January 30, 2013

Grabner, Nabokov Star as Isles Beat Pens 4-1

One concern everyone had about the Islanders going to Pittsburgh was how much of an effect the crushing overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the previous game would have on the outcome. Clearly, the answer was not much.

The Islanders skated to one of their most complete games in a while, a 4-1 victory over a very inconsistent Penguins team that is now still looking for their first win at home.

It seemed as though every facet of the game for the Islanders was working well. At times the Penguins looked lethargic, but others, the Islanders just appeared to be simply outplaying them.

Casey Cizikas opened the scoring with his first NHL goal with a cool looking wraparound after a turnover by Paul Martin. Naturally, you couldn't help but wonder when the Penguins would begin to press and wake up from their slumber after giving it up. But that moment never came.

All night the Islanders did the little things right. Evgeni Nabokov saw virtually every shot that was thrown at him, except for the blind ones thrown by the Pens that rolled through the crease or wide of the cage. The defense did a solid job of keeping the Pens forwards at bay too, and when odd man rushes occurred they kept it simple. One guy who comes to mind when thinking about this is Brian Strait.

Aside from scoring a goal on the breakaway to give the Isles a 2-0 lead, Michael Grabner really stole the show tonight. I can't find one bad shift by this guy. There was no slacking off. He was a monster on the penalty kill, on four separate occasions using his stick and quick reach to break up attempted plays by Pittsburgh's point men. He certainly had the NBCSN guys gushing over him, and to add his 4th goal in the first six games was icing on the cake. We have the old Grabner back - and then some, thanks to this much improved and perfectly calculated (to date) defensive play.

Matt Moulson and John Tavares added goals of their own, and Kyle Okposo looked much better after a less than stellar effort against the Jets. It seems as though the Islanders really took the time to break down the tapes of that Winnipeg game and worked on all the defensive lapses that ailed them.

Of course, the game didn't come without some of the usual ebbs and flows, although kept to a minimum.

Nabokov had to stand on his head more often than we probably would have liked to have seen against a skilled team of this ilk, but it didn't matter as he was up to the task.

Things got difficult for the Islanders near the end of the 2nd period when Colin McDonald took a completely unnecessary major penalty for boarding. The Penguins were unable to generate much of anything on the powerplay, and every time they had something the Islanders didn't let it get too far out of control. They didn't handle the puck like they were playing a game of hot potato either and did excellent jobs of clearing it out of the zone, and getting it deep to ensure they could get proper line changes out and prevent against odd man rushes.

In general, the Islanders seem to play the Penguins pretty well, despite the outcomes usually being pretty mixed. But the Islanders took advantage of a team still trying to find their way after some confusing losses to the Jets and the Leafs that were undoubtedly in their minds once the Islanders took the 4-0 lead.

I had felt a successful road trip this early in the season would be 2-2-1, and the Islanders are assured at a minimum that result. It's a good spot to be in and coming back home to either way, with the potential to be even better.

I'd expect the same line-up in New Jersey after this effort, and you certainly can't argue if that's what the Isles do. I would also start Nabokov, who seems to be in the zone lately and kept that up tonight. Keep it simple and let him see everything, allowing the shots from the outside.

- Chris

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