December 24, 2013

Nabokov, Isles Blank Red Wings

On Monday night the New York Islanders were on the other side of a poor effort for a change which is surprising given the team they played. The Detroit Red Wings are not known for poor efforts, but as they try and figure things out through injuries, their spiral continued with the Isles 3-0 win.

The difference between the two teams was quite noticeable from puck drop. There was a lot of standing around from the Wings, and the Isles noticed this and quickly capitalized with some nice rushes in on the defense and goaltender Petr Mrazek. Mrazek got the last minute start against the Isles over Jonas Gustavsson who's struggled in his last few games after getting off to a nice start filling in for Jimmy Howard.

Now the Isles didn't completely dominate play, as a matter of fact after the first few minutes there really wasn't much in the way of shots for the first half of the period. But the Isles were the team moving their feet, the team getting all of the offensive chances. They had a few pucks that dribbled just wide of the net but left Mrazek and his defensemen scrambling more often than not.

John Tavares took a 2-on-2 break and created a 2-on-1 by showing some amazing speed and catching Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith napping, and after drawing Kyle Quincey close to him was able to dish the puck to a wide open Kyle Okposo for an easy one-time goal. For Quincey, this is more of the same for him as he's experienced a rough go at it this season. For the Isles it opened up the flood gates a bit.

Smith couldn't handle a bad pass by Josh Bailey, and the loose puck deflected right in front of Michael Grabner. Mrazek had all to do to get set up and prepare for the shot, but couldn't get his shoulder high enough or his glove up quick enough to stop Grabner's rising shot from finding the back of the net.

Brian Lashoff's lazy play on an icing gave the Isles all they needed for their third goal, as Colin McDonald beat him and found Matt Martin coming around the net. With Lashoff trying to get his bearings straight, he lost sight of Casey Cizikas wide open in front of the net for an easy slam dunk goal on the pass by Martin. A frustrated Wings team looked at each other in disbelief, as this is something that's been happening with more frequency to them lately.

Once the Isles got that first goal they had the Wings on their heels and on this particular night, Isles fans finally felt that the shoe was on the other foot. From what I was seeing, this was something the Isles have done all too frequently themselves so it was a good change of pace. Mrazek had his work cut out for him once the Isles started scoring, and you could see that from their play. However he shut the door the rest of the way when needed.

Speaking of goaltenders, Evgeni Nabokov got his first shutout of the season, and it was a relatively easy one. About half way through the third period the Wings began to press more and there was some scrambling in front of Nabokov but he did a good job of covering up pucks to keep the Isles out of trouble.

For some guys that have been struggling of late there were bright spots. McDonald showed some good hustle to negate a couple of icings, and one directly lead to the goal Cizikas would score. Thomas Hickey blocked a couple of shots and had an active stick, and was good in keeping up with his cover to ensure harmless shots or keeping pucks away from the net. Aaron Ness looked good in the limited time he saw, making some key plays and even laying a big hit on his own to stop an odd man rush (even though it looked more accidental than anything).

The Isles needed a game like this to head into the break with. It was a solid, 60 minute performance that could still use some work (getting more pucks to the net, for example) but it was a good starting point. What's going to be important is responding after the four days off with a similar effort and equally similar result against the Devils at home, especially on the first night of a tough back-to-back with the latter part in Minnesota. We'll see if they learned any lessons from this game, including how to hold onto a 3rd period lead.

On behalf of Sean and myself, I'd like to wish all of you reading a Merry Christmas if you celebrate! Enjoy the time off with friends and family!

- Chris

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