November 30, 2014

Halak Stands Tall Again in 3-1 Win over Devils

We knew when the Isles brought Jaroslav Halak in to the fold in May that we could reasonably expect a step up in what we saw out of the crease in several years prior. But I don't think anyone would have expected him to show us the goaltending skills he has here in the early going, and we all walked away completely amazed at what we saw from him again on Saturday night as he single handily won the game for the Isles. Halak stopped 34 of 35 shots, including all 16 that he saw in the 3rd period to give the Isles the win and hopefully start off a new winning streak.

Overall this game was better for the Isles. We talked on the show Saturday about needing to do a better job with the dump and chase method. The Isles did improve on this in some areas, however the Devils were giving them the space they needed to enter the zone along the boards so they kept with what was working.

Because of the way they entered the zone, it wasn't uncommon for the Isles to find themselves in front of Cory Schneider or in the slot area with a golden opportunity. But it seemed more often than not the Isles legs or brains were moving a little faster than their hands were. Schneider was forced to make some fantastic saves early and often.

It was a strong shot attempt by Kyle Okposo that did get past Schneider in the first, however it sat at the post for a moment or two until Nikolay Kulemin poked the lose puck past the goal line. It only took a couple of minutes for a bouncing puck to find it's way past Halak, last touched by Damien Brunner, to tie the game at one.

I loved what the Isles did on the forecheck and the way they had their legs moving during the game. I felt they were aggressive and at some points perhaps over-aggressive, but it really kept the Devils on their heels and forced some turnovers. And it was a much better overall intensity than we had seen in the two games against Washington.

One of the forwards I was most impressed with was Josh Bailey. He kept his legs moving all game, drew a penalty, and was good with gently getting pucks in deep to allow the Isles to use their aggressive forecheck.

When the Islanders got the puck down low, they did some solid work. They had good cycles and board play and it allowed for some of the fantastic chances they had right out in front of Schneider. The Devils, just like the Isles had played the night before so perhaps this had something to do with that. Yet the Isles looked like they were just the better team for the first two periods.

Despite the 2-1 lead thanks to Calvin de Haan making Jaromir Jagr look like a rookie on a deke, the Isles has trouble gaining any momentum once the final frame started as they got outshot 16-2.

Several of these shots came in the last few minutes, when the refs decided then was the best time to pull the whistles out of their pockets to begin calling some penalties they had let go on both sides all game. De Haan spun Jagr around in front on a PK, and suddenly the Isles were down two men. This penalty made a lot more sense than the one just a minute earlier to Brock Nelson however.

But Halak stood tall, making some phenomenal saves and the Isles were just quick enough with their sticks to clear out some of the rebounds. Earlier in the period, Halak was bailed out by John Tavares clearing a lose puck in the crease. But a couple of saves like this was all he needed to take care of the rest pretty much by himself.

So Halak ended up with his 9th straight win, and the Islanders got back on track against a division rival and made a statement by shutting the door against the Devils big guns in the 3rd period. This team played incredible well with the six games over the nine day stretch and now gets a few days off to catch their breath. It was quite a way to end November, a month that usually hasn't fallen into the same sentence with "Islanders" and "winning."

I would be very happy with a similar effort in the Tuesday/Thursday home-and-home that the Isles are set to play with the Ottawa Senators this week. The Sens are hurting now without Bobby Ryan and are searching for answers of how to get more consistency after a very up and down start to the season.

We'll see if the Isles can grab the momentum again at home Tuesday and if Halak can continue to improve on his personal best streak and perhaps make Islander history this week. I like their chances if they play this aggressive.

- Chris

1 comment:

Jean Paul AZZURRO said...

Watched the game once more today and have to admit that the Islanders had an outstanding game with the exception of about 10 minutes in the third period....but overcoming adversity in the end was really the Blues and the Hawks are waiting out there, both exceptional right now....a real tough test row...LEtS GO ISLANDERS!