January 21, 2013

Islanders Hold Off Lightning for First Win

From the moment the puck dropped you knew this game was going to have a bit of a different feel to it than the home opener. Any game that has two fights go on one second after the puck is dropped will be different.

Joe Finley and Matt Martin each dropped the gloves with Pierre-Cedric Labrie and B.J. Crombeen respectively. After things were sorted out there and further penalties were handed out to Ryan Malone and Colin McDonald for unsportsmanlike conduct, we were ready for a hockey game.

The Islanders seemed to grasp onto the adrenaline created by the fights and controlled the play for much of the game.

While there was no scoring in the first period, we saw several chances by the Islanders and plenty of odd man rushes, each met by a very solid Anders Lindback.

Anders Lindback makes a save in the 3rd. Photo by C. Hessel
The Islanders strong play continued into the second period though where they continued to press and go on breaks. It was Michael Grabner who was finally able to crack Lindback and score his first of the season on a breakaway thanks to a beautiful pass from Mark Streit. Grabner had Eric Brewer draped all over him and was going to get the penalty call, however the fact that he stuck with the play that long and was able to guide the puck ever so slightly towards the net helped it slide across the goal line.

With Martin in the box serving a holding penalty, the Islanders had a strong penalty kill thanks largely in part to Grabner. When Frans Nielsen had his stick broken Grabner used his own to knock the puck off of a Lightning stick and out of the zone where the Islanders were able to regroup. With just seconds remaining on the kill, John Tavares came out and got the puck along the boards once Martin hit the ice. One heads-up pass and away Martin went.

Martin scored on the breakaway with the only assist going to Tavares. But we need to acknowledge the work of Grabner here for doing a phenomenal job on the kill to allow the Islanders to set this up.

A Tavares and Kyle Okposo odd man rush gave the Islanders their third goal, with Okposo pretending to pass to Tavares before angling his body back and getting a quick, low shot off that slid past Lindback. Okposo had done many good things all game and looked like his old self again, a pleasant change from Saturday's game.

The Islanders picked up where they left off early in the third with David Ullstrom scoring on a beautiful give and go sequence with Keith Aucoin, who I felt had another solid game. I think he provides some valuable attributes for a lower line and would have no issues if he stuck with the big club for a decent stretch of time.

On the defensive end, I don't think enough can be said about Travis Hamonic. I'm not sure if it was playing in the AHL this season or what, but these first two games you can see the improvements from last year and that his offensive game is beginning to emerge, particularly his passing up to help create these rushes up the ice. This is your future top defenseman.

I felt Andrew MacDonald's play was lacking a bit, and he made some errors in some key moments, particularly later in the third period as the Islander began to implode a bit. While they only bent and never broke, it seemed like some of his passes were off and he shied away from physical play in the corners allowng the Lightning to easily get the puck and throw it towards the slot area for quality chances. Streit was another one guilty of this at times.

As a matter of fact, when things began to unravel it seemed like in general the Islanders had a hard time knowing where the puck was aside from Tavares, Okposo, Hamonic and Grabner. I noticed a lot of scrambling, a lot of guys standing around and second guessing themselves on defense and playing the equivalent of a prevent defense. This isn't going to do your team any good when the guys being given these high percentage shots are Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, both of whom scored goals.

The Islanders went through a rough stretch but thanks to sticking with plays in the last three minutes, they were able to draw a couple of penalties ensuring they would control the puck for the remainder of the contest.

It certainly wasn't the way you'd like to draw it up, considering the team was up 4-0 after two periods. It was nice to see them at the very least, pull out a win in front of a large crowd that was into the game from the beginning.

If it weren't for Evgeni Nabokov, one has to wonder where exactly this game would have gone. As a matter of fact, if Lindback wasn't there for Tampa, how many of those other Islander chances would have gone in? Lindback was dealt from Nashville in the off-season because he was stuck behind Pekka Rinne, and I think you can see the talent he has. Give it another year or two and he'll be a very talented starter in this league just like his former teammate in Nashville.

The Islanders needed a win here in the worst way. Going on the road for a five game trip with an 0-2 record wasn't going to produce very desirable results. However, going into it 1-1 after a decent win here will make a huge difference, and they can work on a few items that plagued them - the lethargic play with a big lead one of them - before taking the ice again Thursday in Toronto.

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