January 25, 2013

Isles Make Comeback to Win First Road Game

Things could have gone a lot smoother for the first road game of the season for the Islanders. But they could have been worse.

While the Isles were able to pull out a 7-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the score wasn't as indicative of the game as one would think at first glance.

For the first 20 minutes, the Islanders were outplayed in every area of the game. They were out-played, out-hustled and out-shot.

Defensive breakdowns and laziness lead to first two Toronto goals. For the most part, there was a lot of standing around. Most notable on the first goal the culprit was Joe Finley, who despite having a size advantage was unable to clear a Toronto forward from the front of the net, letting him disrupt Evgeni Nabokov ever so slightly. At the same time the entire team was scrambling on this one because the team was stuck in the zone and David Ullstrom's weak clearing attempt was easily held in at the blue line. Once Carl Gunnarsson got a pass and wound up, everything was too far broken down. An odd carom helped the Leafs to their second goal, leaving Nabokov to fend off a weird Nazem Kadri shot alone while Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic had trouble locating the puck.

Toronto's third goal is one where you noticed the differences between these two teams. Up until this point the defense was continuously backing up when Toronto came up ice, letting the Leafs use their speed to get high percentage shots on Nabokov that were finding their way to the back of the net early. Here, it was Mikhail Grabovski with the quick shot that gave Hamonic and Nabokov a hard time.

With Nabokov having issues and the Isles play lethargic, thinks looked headed for disaster early. The end of the period seemed to be a blessing of sorts for the Isles however, who came out for the 2nd and were actually skating and using their legs, helping them to generate good plays and create some powerplay chances for themselves.

And it was on a powerplay that the Islanders began to make their comeback. Mark Streit scored off a great passing play between John Tavares, Brad Boyes and himself. Despite having trouble getting out of the defensive zone at times during the man advantage, the Islanders were able to capitalize on what had otherwise been a strong start to the period.

Boyes would tie the game, getting a goal of his own by crashing the net like he used to in St. Louis. For years Boyes had a home in front of the net and some solid play on the forecheck and around the net these last two games finally paid off for him.

Any fear of a momentum kill after the 2nd intermission went away when Michael Grabner scored early on after another nice pass from Boyes, this one a cool looking saucer pass that was tape-to-tape. Keith Aucoin, who showed good speed all night and was very solid on the forecheck, got open and took a nice pass for a quick wrister with traffic in front and scored, chasing Ben Scrivens from game.

Matt Moulson would add some insurance for the Isles, picking up a loose puck from Dion Phaneuf and firing a nasty wrister passed James Reimer. Phaneuf had other problems that lead to the turnover. He had boarded Tavares in the corner, receiving no call on the play. Three infuriated Isles, Kyle Okposo and Matt Carkner in particular, began to go after him leaving Moulson pretty much uncontested just above the slot area.

If things weren't bad enough for the Leafs, after getting one back they sure looked like they would come within one. But Aucoin ensured this wouldn’t happen by saving a goal before it crossed the line. It put an emphasis on the night and settled the Isles down who were beginning to scramble once again.

While the defense didn't look as sharp as it did the first couple of games, the fact the Isles were able to come back from down two on the road, in a tough building to play in says a lot. And for this one a lot of the secondary guys chipped in and made their marks on the game.

As far as the high end guys, they all did exactly what they needed to do and contributed (Moulson, Boyes).

Even though early on it wasn't as great as it probably could have been, Nabokov settled down and got the job done. The Leafs did throw 43 shots at him, with a fair share being of the high percentage variety and he did make some nice stops. To give up the ones he did, with little defensive help for the most part, isn't very alarming to me and proves really how valuable he is to this team.

Having said that, it would surprise pretty much no one if the Isles started Rick DiPietro on Friday night in Boston. We'll see what they do as far as that goes and any line-up changes. I wouldn't expect any because they team has generally played well with this line-up, but it would definitely give me a better feeling with a Radek Martinek or Thomas Hickey playing over Finley.

- Chris

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