September 27, 2014

Isles Second go Against Devils at Barclays Results in a Win

The second game for the Isles at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn went much better than the first one. However, this was not hard to accomplish given that last preseason the Isles lost 3-0 to the New Jersey Devils and didn't give their fans much to get excited about. Friday night was a little different as the Isles came out flying and put the first two goals on the board on the way to their 3-2 shootout win over their rivals from New Jersey.

Off the bat, you could see John Tavares already looked miles better than what we saw in the previous game against the Carolina Hurricanes. I mentioned in my recap from there you could figure he was going to play most of these preseason games to get his legs back in order after the injury and he didn't seem as sluggish. He had some excellent chances around the net and made things difficult for Devils defenders. On the Isles first power play he created something out of nothing, backhanding a loose puck out of traffic to a wide open Ryan Pulock for the Isles first goal of the game.

Johnson stops Havlat to give Isles the win. Photo by C. Hessel
Aside from the goal, Pulock really did have a strong game. He almost fell in the 3rd period allowing the Devils to get a scoring chance but he recovered nicely and got back towards the front of the net. He's gained some bulk over the past year and knows how to use it while not allowing himself to lose his skating skills which he had to use a few times in order to let his team maintain possession.

Colin McDonald is clearly fighting for his spot this year, given that he played with Eric Boulton and Kael Mouillierat. This line did get some solid playing time and showed good energy, and McDonald was able to take advantage of a miscue by Keith Kinkaid to put a puck into an empty net to give the Isles their 2-0 lead.

The Isles penalty kill still had their issues however, and it was what ultimately let the Devils back into the game. The Devils went 2-for-4 on the man advantage.

Despite the Isles play lacking in the second period and the Devils beginning to turn it around, Chad Johnson stood tall and made some very nice saves including one where he stopped Stefan Matteau on a breakaway. Things began to turn against the Isles in the third period, something that we saw a lot of in the past few seasons, but Johnson made some great saves and really kept the score tied at 2-2 while the Devils kept pressing. He finished with 26 saves.

TJ Brennan got a lot of time for the Isles and I thought looked pretty good. He's definitely got a great mind offensively and I felt he picked his spots well when pinching. The other thing that struck me was how accurate his shot was. He never needed to wind up and fire a slapshot. He was able to take strong snap or wrist shots from the point and get them in on net. He's a quick skater too, which came in handy with some of the pucks he was unable to keep in at the blueline, which is something very typical for an offensive defenseman.

Grabovski battles with Brandon Burlon. Photo by C. Hessel
The Isles best line was Brock Nelson centering Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, with Nelson playing the best of the three. They created most of the good offensive chances the Isles had, particularly in the first two periods. Kulemin is big, and he used this size at times. There were times where he could have done more, but of course this is only preseason and there's no need risking injury. Grabovski had a lot of the same traits I pointed out last game, where it seemed like he would make one too many passes. But he skated well and helped generate some chances. It'll be interesting to see him once he gains some chemistry with his teammates, and also once it's determined if his home will be on the wing or at center.

We got our first new looks at the revised shootout rules as well. After falling down 0-1, the Isles scored two unanswered from Nelson and Kyle Okposo and got a nice save by Johnson on Martin Havlat to seal the victory for the Islanders.

It is expected that after the weekend the Isles training camp roster will be pared down considerably and we'll see who has stuck out in their quest to get a spot with the NHL club. The competition has actually been pretty good this exhibition season and will make for an interesting next couple of games for the Isles.

- Chris

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