October 26, 2013

Bailey and Nielsen's Strong Play Helps Isles Win

If Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen hadn't gotten off to the starts they have this season, you have to wonder where the Islanders would be in the early season rankings. But each have started off strong, and were integral in a huge win on Friday night in Pittsburgh.

Nielsen finished with a goal and two assists, the final one coming on Bailey's goal to win the game with 1:40 left in regulation. Nielsen's goal had tied the game at two apiece earlier in the 3rd period. Just as he's been much of the season, Nielsen was in the right spot to redirect a beautiful slap pass from Thomas Hickey past Pens goalie Jeff Zatkoff.

Bailey's goal was one of the best individual efforts I've seen from a player on this team in a while. Talk about not quiting on the play. Bailey was determined to score and he found a way to do that, as unorthodox and as unlikely as it seemed. And this is where the Islanders are their most successful, when they play an up tempo system for 60 minutes. They had the forechecking and physical play going on all game and it created some nice opportunities for them.

Zatkoff made some nice saves throughout the game, keeping the Pens ahead as they controlled play at times and sent a lot of shots towards Evgeni Nabokov. Aside from giving up another weak first goal to an opposing team, Nabokov played well and gave the Isles the chance they needed to even the score and ultimately come out with the win.

As usual, defensively the Isles struggled - particularly Matt Donovan. Sidney Crosby scored a goal off of a failed shot attempt by Donovan on a puck that really wasn't sliding on the ice very fast. After Nielsen tied the game Donovan lost his man, Deryk Engelland, allowing him to give the Penguins the lead again 16 seconds later.

Fortunately for Donovan, not long after this the Isles tied the game again with Pierre-Marc Bouchard scoring alone in front after a bad turnover by the Penguins. That's an epic bailout if I've ever seen one. For Bouchard, it was his first for the team. After struggling for much of the season it'll be nice if this opens the floodgates for him.

Radek Martinek, signed to a new one-year contract on Wednesday looked strong in his debut as he had two assists of his own and positionally was in the right spots much of the night. It was definitely a steady influence and one the Isles needed against a potent Pens team. I liked how he continued the trend of Isles defensemen doing what they could to chip in on offense, although it seems every shot attempt Martinek took missed the net. But he was less hesitant than we've seen in years past to take those shots.

This was a good character win for the Isles coming off of the tough overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. They got two points in a game that no one expected (myself included, I'm sorry to say) and now return home on Saturday night to take on a struggling Flyers team that had a big win of their own over the Rangers the other night.

What remains to be seen is if the Isles can take care of the Flyers or if they suffer a setback. In years past, coming off of a big win like this one the Isles usually do - especially the second game of a back-to-back. If things are truly going to be different for this team, then they need to kick that habit and take care of business against a team that has suspect goaltending and defense.

Kevin Poulin will start for the Isles with Nabokov playing last night. The Isles are pretty much setting up to split the goaltending in back-to-backs so Poulin gets to face a team that's struggled to score goals. After looking strong a couple of weeks ago in Chicago we'll hope for a similar effort tonight.

- Chris

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