February 10, 2011

Koskinen gets First NHL Win

Regardless of what the outcome would have ultimately been, I would have to say that the Isles latest visit to Montreal made for one of the more entertaining games we have seen all season long.

Fortunately, the night ended in a win for the Isles, and the first ever NHL win for goalie Mikko Koskinen.

Koskinen made 37 saves and stopped all four that came at him in the shootout to earn the win. And boy, did he earn it.

Koskinen came up with some big saves numerous times, including a diving stop on a fluttering puck that James Wisniewski tried to smack in at the goal line. As much as Koskinen tried to down play nerves prior to his first game, you could see how much more composed he was against Montreal. He obviously prepared much differently for this one.

I would say the one thing that bothers me about Koskinen's game is that he goes down into the butterfly too early. He's a big goaltender, and the report that Montreal had must have outlined this weakness in his game because they took a lot of shots up high. However, during the pre-season I wrote numerous times how impressed I was with both Koskinen and Kevin Poulin as far as reaction time, especially on glove saves. Koskinen made some nice saves with the glove, often reaching up for the high shots. If you're going to make saves like that, then how early you go down is only a minor issue.

Michael Grabner did his normal thing - scored a goal - and added another one for goiod measure. He also made some really nice defensive plays, and used his speed once again to his advantage. His first goal came after he split two defenders and created a mini-breakaway for himself. Just unreal. The waiver wire acquisition now has 19 for the season, just five behind Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks for the rookie lead.

Josh Bailey didn't get onto the score sheet, but he had a good game. He has been quietly getting his legs back, and is showing signs of a player poised to break out of a prolonged slump. He had two excellent chances tonight, both created when he stripped Montreal defensemen of the puck.

The overall effort tonight was excellent. The Canadiens played a tough game the night before against the Boston Bruins, and it showed but only very early in the first. They had their legs going by the time they got their first goal, but the Isles never let up and kept peppering Alex Auld with some good shots. They didn't keep it to the perimiter, either. They kept trying to push the defense back and get guys in front of the net, and all game long that happened. It was very refreshing to see.

The Isles need to do more of the same Friday night at home against the Penguins. They are without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, so it is imperative they try to take advantage. Al Montoya will most likely be called up.

Koskinen played so well tonight that I almost feel the Isles have to start him against the Pens if he ends up staying over Joel Martin. However, as much as it might sound weird to say this, I am a little bit interested in seeing what Montoya can do at this level. I will be watching this one live, and will be sitting in the press box.

More thoughts to come Friday morning or afternoon.



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