October 31, 2014

Isles Blanked in Colorado

With their 5-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, the Isles situation has become a bit of a concern with four games still remaining on a very tough road trip.

Obviously it's still early and a season is not made or broken at this point, however when you consider what's happened in past years as this team has gone into the beginning of November it makes the situation a bit precarious.

At 6-4-0, the Islanders have no reason to be freaking out just yet. If they do that it will further ruin parts of their game.

However, given the way the team played against Winnipeg and now Colorado, we can say it's their first battle with adversity.

The Isles are having problems in net, which is something that wasn't supposed to be happening. But this week, goals being given up by Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson have generally been soft. Thursday in Colorado, Johnson made some nice saves but gave up the goals on some of the weakest attempts we've seen. And not to mention two of the goals came from the 4th line, which is something that frankly cannot happen.

Granted, Nathan MacKinnon's powerplay goal was the result of the same defensive issues popping up for the Isles, who were really feeling the pressure and all four guys decided to collapse around and on top of Johnson, a similar play to some of what we saw last season. However, it is still a problem that seems to slowly be creeping it's way back into the players minds.

The powerplay put up another 0-for, and while it could be just the typical correction from the early season dominance the Isles on the man advantage seem to be really pressing for results. They had some great opportunities, but it took them a while to establish any kind of set up. It seems like they are losing the face-off, getting the puck cleared out and then taking about 40 seconds and a few attempts of rushing back up the ice in order to create a breakout. This is moving along too slow and both Winnipeg and the Avalanche seemed to have the forechecking answers for this. The Isles need to be better with adjusting on the fly.

Turnovers is another area where this team really hurt themselves, as they tried forcing passes that just weren't there. The Avalanche have a lot of smart players, and while they don't have as many that can run you over they do have players that are very good stick checkers, and great skaters that can quickly turn a play around the other way. We saw this several times throughout the game.

It wasn't that the Islanders played terribly in the game, but don't let the shot count fool you. They didn't get lots of traffic in front of Semyon Varlamov, who did have to make a few fantastic saves. But there were several they made easy for him. I didn't think the Isles were aggressive enough on the boards either and this lead to some of the turnovers.

After the game, Jack Capuano talked about switching up some of the lines to generate some more offense at 5-on-5 play.

The first thing I think I might do is put Nikolay Kulemin with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. I liked that line together in Boston and think Kulemin could add a solid mix the line lacks with Cory Conacher there. He's a quick player with some offensive pop, but he got manhandled against the Avs and made some of the careless passing plays that lead to turnovers. I think with some of the size issues, Kulemin and his solid defensive presence and occasional physical play needs to be in a more prominent position.

I think on defense it is time to give Matt Donovan a look over Brian Strait. Both he and Calvin de Haan had several issues throughout the night, the largest on that first goal when both fanned at the pass that went through the slot area for Cody McLeod. The Islanders do miss Travis Hamonic, but have been struggling with the 3rd pairing all season and Hamonic has had some of his own issues as well. But defensively they need to figure out a way to try and stop some of the bleeding and I would start with giving Strait a rest.

Now the Isles will continue a road trip to some even bigger, tougher Western Conference opponents. I think in a perfect world, a .500 Western trip (2-2-1) would be ideal. But now given the way the Isles have played, the goaltending issues and the difference in size they may be in tough to pull that off. And if they can't then they have to be weary of another November swoon.

- Chris

No comments: