January 15, 2014

Isles Streak Ends as Turnovers Plentiful; Strome Sent to Bridgeport

The Isles came back down to Earth on Tuesday night as their hot stretch came to an end in Florida, as they dropped a 4-2 decision to a team that has given them some trouble in recent years. And for the Isles, it was a collapse in a big way.

Under normal circumstances? This was just one of those games every team goes through. You're bound to have an off night here and there, and the unfortunate thing for the Isles is they don't have as much room for error as they should at this point in the season.

The Isles looked like a team nearing the end of a long road trip, and perhaps playing an Eastern Conference opponent reminded them that they were getting close to that point. It seemed as though the team had their mind in other areas, and for the first two periods did not look like a coherent unit at all. Sure they did have some nice chances on Tim Thomas, but turnovers killed them in the game and often lead to some golden scoring chances for the Panthers, a few of which Kevin Poulin was really unable to do much about.

Judging by in-game commentary, Butch Goring would probably disagree with that last statement I made. Many of you reading this might feel the same way. But what we saw Tuesday was thanks in large part to some ugly turnovers by some key players who normally aren't in our minds for mistakes very much.

Obviously the one that sticks out here is Kyle Okposo, who made an ugly turnover on a careless pass attempt that lead to a Nick Bjugstad goal. Of course this came at one of the worst possible moments, in the last minute of a period where the Isles already found themselves down 2-0.

The first period didn't even start well as the Isles found themselves down 32 seconds into the game on an Aleksander Barkov breakaway goal on a pass from old friend Brad Boyes. A few other chances like this one within minutes and you knew it wasn't going to be a very good night for the Islanders.

They were missing Travis Hamonic. However, if you're a team that wants to be considered 'good' then you have to be able to overcome absences to key players here and there. The Isles were able to dominate the Dallas Stars last week without having Okposo in the line-up and yet without Hamonic they struggled mightily on the defensive side at least until parts of the 3rd period.

What this speaks to is the depth, or lack thereof on the defensive end for the Isles. Matt Donovan and Andrew MacDonald did not look their best, and in this case the Isles paid for it a couple of times. But there's only so much a player can do, and so much we can say about a player before we can realize that a) guys are playing more minutes than they should at this point and b) this team didn't address the deficiencies on D in the offseason in the manner they should have. It goes both ways in this case.

For the Isles, some of what we saw near the end of the second period and beginning of the third was encouraging, however at this stage we don't need to see encouraging. We've seen over the last several weeks what this team is capable of, but they have to learn they can't start off every game slow and come back from behind, especially teams they find themselves ahead of in the standings.

The Panthers are a team that struggled early on this season and seem to have found some of their footing of late in a similar fashion to the Isles. The Isles fell into some familiar traps and struggled to keep up with the grind-it-out style the Panthers like to try and set the tone with.

It's frustrating given that the Islanders need to show folks that they can not only beat the Western Conference but can also handle the East, not to mention their own division. If you go back to my last blog post, I pointed out having to show these steps and the Isles haven't even taken the step to show us they can beat Conference opponents, let alone division opponents. Losses to the Panthers, Sabres and Hurricanes of the world aren't going to help this team accomplish much.

While the scoring and offensive chances that came from the top line later on in the game were also in the encouraging category their defensive play was not very good. And the looks on their faces told you as much, they knew that they were a part of the problem. I'd suspect that they fix a lot of these issues before playing a good team in Tampa Bay Thursday.

The Isles will probably feel good about their chances because of their ability to do well against the top teams in the league, and that's where Tampa finds themselves despite missing Steve Stamkos. We saw the Isles pretty much dominate this team a few weeks back at the Coliseum before giving up a two goal lead in the final few minutes of the game only to lose in a shootout.

In the interest of the team making the playoffs, the Isles will need another run similar to the one they just had, made more important when you see most of the opponents are in the Conference/Division that matters most to us. We'll see how they respond in these tough few games coming up starting with Tampa.

Strome to Bridgeport: The Islanders announced on Wednesday afternoon that they sent Ryan Strome down to Bridgeport, with an eye on developing him further.

As Art Staple pointed out, The Isles had to do this because of requirements sent out by the NHL earlier this season regarding AHL eligible players and the Olympic break.

I understand the need for the Isles to want Strome playing down in Bridgeport during the two week layoff. However, I disagree with not putting the best possible team out there. Although Strome hasn't been lighting the world on fire, you can't deny at times he's added a good element of speed and getting a shot off quickly that this team was lacking in. He seemed to be coming along as he learned how to navigate NHL defensemen and seemed poised for some kind of a breakout.

But the Isles are making a decision they think is best going forward, even though it appears to be based on something other than performance.

- Chris

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