January 16, 2012

Isles Can't Solve Pekka Rinne

When one lists the best goalies in the NHL, Pekka Rinne is often overlooked through the first run through. However, Islanders fans got a first hand look at why this guy is one of the top three goalies in the NHL right now.

A lot of people don't pay much attention to the Nashville Predators, so they may not realize how good they are. I was talking with a coworker, who had no idea that they had a solid goaltender and a solid defense. That's what they've always prided themselves on, and what they continue to do. As a matter of fact, it's a model the Islanders should really follow - as it would require more talented defensemen to be added to the roster.

The difference in defensive presence was quite clear during this game. Yeah, it's easy to say that Nashville has it easy when you can throw Ryan Suter or Shea Weber out there. However, when you also have solid guys like Kevin Klein and Roman Josi, or intense spark plugs such as Francis Boullon then overall you're in a good situation. When you compare this to the likes of Steve Staios, Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau, then yes it seems like we have a ways to go on the back end. But we're off to a nice start with Travis Hamonic.

At any rate, the Islanders offensively really did all that they could for two periods. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at Rinne, who was only solved with a few minutes left to play. He made 36 saves and won his 13 game in his last 15 appearances.

The Matt Moulson-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo line was once again the most productive one out there for the Isles. It seemed as though every close call they had, or every quality shot came off the sticks of these guys each time they were out there. Tavares scored the goal on Rinne, and extended his points streak to nine games.

Michael Grabner was moved up to the 2nd line, swapping spots with Brian Rolston. Grabner, who was teamed up with P.A. Parenteau and Frans Nielsen, also had a few nice chances on Rinne. Grabner seems to slowly be getting some of his confidence back.

Speaking of confidence, Kevin Poulin appeared to have none early on. Perhaps it was from his eight-day layoff. Or perhaps he was surprised at how lousy the Islanders defense was. Whatever the reason, Poulin let in soft goals, flopped around a lot and looked desperate. He calmed down a bit after the Preds almost made it 4-0 with plenty of chances and Poulin flopping in the crease late in the first period, but he came out of it and was solid when he had to be for the remainder of the game.

Staios had a pretty rough game, making a couple of turnovers, including one big one that cost the Islanders on Matt Halischuk's goal. After failing to get the puck in deep from the neutral zone, Staios tried to turn around, stumbled into a Nashville player before bouncing off of him and falling trying to skate backwards with Halischuk. Poulin was equally as bad on the play.

Mark Streit also seemed to take a step back, fumbling pucks, not paying attention to faceoffs on offense and letting pucks easily get by him. We had praised him on the show this past weekend for getting back to his old level of play, but this effort was not good and seemed very aloof.

It was pretty much like the Islanders were two teams in one - good on offense and battling a very hot and top-notch goalie, while miserable on defense. Meanwhile, Nashville did what they always do to win hockey games as they played solid defensively and got timely scoring from everyone and a consistent effort.

The Nashville Predators are a perfect team for the Islanders to learn from if they are going to keep playing around the cap floor. Since that's likely going to happen, they may as well follow other similar models and see how it's done. The one advantage that they do have on this team right now is a much stronger offensive line-up. Add a couple of Nashville's defenders to this Islanders team (and no, I don't mean both Suter and Weber) and it's obviously a different story we're singing here on January 16th.

Look for Evgeni Nabokov to get back in and play in Washington on Tuesday night. I'd expect the Isles to roll with the same lines as this one. Washington's defense isn't nearly as good as Nashville's so maybe some of the Islander's chances will come from a little closer in and have a better chance of going in. It's going to be tough as Dale Hunter will surely like to get the win over the Islanders for obvious reasons, and the feeling is mutual. The Islanders really need these two points before heading into Philly on Thursday.

For those who missed it, you can catch the recording of our live show from Sunday here.



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