December 21, 2013

Grabner Paces Isles in 5-3 win over Rangers

Michael Grabner chose a perfect time to snap out of his scoring slump, especially considering he's been doing many things right these days. Jack Capuano even said he was doing everything right except scoring, and I tend to agree with that statement of late. The Islanders were able to defeat their rivals thanks to Grabner's two goal performance, where he scored on a couple of breakaways to pace the Isles in a back-and-forth contest.

The Isles were not doing themselves any favors by taking as many penalties as they were, although some of the calls were a bit tacky. The refs seemed to call the game pretty tightly on both sides all night. The Isles PK actually looked good in the early going, and obviously teams get bonus points for scoring a man down which the Isles were able to do twice. But even given that, the Rangers were able to get some momentum on their third powerplay of the first period and at that point you knew that this was going to be one of those high scoring affairs.

As far as 5-on-5 play goes, I thought this was a strong game for the Isles, and a good way to respond after a couple of tough losses where the team got some loser points. In the interest of breaking the schedule down into pieces as Capuano has said the team needs to do, the Isles have earned four of the last possible six points. Hey, it's a start.

Offensively the Isles had some great chances on Henrik Lundqvist, who for some reason this year has been pedestrian at best (injuries and a shaky defense to start the year are big factors). The Rangers have struggled overall this year, and loses like the one here have become too commonplace for them. Lundqvist made some great saves, but let in a couple of goals that in years past he would generally catch. But it's tough to stop every breakaway that comes your way, and on Friday night the Isles were able to cash in. The Rangers didn't do the greatest job with clearing bodies out in front of the net, which allowed Brian Strait to get his first career NHL goal too (he scored one in the playoffs last season, however).

Believe it or not, the Isles actually made it easy for the Rangers at times as this team still has an inability to navigate passes and shot attempts that come from the blueline. Too often we're seeing guys wind up for big slappers from the point areas which allows the opposition to prepare to block the shot, and that's what usually happens. The Rangers blocked a ton of shots on the Isles to the point where it was frustrating to watch. It didn't hurt the Isles too much on Friday, but in games against upcoming teams like the Ducks, who have a suffocating system, it might not bode well for the Isles getting pucks in front.

One thing that struck me during the middle of the game or so was that this in fact was an Isles-Rangers game. But you wouldn't have guessed it from the atmosphere. Perhaps it was just masked by the TV broadcasts, but the crowd in general seemed disinterested in the game. This is likely due to the fact that Rangers fans have been subdued all year due to the teams performance, but the Isles fans made plenty of noise when the team scored. It took a lot to even get a few pro-Rangers chants from their fans, but even then it still seemed half hearted. It's very tough for fans of either of these teams to get up for these games, especially with inconsistent play all around. And to think, these two are supposed to play in an outdoor game, one that would cost a fan bucket fulls of money to go see. It's no wonder why it seems like the sales aren't what officials expected them to be.

This was a good building block game for an Isles team that needed something positive for them to hang their hats on. Especially for Grabner, who seemed to come alive even moreso after scoring his breakaway goal to give the Isles their 1-0 lead. If he's going to be a more confident player, then this could potentially be good timing for an Isles team that needs to go to work now in order to catch up to the rest of this sub par Metropolitan Division. Coming home and beating the Ducks would be a huge accomplishment and give the Isles some momentum heading into the holidays that they are going to desperately need when you view the teams they will be up against.

- Chris

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