October 5, 2013

Isles Spoil Devils Home Opener in Shootout

In similar fashion to what we would have seen towards the end of last season, the Islanders pulled out a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils in a game where they played pretty sloppy overall.

Neither side really had great defense, a trend that seems to be in concert with what the rest of the league has been experiencing over the first week of the new season. When you pair that with the smaller equipment that the goalies are now required to wear it makes for some high scoring contests.

An ugly goal for the Devils lead things off as the home team got off to the start they wanted in their home opener, a day after getting shut out by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders were regrouping and trying to figure things out in the first 10 minutes it seems but Michael Grabner was able to score on a breakaway that squeezed under Martin Brodeur's pads and wake the Isles up.

Grabner was the star of the game for the Isles as he'd add a second goal off of a nice feed from Josh Bailey in the 2nd that would also come on a breakaway, where he found space between Brodeur's five-hole somehow. I think many of us are still trying to figure out how that went in. We saw a change in Grabner during the playoffs where he started to do more in the way of physical play, and it seems like that's carried over for him. We could be looking at a 35-40 goal season in the making if he's able to keep his pace up. The question might be his minutes though as it seems like he's still not getting what he probably should from Jack Capuano and the coaching staff.

Evgeni Nabokov came as we'd expect, making some sold saves but also giving up three goals, two of which weren't his fault. He's still his scrambling self though and had some close calls but at the end of the day he gave his team a chance to stay in it despite the lack of defense (lots of miscues by Travis Hamonc, Andrew MacDonald and Thomas Hickey in particular). It was his save to open the 3rd period that gave the Isles the jump to go the other way and take the 3-2 lead on the pretty Grabner-Frans Nielsen sequence.

As far as players who stood out to me aside from the obvious, I felt Brian Strait had a nice game. He did get beat a few times but had some good battles on the boards and when needed was throwing his weight around to try and win them. I thought overall he did a good job of sticking with his coverage.

Peter Regin showed some good moves and skates very well. I liked some of what he provided. There may be hope for him yet. We'll see if it can translate to any offense, but he looked solid with newcomers Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brock Nelson. It's too bad Brodeur made an unbelievable save on the Nelson-Bouchard play later in the 3rd period because that was a great shift by that line and it would have been a great way to end it. Nelson will learn with time, but his penalty in the 3rd period on Steve Bernier was a no-no. You can't hook a guy like that in response to a hard hit, especially with your team now in the lead. The Isles killed it off but within seconds after that Damien Brunner tied the game as Nelson was still trying to get back into play and help cover the front of the net.

John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo were pretty unnoticeable, and Tavares made many questionable plays. Several of those lead to turnovers which made these three have to switch and start going the other way to prevent odd man rushes with mixed results - as you would expect from guys who aren't the fleetest of foot. Of most concern to me was Moulson, who didn't look anything like we've been used to seeing. He wasn't involved in the offense too much either.

Fortunately it was only the first game of the season, so all of these observations could be moot within the next few days. But it is interesting to see who is where once prime time rolls around, and fortunately the Islanders were able to overcome some of the bumps and notch the shootout victory thanks, ironically enough, to Moulson.

Now the Isles have their first win out of the way and can head into tonight's home opener with some momentum. Columbus played last night too, dropping their home opener to the Calgary Flames. No doubt that they want to come out flying tonight with many people having high expectations for them this season after their solid showing last year. They want to avoid the 0-2 hole. The Isles will have their hands full, and will have their share of offensive weapons to look out for, the key being Marian Gaborik who is one of those notorious Islander killers.

- Chris

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