January 11, 2014

Isles Remain Hot in OT Victory over Avs

When you're hot, things always seem to go your way. And for the New York Islanders, the past week couldn't have gone any better. It started with a huge win over the Dallas Stars on Monday, and ended with an overtime win last night against the Colorado Avalanche. In between the Isles found out they had multiple players named to Olympic teams, including John Tavares getting the nod for the Canadians in Sochi after a five point night and hat trick against the Stars (even though he didn't need all of that to be named, anyway).

But last night was probably the best win for the Isles this week, going against a quality team and needing a win to keep momentum going as they try and claw their way back into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

There's still a lot of work to be done, but when Michael Grabner's shot from the slot flew past Semyon Varlamov the Isles moved to within seven points of the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild card spot. And now they'll face the free falling Stars again in a rare Sunday game.

The Isles clearly were ready for the game against a tough opponent in the West, and brought their skating legs with them to the Mile High City. That stood out to me from the beginning, but I was hoping that it didn't mean the team would be completely exhausted midway through the game.

Kevin Poulin was tested early and often, making a lot of great stops and generally looking the calmest I can recall seeing him in quite some time in between the pipes. Despite Evgeni Nabokov's injury being more short term than originally thought, it seems like the Isles have finally found solid play out of the both and have done a decent enough job of working them into some kind of a rotation. This time around Nabokov's injury was more of an unfortunately event rather than something due to fatigue. Both goalies have kept their bad goal counts to a  minimum over the past month.

Physically the Isles were not shy and were doing all they could to throw the body around, keeping up with the chip-and-chase method that they've found again. It created some fantastic opportunities against Dallas and Toronto, and although the Isles were a bit off with some of their chances against the Avs they got some good opportunities in on Varlamov.

What really won this game for the Isles was no quit attitude. They weren't playing as great as they could have been and were not getting enough pucks towards the net. As the game continued on scoreless, you just knew that the Isles were going to have to change that and pounce as their goaltender was doing right by them.

Matt Donovan got caught looking a tad too long at Nathan MacKinnon and learned a lesson the hard way. MacKinnon burst to the outside slightly and was able to get around Donovan for the breakaway goal that Poulin did all he could on.

In prior weeks this goal does the Isles in. But here it didn't as they kept playing on, and it's where the aforementioned attitude took place.

Brock Nelson took a tumble trying to skate a puck deep into the zone, but kept up with the play the best he could to poke the puck in deep. That was all the Isles needed for him to be able to get himself back up, streak down the hash mark area and after a Calvin de Haan fake out, pick up the pass and bury it home to tie the game 1-1. To respond in this way was huge for the Isles, who in the past would appear to be ready to lay down and concede the game. But the confidence is increasing now.

The Isles had a few chances to get ahead in the third, just as the Avs did. Their best chance came when Ryan Strome made a bad turnover, but fortunately it was to Cody McLeod so Poulin was able to make the stop and keep the game tied.

Grabner showed some great speed all game and was able to take a loose puck on the boards in overtime on somewhat of a breakaway, but it was from a tough angle. After pretty much losing the puck on his stick on the chance, he went alone in the corner to pick up the puck and while the Avs were still trying to figure out what to do create the next chance for the Isles. Thomas Hickey picked up on this right away and began to skate towards the middle, expecting a pass from Grabner that would never come.

In a no quit play of his own, Grabner circled around between the faceoff circles and fired the shot to win it past Varlamov to give the Isles another two points and their 6th straight win on the road.

While some of these wins lately are coming against Western Conference opponents, they are a little more important than in years past just because of how the schedule breaks down. It's important for the Isles to build confidence, and wins like this against quality teams regardless of location only help in that.

It would be nice to see the Isles start winning some games that matter more though, against their own division. It's frustrating watching them lose to teams like the Devils or Hurricanes when clearly the Isles are probably better than each of those teams, in my opinion at least.

The Isles will stick to the West through Sunday as they head to Dallas, which is another key game before they play some East opponents again on the road, including the divisional rival Flyers. The Islanders need to pick up points in a big way, and after gaining some these past few weeks they'll need to get some from a couple of the four point swings.

But first they have to take advantage of a vulnerable team in Dallas, and then focus on taking that next step this season in their own conference.

- Chris

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