September 24, 2014

Isles Fall to Canes in Coliseum Preseason Game

The Islanders dropped their only preseason game at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night, losing 4-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes thanks to some strong special teams play by their division rivals.

Carolina scored three of their four goals on the man advantage, with one coming on an extended 5-on-3 in the 3rd period. Clearly, the Isles penalty kill still has some kinks to work out although they did have some better moments as the game wore on. At the very least, this game gave them the chance to really get some work in this area. One caveat: the absence of some key members of penalty kills past like Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic.

It's tough to make judgements when these guys are missing, particularly on defense. However, the Isles used Lubomir Visnovsky on the penalty kill for much of the game and I didn't really like the fit there. It seemed like he was easily knocked off the puck. However he did make a few nice breakout passes. Perhaps he's just trying to get his game legs back.

This is definitely the case for John Tavares, who still looked a step slow in what was just his 2nd game since getting injured at the Olympics in February. He had a few nice chances, including a great opportunity in the first but hesitated just a bit too long which allowed Drew MacIntyre to play the puck perfectly, one of his 26 saves on the night. I'd expect Tavares to get a decent workload in the remaining games - likely at his own request - and to be his old self once the real games start up.

MacIntyre actually had a strong game for Carolina, although when the Isles got some better quality chances as the game progressed into the late 2nd and the 3rd period there were some uneasy moments for him.

Brock Nelson added some strength. The changes aren't as noticeable, but when you see him play you can tell. He was stronger on his skates and was able to burst through multiple defenders for a few nice chances. He played on a line with Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, and they started off the game strong but after that I felt they had issues throughout. In particular, Strome and Lee seemed to end up in the same spots of the ice more often than not and got caught a few times because of that, allowing the Canes to go on odd man rushes the other way. It seemed to me like they were trying to do too much, seeing as these two are fighting for a spot on the team to start the season given the glut of forwards.

You can tell Casey Cizikas improved his game on both ends of the ice. Last season wasn't a very high point for him, but the biggest change in him I noticed is his skating. It's clear he worked on that during the offseason, likely at the Isles request as they have added some really good skaters to the organization over the last several months. For Cizikas, it was either improve his game or risk losing his job. He had a good showing, beating defenders to the outside and cutting in on net. One of these rushes resulted in a goal.

Mikhail Grabovski was all over the place in both good and bad ways. The guy just has a knack for the offensive game, and things come second nature to him. All you had to see was his no-look pass on the wonderful chance Tavares had in the first to understand just how special he can be. He also got some penalty kill time and made a really good defensive play on one Carolina attempt at a headman pass. However, it seemed at times he was trying to do too much with the puck which lead to giveaways or a puck in the corner. He's a guy with a reputation for being his own worst enemy at times and certainly in this game when there was a moment where the Isles made one too many passes chances were he was around for it. His skating will be quite an asset for this team though, and there stands a great chance to be more good than bad when you consider he'll likely spend more time playing with a defensively responsible Nikolay Kulemin.

Griffin Reinhart made a nice quick shot near the end of the game to get a puck towards the net, which Strome deflected in. Reinhart showed why he's a favorite to make this club and make an impact on the blueline immediately as he was showcased in several areas. I liked his work along the boards as he used his body to try and protect the puck. The goal that he created was an example of what he did almost on a nightly basis in the WHL for the Oil Kings last season, and it's a part of his game that's developed slowly. I won't go as far as to say his offensive ceiling is high, but it definitely can be slightly better than many are projecting it to be. The defensive game is on par and he was really good at picking his spots as far as when to throw the weight around or when to play the puck.

These few guys will be key to the Isles success this season and it was nice to get a look at them. There's still plenty of games to go for tune-ups, and obviously there are several the Isles will have to make even with the proper situational personnel out there.

It doesn't look like some of these roster battles will be easy. The guys who were in question all offseason have been bringing some good stuff to the table.

- Chris

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