March 17, 2013

Isles Hold on to Beat Panthers 4-3

In just a matter of minutes, the Islanders saw a game go from in the bag to up in the air against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

After jumping out to a 3-0 lead and basically outplaying the Panthers in every area of the game, the team collapsed a bit in the third period, giving up three goals to the Panthers in 1:40 of game play. However, the Islanders would end up pulling this one out and avoided going to overtime to do so.

Early on things looked good for the Isles, who started right off in first 30 seconds with a couple of scoring chances. You could tell the Panthers were really sluggish at the start. For as much as we get on the Isles for slow starts, Florida has been much worse this season with those.

After the Panthers found their legs briefly thanks to an early power play chance that Evgeni Nabokov starred on, the game slowed down a bit. The Isles had a couple of solid chances that were flubbed, like the Frans Nielsen/Josh Bailey 2-on-1 that got lost in Bailey's skates.

George Parros and Eric Boulton fought to try and bring some life back into the game and it was only a few minutes after that when Kyle Okposo would score, breaking the scoreless tie with his first goal since February 28th against Toronto.

The Isles would get some good puck movement on a few scoring chances, and a Radek Martinek shot from just inside the blueline would get past Scott Clemmensen for a 2-0 lead. Mark Streit brought the puck in deep and with multiple Florida players pressuring him would find a wide open Martinek at the point for the shot.

The beginning of the second period brought more of the same for the Isles, as Brad Boyes, John Tavares and Matt Moulson show off some good puck control and passing skills. Tavares made a nice pass to Boyes streaking on the wing and after carrying the puck in deep, Boyes threw it in front trying to find Moulson. The puck would never get there as it went off Tomas Kopecky's skate and in for the three goal lead.

The Isles defensemen did a nice job of giving their goaltender help, poking passes towards the slot away with ease. This was especially true in the second period, when they really had a choke hold on the game and left the Panthers searching for answers. Unfortunately, that would not carry over into the third period. The Panthers pressed late in the 3rd but hit a couple of posts, reminding us all of where this game could head if the Islanders got lazy or sloppy, which would not be the first time.

And sure enough, that was the case. From the moment the puck dropped in the third you knew that Florida would end up beating Nabokov at some point. There was simply too much pressure coming from Florida, and the Islanders were doing too much standing around, and making poor decisions with the puck on passing plays and clears that led to bad turnovers.

A defensive lapse with four Isles players standing around the crease left a clear shot in the slot for T.J. Brennan in his first game with the Panthers. Just 34 seconds later with Nabokov trying to do too much on his own and still not getting the defensive support he had earlier, Marcel Goc answered for Florida.

This comeback would continue, with Nabokov leaving a rebound, unsure of where the puck was and no defenseman covering his opposite side where the puck actually went. As Nabokov was down in the save position on the ice, Mark Santorelli would find a wide open net to tie the game.

The team was able to settle down a bit and get some nice chances on Clemmensen. But it was the third line we've all come to like so much that would break through. Keith Aucoin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald - the man with the new contract - would have one of the better forechecking sequences we've seen this year. Cizikas was in all the right spots at the right time, and after ensuring the Isles controlled the puck behind the net, left it for McDonald. McDonald would find Cizikas in front of the net for a one time goal that brought the intensity level up high for all involved.

We've seen growth from Cizikas so far in this short season, and he seems to work really well with McDonald. I've liked what I've seen from both, and it's finally good to see the Isles have checking line players they can roll out there with some regularity and not have to worry about them being a liability too much.

I liked a lot of the play I saw from Andrew MacDonald in this game. After struggling mightily for much of the season, he's really turned a corner and is starting to make those plays we have seen him make countless times. It's a lot of the subtle plays like doing a good job poking the puck out of reach and breaking up a rush, or out of harms way in the slot area. But with him playing top minutes, the Isles need him to be consistent and he's done that over these last couple of weeks.

It wasn't the most ideal game, however the Islanders got the job done, walking away with a much needed win to put themselves in 9th, just two points out of a playoff spot and one point ahead of the Rangers.

In fact, putting aside the fact the Isles blew another huge lead, this is the fist time in a while the team won a big game on the road. We can only hope it wasn't a fluke, and that this young team is actually turning the corner.

The Isles will have a few days off before returning home to face the Ottawa Senators. The team has a five game points streak at home, and will look to continue that with a three game home stand. If this team can play with some consistency at home like they've shown on the road, we just might have something here.

- Chris

1 comment:

Louie D 72 said...

Even though they had a lapse there for a few minutes, it was nice to see them storm back and score a big goal the way they did. Hard work paid off. They stayed within their game and didnt try to do too much. Simple cycle down low and waited for an opportunity for a good scoring chance. Great job holding on down the stretch. Could Okposo have ended it earlier with that open net though? Wouldve been nice. But either way 2 points in the book and now back home against Ottawa Tuesday night!!!