October 19, 2014

Isles Lose First Game, Fall 3-1 to Pens

The Islanders started off playing well, keeping things simple and steady while getting save after save from Jaroslav Halak against a Penguins team that seemed a bit apprehensive.

The Penguins gave the Isles some excellent chances to take a strangle hold of the game after Thomas Hickey's first period goal, but the Isles never capitalized. In fact, it was a huge missed opportunity on an extended 5-on-3 man advantage that turned the game around for the Penguins.

After the huge kill, some of which was Islander aided, the Penguins had a bounce in their step, and marched on their way to victory thanks in part to doing the complete opposite of the Isles - cashing in on a 5-on-3 powerplay.

Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist both scored on that entire powerplay sequence, putting the Isles in a situation where they had to battle from behind. What's worse, they were already battling some inconsistency of their own as they really couldn't generate much emotion or extended offensive zone play up to that point.

The uphill battle for the Islanders just got that much harder, and it was almost like you could tell that they would come up short, especially after those two powerplay goals. They just didn't have the life or the same forechecking prowess that got them victories in the first four games, and perhaps it came with the hesitance that both sides showed early on.

A lot of the shots the Isles took in the later part of the game were not of very high risk to the Penguins, as they did a good job of keeping the Isles to the outside. Aside from a save on Kyle Okposo, Marc-Andre Fleury didn't have to make any outstanding save in order for his team to stay in the game. But he made all of the saves he had to, as Halak did for the Isles.

Despite starting off as well as they did, you knew that the powerplay was due for a correction and that's likely what we saw in this game. However the Isles seemed to be set up a differently and tried to run plays more down low rather than from the point since they had trouble getting some of those shots in. It was the right idea but was not very effective against a Pens team that typically does well in keeping opposing forwards away from the net. It was smart for the Isles to try and show something different, expecting Johnny Boychuk to have eyes watching him after what he's done in the early goings. But it was not smart that they kept trying to go to the same well rather than changing on the fly or altering a thing or two.

Travis Hamonic showed the most life when he jumped in after Steve Downie laid a big hit on Frans Nielsen. And the Islanders did play a little better after that point, but ultimately didn't get enough of a jolt they needed to get a puck past Fleury despite coming close a couple of times as the 3rd period drew on.

For the Isles, I think that this game was just decided by special teams play. We saw how missing in a key point can really turn the game around and that's pretty much what happened here. They didn't play with a lot of jump but their goaltender played extremely well and they couldn't pick him up when up two men. They need to get past it and look towards Toronto.

I just consider this one of those games a team will have, where they get several chances with not much doing and they loose an aggressive, tight scoring contest. Now that the Isles got it out of their system, they'll have to go back to playing the forecheck and having that killer instinct on the man advantage. With a vulnerable Leafs team coming in Tuesday, the Isles need to be ready to play once the puck drops - and not a moment later.

Grabovski out with Concussion: Art Staple reported in Newsday that Mikhail Grabovski actually did suffer a concussion, despite the Isles not announcing it right away as one. It certainly is a blow for those of us hoping that is was just an injury that would keep him out a few weeks.

Grabovski certainly had his bell rung, and with the way he looked the Islanders are in danger of being without one of their best skaters for a very, very long time. Not good when you consider the play he's brought to that 2nd line.

Although Nikolay Kulemin didn't look out of place there on Saturday night, it's still going to be tough to replace that offense. In the organization, it's probably something that Anders Lee can come close to providing and we'll see if the Isles deem that he gets a call-up sooner rather than later.

I'm not sure if I'd do it right away. But it'd be something I would consider after a few games of seeing what this current group can do to fill in the gaps.

Lets hope that it's a speedy recovery on a relatively minor concussion.

- Chris

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