February 24, 2013

Isles Blank Sabres, Back at it Sunday Night to Start Long Homestand

On the day the Islanders made one of their most significant transactions of the last few years, the team skated to a dominating 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Just as we wanted to see after the good ending in Montreal and as pointed out in the last post, the Islanders tightened up on defense and their netminder was as strong as he has ever been to seal the convincing win for the Islanders.

It seemed like the only times the Sabres got momentum or generated good scoring chances were on their powerplays. In 5-on-5 play, the Islanders dominated for the most part and played solid in all three zones.

Both goalies had to make some good saves, but in particular Evgeni Nabokov had his hands full with the series of Sabres powerplays in the second period, which seemed to produce glove save after glove save. Nabokov continued his strong play in the third and even had some help from his defenders, who stopped a couple of the Sabres chances at empty nets, more specifically Thomas Hickey and Andrew MacDonald, who both bailed him out in big ways to preserve the shutout.

The Islanders were able to take a hold of the momentum from their penalty kills, and it finally led to them scoring two quick goals late in the 2nd period. Mark Streit took a beautiful and patient pass from Matt Moulson to put the Isles up 1-0, while Michael Grabner stole a lazy blueline pass by Christian Ehrhoff for a breakaway goal that gave them some insurance to head into the intermission with.

The Isles did not let up and continued to beat the Sabres to lose pucks and gave Nabokov a chance to see shots come his way. Meanwhile, Ryan Miller made some phenomenal saves but John Tavares pretty much put an end to any hopes of a comeback with his goal on a heck of an individual play from behind the net. The Sabres had some jump in their step after that but for them it was too little, too late.

Now, here comes the hard part. It shouldn't be, but it is. The Islanders start a stretch of seven(!) straight games at home, where they have a 2-6-0 mark on the season. They are 6-3-1 on the road, which is actually really good. Teams generally want to win their home games and be .500 on the road. The Islanders will have a huge opportunity to get back into the playoff race and in a statement kind of way, beginning Sunday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Kevin Poulin will get the start. Radek Martinek will play in place of Joe Finley, who has played better of late. The Islanders however have determined that it's not as important to have Finley's size in against the Canes, perhaps wanting to play a defenseman they can give more of a regular shift to in order to keep the minutes manageable to the other five guys on the second of a back-to-back.

Can the Isles finally win a big game this season at home and make a statement?

- Chris

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