December 8, 2013

Isles Shutout by Kings to run Winless Streak to Nine

Getting off to the right start didn't seem to do the trick for the Islanders on Saturday night in Los Angeles, but then again: it's hard for anything to go right when you have trouble getting shots off after controlling play for the better portion of a game.

The Islanders had plenty of chances to capitalize on mistakes and general lackluster play by the Kings but were never able to thanks to missing the net frequently and taking too long to make decisions in front of the net. This made it easy for Kings defenders to tie their sticks up.

Although the Isles controlled the play for the 1st period, the Kings got their legs going more in the second and really stifled the Isles making them unable to connect on many passes or get anything going in the offensive zone. For the remainder of the game Martin Jones didn't have a very difficult go at it, en route to getting his 1st career shutout in just his 2nd NHL game and making only 16 saves to do so.

While the Isles generally were strong in defending the Kings, everything unraveled for them in the second period and it's related to a problem I pointed out in my last entry: the inability to maintain control of the puck for a successful dump and chase. Or for that matter, a successful dump and change.

Michael Grabner, who has found new ways to get frustrated had an issue with clearing a puck deep behind the Kings net at the same time the Islanders went for a line change. The shanked attempt went right to the stick of Alec Martinez, who found Anze Kopitar streaking up to boards against only Travis Hamonic. Kopitar did what he does best in getting his cover to spin like a top, and after faking him out changed directions in the slot area and roofed a shot over Kevin Poulin's shoulder to give his team the 1-0 lead, which is all they would really need.

It was after this shot in the arm that the Kings started to control the play and the momentum no longer resided with the Islanders.

The Kings had the better of play and the better chances and the Isles went back to bad habits, standing around and not being able to keep up with the play. They hesitated to get shots off at times, and some of that is due to having too many lefty shots in the wrong spots at the wrong times. They certainly don't seem to be doing themselves many favors.

When the Isles are getting their chances it seems like it's guys who have all sorts or trouble finding the net this season: Grabner, Peter Regin, Josh Bailey (yet another post) and Matt Martin to name a few. So you can't say these guys aren't getting chances.

What that means though is it shows us the lack of dominant play we are seeing from the top lines. While he's been racking up the points, John Tavares has struggled in all three zones at points this year, more so than you can say for last year. And Thomas Vanek seems unable to find the twine too although he did have a few nice chances in the game.

There were some things I liked. The penalty kill stood out to me as being slightly improved. It didn't have as much of a scrambling vibe to it and the two forwards were spaced out better rather than on top of one another and shifted towards the puck carrier. So that was an improvement systems wise. The Isles were able to kill off all five opportunities against them.

The powerplay is an issue that still needs a whole lot of work. Jack Capuano said after the game that they were too cute and too fancy and I would agree. This has been the best way to sum up the man advantage this year, and just like I said the other day it's too lethargic and moves in slow motion too much to be able to accomplish much of anything. For a team that seems more than happy to try and force passes 5-on-5, they don't seem to make the best decisions when they have more players on the ice in terms of where to send the puck to get a cycle going down low. It's all from the hash marks to the blueline and is relying too much on that.

To further add to the Isles scoring problems at the NHL level, Ryan Strome continues to tear up the AHL, notching another four points last night as he continues to bide time in Bridgeport. It's definitely causing a lot of people to look at the organization in a perplexing way, wondering just what exactly they are waiting for. Now nine (!) games under NHL .500, it might be about time to make the call-up and move forward with trying to infuse offense into a club that seems to need it as bad as defense right now.

The Isles continue this road trip in Anaheim on Monday night, with an even more difficult test. If you thought the Kings were lackluster for the first half of this game, you can't expect the same of their cross town (yes I know, being generous) rivals. This Ducks team has been one of the more consistent ones all season, and is probably licking their chops for the chance to play against a team that's licking their wounds, especially after their convincing win Saturday night over the Blues.

Have those aspirins handy.

For those who missed it, Sunday morning's spirited episode is available on the NYI FYI Podbean site. Be sure to download the show through there, or get it on iTunes ones the systems sync up with each other. Enjoy!

- Chris

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