November 13, 2013

Isles Return Home, End Skid with 3-1 Win Over Nashville

The New York Islanders put forth one of their better efforts of the season, defeating the Nashville Predators 3-1 and finally ended an extended losing skid in their return home.

The thing that stands out the most in this game was the consistent effort particularly on the forecheck. The Isles did a great job of pressuring the defensemen and forcing turnovers which they were able to turn into scoring chances at the other end.

In all honesty, this is a game that the Islanders should have had a full 60 minute effort for. The Nashville Predators have come across some tough times of their own lately, and have had trouble finding the back of the net.

But this didn't stop them from getting some solid chances on the few times they did have any sustained control of the puck. Unfortunately for them Kevin Poulin looked perhaps the strongest he has all year.

Kevin Poulin starred in the Isles win. Photo by C. Hessel.
The thing that stands out to me with Poulin was his speed in making saves. Over the past few weeks, perhaps due to not seeing much playing time, he had a lot of extra movements and was slower to react. It seems like he was saved more often than not by opponents missing the net more than anything.

However on Tuesday night he made many spectacular saves, leading the fans to make sure they made a point in emphatically chanting his name throughout evening. It is very possible we might see some more starts for Poulin as we go forward, and Jack Capuano was non-committal about his netminding but it certainly seems that Poulin's play is giving the coaching staff some pause.

It's hard to pick out a few select standout players only because there were many of them. However I was most impressed with a few guys who didn't find their ways onto the score sheet - Case Cizikas and Aaron Ness.

Cizikas played great defensively, and on the penalty kill in the second period did just about everything a defending player could do while Poulin took care of the rest. He was throwing the body all night, had good speed and was able to steal a couple of pucks and get some nice chances the other way.

Ness was solid, seemingly in the right spots at the right time when needed and he didn't make any glaring mistakes. He had a few nice stretch passes, most of which didn't lead to much but it was nice to see him play well on both sides of the puck, especially given his size limitations.

John Tavares looked like himself again, and why he was left wide open in the slot on that powerplay we'll never know. But he pulled a nice little shoulder fake to get Marek Mazanec thinking slap shot all the way and cashed in when the Isles needed something to get the momentum in their favor. On Kyle Okposo's goal Tavares, Travis Hamonic and Brock Nelson had a nice shift and showed off some fancy passing skills.

Speaking of Mazanec, we have to give some credit to the guy making his first NHL start. The Islanders sent pucks his way early and often and he came up huge on some chances. The Isles could have easily had more than just the three goals.

Frans Nielsen kept doing what he's done all year - put points on the board. He single handedly created several scoring chances and was a direct reason the Isles scored on two of their goals, just from strong two way play and reading/picking off plays perfectly. This is the secondary scoring the Isles needed. Now if only we could get some of it out of Michael Grabner too.

In the first period Matt Donovan made some bad rookie mistakes, leading to some of the few chances Nashville had that period but Poulin stood tall on each one. As the game wore on Donovan upped his play a bit to keep the blatant mistakes to a minimum but each game we're seeing something from him that we have to realize will only improve with time and experience. The fact that he was able to make some in-game adjustments is promising.

The thing I liked in talking to some of the players in the post game is that they didn't seem satisfied with the win. As good as it was, they all seemed to realize that it doesn't do much when you consider the fact that they just lost four games in a row on the road with some pretty lackluster efforts on their part. Cal Clutterbuck harped on this point, but was pleased with the way his team responded.

"It was a good effort, especially given the circumstance. They came in here a desperate team, just like we did - obviously coming back from a disappointing road trip. I think sometimes coming home you tend to let down in that first game thinking it's going to be easy and we didn't do that."

Having that letdown, especially at home, is something that the Islanders have unfortunately become all too familiar with these days and it was very important to be able to start the home stand off the right way.

Clutterbuck emphasized that the team collectively agreed they need to want it more and put forth an effort required to win games. He felt it was the strong point for the team, and spoke of keeping it going in the future.

"We just had some extra effort, here and there - extra effort to get in the front of the net, extra effort to get a puck out of the blue line, an extra effort to be conscious of the situation and making the right plays. It's in here, we know how to do it."

The Islanders will try and keep their effort up against a tight checking Los Angeles Kings team that is going through some injury woes, with Jonathan Quick now getting injured Tuesday night. The Isles have played the Kings pretty well in recent years so we'll see if they can build on the high from Tuesday night's game.

- Chris

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