me. After losing control of the puck along the boards at center ice in the 3rd, he rushed back to take the puck away from the Panthers player who stripped him just seconds before. That is something we don't see Tavares do last season. That is the type of play I am referring to when I say he has greatly improved and was the Islanders best player last night, and not only for goals.

James Wisniewski extended his points streak to eight games with another two point performance. Each one of his nine points this season have come on the power-play. He was better and a little more solid than he was against Tampa Bay, so that was a plus as well. There are going to be games where he appears overly aggressive, such as the Tampa game, so for him to come back and have a bounce back game is going to be key for the team.

Milan Jurcina had a strong game as well. He had just over 15 minutes of ice time, but he had five hits. This is very important because when you look at what the knocks have been on him throughout his career, the number one thing is that he doesn't use his size enough. In the 3rd period, the Panthers had a 2-on-1 break but Jurcina did an excellent job to tie up Chris Higgins and force him and the puck into the corner. It appears as though the Colorado game was a confidence booster for him because he has been nothing but solid as a bottom pairing guy on this team. I won't go into all of the details on him here, because I am planning a small little feature on him for one of the off days coming up. So be sure to look for that.

Rick DiPietro looked OK again to me, but he needs to calm himself down at times when playing the puck. The first panthers goal came when he failed to clear the puck completely around the boards, and it went right to Keaton Ellerby at the blue line. Ellerby passed it across the ice to Mike Weaver who was able to take a slap shot that went past a screened DiPietro. His rebound control was also a little off, as you can see from what ended up being the Panthers winning goal. DiPietro kicked the rebound to his right, directly to an open Radek Dvorak. DiPietro dove to try and get back in time but was not fast enough. The 2nd Florida goal, from Steve Bernier was a bit of a freak thing as Mark Eaton made the block with his stick but it went right to an open Bernier on the right side where he put it into an open net.

Michael Grabner, another guy I plan to have a small feature about soon, had a solid game as well. He took some nice shots on Tomas Vokoun, but unfortunately couldn't score. But it was great to see him involved a lot in the play against the team that cut him in the preseason. Grabner got penalty killing time in this game as well, which is something that I found interesting. Defense is something that has always been lacking in his game, but he seemed to manage well. It doesn't take him much to go from a stand still to top speed, which can dramatically alter the time a power play unit has to make decisions. Perhaps it can be used to our advantage.

The reffing in the game was a bit off again as well. In the 3rd, they called Zenon Konopka for a goaltender interference when he never touched the goalie but was pushed into the post. Shortly after that, DiPietro was run into and there was no call. If you think back to the Islanders games so far, there are a number of examples of refs making bad calls. For example, the head shot call on Kris Letang for his hit on Blake Comeau. This has been a problem all around the league early on. I can't imagine the league is too happy with how their officiating has been so far.

The Islanders have a couple of days off before they go to take on the Canadiens in Montreal in the first part of a home and home against them. Like I said, I plan to have small little features out about specific players for the off days, so be sure to look out for those.

Around the NHL: Meanwhile, the rest of the NHL has been abuzz since last night on the heels of Ilya Kovalchuk's benching by the New Jersey Devils. They have been off to a very slow start, and things did not get better after a 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabers, who have been equally as bad in the early going. I have to give some credit to head coach John MacLean for benching Kovalchuk. That takes a lot of guts. I'm not sure why he ultimately decided to do it. Sure, he's off to a bit of a slow start, with only five points in seven games. But to bench your best player? Perhaps he was trying to send a message to the team. That is certainly one way to do it. I'll admit, I haven't been able to watch the Devils a lot in the early going here, but if the other aspects of Kovalchuk's game are lacking, then by all means he did what he had to do to make a bold statement to his team. Mum has been the word, and it is unclear if the consulted Lou Lamoriello before making the decision, but we'll see what dividends this pays, if any. The Devils play the Rangers tonight.

Aside from Tavares, there were two other hat tricks last night - Alexander Semin of Washington and Brad Richardson of the Kings. On Friday night, there were also three hat tricks from Rene Bourque of Calgary, Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa and Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay. Who says offense is down?

The NHL is going to have their work cut out for them when deciding who the players of the week are. There are more than a dozen worthy candidates out there.

New Podcast Coming: Seeing as it is Sunday, you can expect a podcast to come later from Sean and I. There's plenty to talk about once again, so we'll know better later as far as what is on the docket.



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