October 26, 2014

Isles Defeat Stars 7-5 Behind Nielsen's Hat Trick

The Islanders really like those track meets, don't they?

On Saturday night it was another high scoring affair, and for the second consecutive season an evenly matched Dallas Stars team came into the building and gave up a hat trick to an Islanders center.

Last year it was John Tavares getting the hat trick in a 7-3 win; this year, it was Frans Nielsen who scored an empty netter with 0.1 seconds on the clock to give himself the hat trick and seal his teams 7-5 win in a game that left many clutching their heads and both goaltenders staring up at the rafters more often than not.

Nielsen celebrates 2nd of game. Photo by C. Hessel
After looking very good in Boston, the Islanders chose to continue riding Chad Johnson and his hot hand. He had made many initial saves on those chances the Bruins had in the slot, and certainly with a Dallas team that has some good size up front it seemed that would be necessary again. For the Stars, Kari Lehtonen had already played in the shootout win over the Devils the night before so giving Anders Lindback another look seemed like a good idea.

But what we learned rather quickly was that these two teams are close replicas of one another.

Both teams have explosive offenses and slightly undersized defenses that will give you some room to maneuver more often than not. And for goaltenders, this is a recipe for a messy time.

Neither of them will be all too happy with their goals against averages or save percentages, but Johnson is obviously a happier man than Lindback.

Thomas Hickey I felt had a rough game, despite being out there for more good than bad. In the past he has compensated for his lack of size well, but he looked to me like he really struggled with this on Saturday night. But he is still shaking off the effects from having all those stitches on his face as he tries to play through the pain while wearing and trying to adjust to a shield.

Aside from Hickey, the defensemen definitely had an active game as far as getting involved with the play. It led to plenty of odd-man rushes from both sides and for Lindback, some very unfortunate goals. Brian Strait on the Isles side definitely looked a bit shaky and gave up some pucks in pretty vulnerable areas.

This is a game that's really hard to evaluate the good and the bad on, but we can talk about some of the good. The Islanders new look 2nd line was all sorts of good. Nielsen centered Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, with the latter returning after missing just a few games with concussion like symptoms. After telling the media earlier in the day that he was good to go to try and dispel any feelings of being rushed like the ones I had, Grabovski looked very good and brought his usual speed while mixing in some nice passes.

Kulemin finally got himself into the goal column, a welcome sight after what had been a series of very solid games for him. I liked him playing some shifts with Tavares and Kyle Okposo in Boston and am curious to see some more. But he had good chemistry with Nielsen and Grabovski and got some shifts late in the game with the top line when the Isles were trying to hold onto and extend the lead.

Speaking of Tavares and Okposo, neither were factors in the scoring of this win, which is astounding. Okposo did make the pass to Lubomir Visnovsky for his goal but aside from that the top line had a quiet game, which is a tip of the cap to the depth the Isles have assembled for themselves this year.

The officiating was interesting to say the least, and pretty inconsistent. But the Isles had two powerplays that they didn't do much with, including one with extended time in the offensive zone but they didn't get much besides a couple of nice shots and some fancy passes.

The penalty kill even looked good, considering that the Stars had five chances and only scored once. That is a step up for the Islanders as they faced a pretty good couple of powerplay units. The unfortunate thing about this is that it means the Isles gave up four goals at even strength.

But that in turn brings out another positive for the club, because the 0-for on the man advantage means that the Isles scored all seven of their goals at even strength. It's encouraging to see this team able to perform well at 5-on-5 play after their powerplay heavily dominated games in the early going, but they still have to get better on the defensive side before things begin to hit an uneasy point. Ideally, this team and it's goaltending begins to fire on all cylinders before they go for that long road trip out West. Those teams will hurt you if you give them the chance to and the Isles can't afford to have things spiral out of control into yet another November and ruin all the good they've built up so far in their 6-2-0 start.

So we take this game for what it was worth. An exciting, action packed contest between two teams that quite frankly don't put much thought to each other despite being eerily similar, where the Isles gave the home crowd of 15,208 something to jump up and down about well into the night.

- Chris

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