March 7, 2013

With Playoff Atmosphere, Rangers Defeat Isles in OT

The real crime in the Islanders 2-1 overtime loss to the Rangers wasn't the penalty call on Michael Grabner - a stick to the midsection of a player with the puck in the vicinity will get called every time - it was the lack of many penalty calls at all, including a goose egg of calls on the Rangers.

Clearly, the game had a playoff atmosphere which was aided by fan support from both sides and the fact that the refs swallowed the whistle. And there were some questionable non-calls, but in general it was going both ways until the officials broke the consistency with the call in the extra frame.

Credit to the Rangers for continuing to go right at the Islanders, who came out weak in the third period after a solid 40 minutes and seemed to be hoping for the best. There was a lot of standing around, a lot of failed attempts to get the puck out from deep in the zone, and several defensive breakdowns. Evgeni Nabokov had an answer for pretty much all of it until there was about 5 minutes left in the game.

The first two periods saw the Islanders get plenty of chances in on Henrik Lundqvist, and he stood just as tall. The Islanders had several great shifts and did a fine job on the penalty kills they had to go through during regulation, attacking the Rangers where they are at their weakest when on the man advantage which resulted in many easy clears.

One thing that stood out to me in this game is how much the Islanders really lacked a puck moving defenseman in Lubomir Visnovsky's absence. He's very important to this team and any playoff hopes they have with 24 games remaining. One thing the Islanders did, although getting some solid shots was hesitate frequently, especially when the puck was in the slot area. Getting three guys to crash the net is always a good strategy and makes for some nice scoring chances, but it was maddening to see the Islanders make several nice plays from the half boards only to have a guy streaking down the middle receive a pass and then hesitate.

However, several guys did stand out for the Islanders, in particular some of the checkers. Matt Martin brought his patented style of play, while Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald all did fantastic jobs in forechecking.

In giving credit where it's due, one of the better defenders was Andrew MacDonald, who seems to have gone back to basics. He's not trying to do as much, and that's helping him out in being a solid defenseman again. The skating and speed isn't where it should be quite yet, but the improvements are very noticeable.

Jack Capuano was a lot more mellow in the post came than one would have expected given his reactions once Marian Gaborik's shot crossed the goal line in overtime. Brent Thompson and Doug Weight were even more upset, and as the team came off the ice they both turned to the officials and were screaming any obscenity you can think of.

Despite the fact they weren't up to the challenge in the 3rd period, you can't help but feel the Islanders had something stolen from them. They earned one point, but the refs took away one from them with a call that broke the consistency of non-calls the game enjoyed all night.

And now, the Islanders are left to push it from their minds and need to try to not sit there and lick their wounds. Take the points streak into Saturday and earn the two points there. It might seem bittersweet, but this team is still in it. So battle the adversity and get the points against Washington, and try and put games like this and the five game losing streak in the distance.

- Chris

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