September 22, 2014

Isles kick-off Exhibition Schedule with Sweep of Sens

The Isles kicked off their preseason schedule with a sweep of the Ottawa Senators, defeating them 3-2 in a split squad double header on Monday.

In the first game, the Isles went with several of the rookies which gave them a look to see who could possibly have an extended stay with the team as training camp continues to progress.

This of course consists of guys like Ryan Strome, Michael Dal Colle and Griffin Reinhart. Some of the vets who are battling for jobs made their way into this group too (Jack Skille, Colin McDonald).

This game featured only a few regulars, in particular Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic and Calvin deHaan. New back-up Chad Johnson got the start in net.

Nelson played center between Anders Lee and Sebastian Collberg, who the Islanders got in the infamous Thomas Vanek trade. Collberg seems like a darkhorse candidate to make the team out of camp, but he scored the Isles second goal of the game to try and make his case. During the game, Art Staple tweeted that Collberg is committed to North America, so even if he doesn't make the Isles, he'll be in Bridgeport where it seems like he'll have a good shot and being a top scorer given his style.

The other goals were scored by Nelson and Skille. We had the latter on the show this summer, and after speaking with him he's definitely a guy you can root for. He's in for a tough battle however with all the forwards the Isles brought in this offseason, but seems up to the task and has had a good start to camp even before scoring in this game.

Chad Johnson stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced, although from the radio feed it sounded as though newcomer David Leggio faced the tougher shots. But both goalies did well and it's nice to see Johnson get some repetition and see some rubber early on.

The Isles had more of the regulars in the 2nd game, and won in the shootout thanks to Josh Bailey, Mikhail Grabovski and Cal Clutterbuck.

Clutterbuck won the game in the shootout, while Bailey scored his goal to tie the game at two. Grabovski finished the game with a goal and an assist, giving Isles fans something to be intrigued over despite not being able to see the game.

Of course, everyone has been intrigued since the off-season when Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin came over in a package deal, giving the Islanders a glut of forwards battling for spots when you took into account Skille and Cory Conacher signed the day before those two. Conacher was the other forward playing with Grabovski and Kulemin against the Sens.

One of the biggest questions we'll see answered in the coming weeks is where Strome fits into the picture. It's already been assumed that Nelson will be given every opportunity and first crack at the first line role along side John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Conacher played with the line that many felt was most ideal for Strome all summer, while Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen and Clutterbuck made up a familiar line once again. I'm not sure if Strome really needs anymore time down in Bridgeport, but what happens this preseason will be very telling.

At this rate, even Lee looks like a guy on the bubble. It's still early but time will tell what the Isles end up doing with these guys. Moving someone out at the end of camp, perhaps for a defenseman, would solve multiple issues but the Isles will let things play out and see exactly what they have. Bailey helped himself a little bit in the second game and maybe he'll earn himself more ice time than some of the other regulars as the Isles try and see where he best fits into this team going forward - if at all.

I'd expect many regulars to play in the next preseason game Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes - the only game at the Nassau Coliseum in the exhibition season. For all of us, it'll be our first chance to get a good look and properly analyze what we see, especially on defense and in goal.

- Chris

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