March 27, 2013

Isles Playoff Push Road Trip Starts with Victory over Caps

The Islanders kicked off their road trip in a huge way on Tuesday night, defeating an opponent in the Washington Capitals that they are trying to fend off in their hopes to remain in the playoff conversation.

For much of the first period the Islanders played hard, and had great hockey sense. They did a phenomenal job on covering the Capitals, most notably Alex Ovechkin. He still got some of his shots off, but the chances were minimized thanks to the Isles game plan.

The Isles were even able to get some great scoring chances of their own, converting on two of them. Michael Grabner was alone in the slot, and Keith Aucoin did a nice job of picking up a loose puck along the boards and finding Grabner.

A few minutes later, a fantastic shift and forecheck by Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey would result in a goal. Nielsen started the play chasing the puck into the corner, and picking it up behind the net to cycle it to Okposo outside the faceoff circle. With Josh Bailey rushing in from the blueline to Braden Holtby's left, Okposo found him and although he hesitate, Bailey would rifle a high slap shot past Holtby.

But the Capitals, on a three game winning streak, would not go quietly into the night. In the second period they began to press, and had some of the better chances. Mike Ribiero would dance past Marty Reasoner to put the Capitals on the board and within minutes, Evgeni Nabokov gave up a weak long range shot to John Carlson. This was looking like it could be familiar territory for the Isles.

However from that point on, they really played a solid game of hockey. In the first minutes of the third, Holtby and Nabokov exchanged huge saves. That pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Mike Green had a difficult time corralling a loose puck after a Holtby save with about five minutes to play, and after giving up on the forecheck originally, Matt Moulson circled back when he saw Green had no idea that the puck was in between his skates. Moulson picked up the loose puck and made a backhand pass to Tavares who launched a wrist shot past Holtby to give the Islanders the lead and momentum.

Late pressure for the Caps was all for naught as Nabokov and the Isles would hold on for one of their biggest wins in years.

This was the start of the Isles final push for a playoff spot with a week to go before the NHL trade deadline. They kicked it off with a huge road win, yet are still two points out, behind the New York Rangers.

I mentioned earlier that the Isles did a good job of containing Ovechkin, but the guy who deserves the most credit there is Thomas Hickey. The much smaller defenseman did an excellent job of shadowing him all game and was involved just enough at times to throw Ovechkin off ever so slightly. Mark Streit covered Ovechkin at times too and did a pretty good job as well.

While the Islanders overall looked fine, one line in particular looked awful. This was the first line. Really until the final five minutes, the line looked lost. For many of their shifts it felt like they were trapped in the defensive zone, mostly due to their inability to get any good cycling going on or any sustained puck control. These aren't exactly defensive stalwarts either, so for the Isles their play was pretty risky. Fortunately it didn't cost the team too much.

Overall, there were plenty of guys who pulled their weight though. The Isles had a game plan and were able to stick with it. Even after the Capitals tied it up, there didn't appear to be any desperation coming from the team. They took a deep breath, settled in and got the job done. The fact they did it in regulation is huge at this stage.

This was the best we could have asked for to start the playoff push road trip. Now the Isles need to march in to Philadelphia on Thursday, and do the same thing to a struggling team. The Flyers will likely be ready after being embarrassed by the rangers. The question will be how the Isles respond.

New NYI FYI Posted: Sean and I were able to get off our mini-hiatus yesterday evening and record the latest installment of the show. You can access it via the uStream page or through the PodBean site (when it hopefully cooperates with us later).

- Chris

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