January 28, 2013

Jets Storm Back to Defeat Isles in OT

Those who giveth, taketh away.

This was the story line of the Islanders top performers in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.

There was a lot of intrigue surrounding this game, with the Islanders coming off a tough loss to the Boston Bruins and the Winnipeg Jets starting former Islanders netminder Al Montoya. You also had a lot of talk about the success the Islanders had in the MTS Centre last season.

The Islanders did get off to a fast start as David Ullstrom stole the puck from Tobias Enstrom and scored on a 2-on-1 with Keith Aucoin just 2:34 into the game. For Ullstrom it was a continuation of strong two-way play we have been seeing out of him. After tough losses such as the one against the Bruins, it's important to get off to a fast start. However, the subsequent strong play from the Isles would not last long.

Several bad turnovers, many created by an inability to clear the puck, began to swing the momentum in Winnipeg's favor. Evgeni Nabokov made a few fantastic saves to keep the game from getting out of hand but ultimately Alexei Ponikarovsky would score wide open in the slot with the Isles standing around focused more on Kyle Wellwood. From that point on, Winnipeg dominated this game.

Thanks to Nabokov, the Islanders stuck with it and he kept them in the game, keeping the score at 2-1 after two periods and allowing the Islanders to have a shot at regaining their form. It took just 22 seconds to do that, as John Tavares evened the game at two apiece. The Islanders had a jump in their step and now were taking it to the Jets, who looked like they were exhausted and beginning to slack off. By the halfway mark of the period the Islanders jumped to a 4-2 lead, and had quieted a sold-out Winnipeg crowd.

But in the early part of this season, we've seen that leads and the Isles aren't the best of friends. And in this game, those who helped the Isles to this lead gave it back.

The top line of Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo looked miserable defensively for the remainder of the 3rd and Mark Streit was exhibiting some bad habits. It seemed anything that could go wrong did, be it missed assignments, players crashing into one another, or bad bounces to allow a puck into the net. When Dustin Byfuglien blasted a shot past Nabokov on the powerplay, the momentum went back to Winnipeg.

After fighting so hard to get a two goal lead, it was a shame to see the Islanders blow it in three minutes to eventually lose in overtime off of a turnover by Aucoin.

As nice as it is to get a very important point out of the game, given the remainder of the schedule for this road trip they really needed both. It's a point that will no doubt leave a sour taste in their mouths, and I hope that taste lingers so we don't see breakdowns like this anymore.

After the game Jack Capuano hinted that he wasn't happy with the defensive effort with a lot of his team, particularly the skill guys. I'd interpret this to mean Okposo, and would not be surprised to see him demoted to a lower line next game.

One thing I hope does not get changed is Thomas Hickey's spot in the line-up. After seeing Joe Finley in the first four games, Hickey was a welcome sight and I thought did a nice job of moving the puck. What stands out to me is how quickly he tries to get the puck deep towards the net, and how he has a nice, low shot he is not afraid to use.

The Islanders will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and will need to remember the hard lessons they learned from this game, because similar mistakes against the Penguins may not result in still being in this kind of a game after 40 minutes.

- Chris

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