December 6, 2013

Blues Give Isles 8th Straight loss in 5-1 Powerplay Showcase

The Islanders may have taken baby steps forward in their games against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, but in St. Louis the penalty killing and defense were once again the culprits in an effort that left the team taking another huge step back.

What's unfortunate about the game is that the Isles were actually playing well in the first period and had some nice chances on Jaroslav Halak and the Blues. But this is a team that prides themselves on defense rather than offensive superstars that will score you out of the building on a nightly basis and they quickly figured out the Islanders scheme.

There was too much scrambling on the powerplay and too many instances where guys were left wide open. This happened on the Blues first goal, where there were three bodies in the path of Anders Nilsson, one of them being a jumping Jaden Schwartz and Travis Hamonic standing towards the side of the net watching. It made it easy for Jay Bouwmeester's point shot to find the back of the net.

Of course, this same thing happened when Thomas Vanek was alone in front and Andrew MacDonald scored to tie the game and give the Isles a powerplay goal of their own. But for much of the night, the Isles powerplay chances were maddening.

One thing I've noticed is they slow down tremendously when they have the puck on the man advantage, especially when passing around the point area. If you watch how St. Louis handled this, they would send players bursting out towards the point and often it lead to a turnover. This is becoming a common theme and something the Islanders have to improve on if they are going to insist on going with the umbrella formation, because once again we saw a couple of odd man chances for an opponent because of bad turnovers in the point area by the Isles. This also kills it's fare share of powerplays for the Isles as they are left with no choice but to interfere with the breaking player in any way they possibly can.

Jack Capuano spoke after the game about the special teams issues, and pretty much explained the only thing you can really do is go over systems with the players. While that's usually the best way to enforce something, it's now eight games in a row the Isles have lost and regardless of the few loser points sprinkled in there and this is now a dire situation. If the system isn't working, maybe it's time to change it and adjust rather than trying once again to enforce something that just isn't happening.

And what's happened to the physical play? What happened to the Isles of last season who played a dump and chase game and then would go in with bodies flying to force turnovers on the boards. It worked so well, even in the playoff loss to the Penguins. You can go back and watch tapes of that and see that system working at it's finest. The Isles now can't seem to maintain possession enough of a puck to be able to do a dump and chase, it's more a dump and go for the line change because they're exhausted by the time they can gain control. This isn't something that changing lines will help either, which is something Capuano alluded to doing in the near future.

Instead of trying to work out the kinks in an effort that was quickly unraveling, the Isles decided to goon it up a bit and players began to take their frustrations out in the form of some pretty ugly penalties. Point taken - you're upset. But this is not the way to go about it, and it only made things worse and led to some more horrible things for a fragile team and a few ugly goals, which won't help Nilsson's psyche either.

At this point we're seeing some mindless blunders cost the Isles at various points in the game. In St. Louis it was the lack of defense and the fact that no one really knew how to cover when someone got caught out of position (like the Thomas Hickey incident where he lost his stick and Magnus Paajarvi was the beneficiary). In a case like this, it's not even a system issue - it's just general awareness and knowing where your opponent is on the ice and keeping them from the high percentage areas.

This road trip looks like it could be the beginning of a suicide one. After playing a very strong team, the Isles will go face a Kings team that's cut from the same cloth - big, physical and strong on defense. We saw how this ended at the Coliseum a few weeks ago, and at this point it's not looking too good for the Isles to steal one in the City of Angels on Saturday.

- Chris

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