October 19, 2010

Undefeated No More (sort of): Islanders 2, Maple Leafs 1 (OT)

On a night where the NHL's only remaining undefeated teams were both in action, the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs lost.

However, the Maple Leafs loss to the Islanders doesn't count as a true loss by NHL standards. But they no longer have a point percentage of 100. Dallas, meanwhile, lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that the Islanders will take on next. I'll get to that in a little bit.

The Islanders and Leafs seemed hesitant to me at first last night. Both teams we're playing their up tempo styles, but seemed a little conservative in the early going. Neither wanted to get behind. The Leafs controlled the play for much of the first period, taking seven of the first nine shots. With a little over five minutes remaining in the 1st, the Islanders came back and started to gain more control, and at one point had six unanswered shots on J.S. Giguere. There were barely any stoppages, and the period went along rather quickly.

Matt Moulson scored early in the 2nd, shortly after an Islanders power-play ended. Frans Nielsen made a nice backhand pass from the right side to John Tavares, who then quickly made a backhand pass to Moulson in the slot. Moulson deked to his backhand and put the puck over Giguere. That would be all the scoring for a while.

Dwayne Roloson came up big more often than not, in similar fashion to the way he came up big in the 58 save performance last November. As with the game against Colorado, his post-to-post coverage was very good, and his reaction time was excellent. He has shown and unbelievable ability to look through screens and know how to react no matter how fast a puck is thrown at him. It took him a bit at the beginning of last season to get to the level of play that he is at now. It's wonderful to see him pick up where he left off. This certainly changes the rotation of the goalies for the upcoming Florida trip, or at least it should.

The Islanders gave Roloson some help this time, as they blocked 23 shots in addition to the 30 that he had a chance to stop. Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Jon Sim made some good defensive plays for most of the game. Unfortunately, Sim had the failed clearing attempt on the penalty kill that led to Phil Kessel's goal. But He did have what I felt was a rather good game up until that point. But Bailey and Nielsen, on multiple occasions, got back and covered for defensemen who jumped in on the offensive play and intercepted passes or cancelled the opposing player out. Good stuff.

Speaking of Bailey, he appeared to injure himself on an attempted hit. He was listed as having a hip flexor, and at practice today it was said that he is unlikely to play in Tampa on Thursday. We have a couple of days before then, and this is a day-to-day injury. A gun to my head though, and I doubt he plays Thursday or Saturday against the Panthers at least.

The Islanders did have some good fortune overall in this game. It was by no means a complete effort, and in a way the Islanders are fortunate they came out with both points. In the 3rd period they were on their heels a bit, and weren't trying for as many offensive chances. That is a case of an old habit rearing it's ugly head. They cannot sit on one goals leads, especially 1-0. The Leafs had one goal and one non-goal waived off, and the one that actually went in the net appeared to be knocked down with a high stick. It is really difficult to find a good angle of that, though, but from what we can see it appeared to be the right call.

In the final minute after the Leafs tied the game, they continued to put pressure on the Islanders. Roloson came up huge a couple of times, but it was Radek Martinek who had perhaps the biggest save of the night as time expired with Roloson down and an open net. Martinek came up slow after the block, and did not practice today. No word yet on what happened or how he is feeling, only that he did not participate.

Tavares cashed in on the power-play in overtime, with Brett Lebda in the box for goalie interference. Tavares has always seemed to have problems with one-timers, but he got this one. It was his 2nd goal of the year, and 3rd point in the last two games after missing all but the 1st period of the opener with a concussion.

As I mentioned earlier, the next opponent is the Tampa Bay Lightning. If you got a chance to check out that game against the Stars, you saw that the Lightnings offense is still very deadly. As Sean said on the podcast on Sunday, Steve Stamkos is playing like last season never ended, and even better in some aspects. Vincent Lecavalier appears to be out, but Islander killers Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone are still around. The Islanders won't be able to play the same kind of game they played in Toronto. Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, although solid goaltenders, can be exposed if you take a lot of shots. That is something the Islanders haven't done the past couple of games, despite playing well and winning two of them.

We'll see what these couple of days off bring. It would certainly be great to get Martinek, Bailey and Trent Hunter all healthy, but at the very least the early indication is that the latter two will remain out.



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