November 7, 2014

Isles get Overtime, Shootout wins to Sweep SoCal Series

The Islanders found a way to stop their losing skid, but who would have thought it would come when playing two beasts of the West in the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings? In fact, it was perhaps the best effort on both sides of the puck that we've seen from the team this season.

Granted on Wednesday night the Isles played a Ducks team that was without Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. But the support players there in Ryan Kesler and Matt Beleskey are still good enough to help beat any team on a given night.

The Islanders jumped out to another early lead with John Tavares scoring on Calvin de Haan shot that missed the net originally. He hasn't done much scoring lately - not that much of the team has - so it was good to see him get on the board. It was notable that the Isles were getting shots in early and often on Jason LaBarbera, the man tasked with manning the pipes for the Ducks until the wounded return. LaBarbera has always been a competent back-up in his career and he filled in admirably for Anaheim on Wednesday night.

The Islanders were playing a very solid two-way game but that got away from them a little bit after Kyle Okposo scored on the man advantage to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. The Ducks have not been scoring much of late either so for the Islanders it was necessary to build up a lead and take care of their own end. But for the few lapses they had in the second, they paid the price.

Beleskey and Emerson Etem brought their team back even over the 2nd half of the second period. Etem's goal was a broken play, with the Isles unable to get out of their own zone. Etem would end up taking a shot with Devante-Smith Pelly standing in front of Jaroslav Halak. Unable to see or react didn't help Halak out very much as his team was nowhere to be found upon expecting to break out the other way. It was a good break for the Ducks.

After a strong showing in San Jose last weekend, Halak continued to make big stops and kept things from getting out of hand. Overall he kept his extra movements down and didn't give up a large number of bad rebounds. It was another solid game for him and topped the San Jose outing as the best we've seen from him.

The Isles were able to tighten up again and play a good team game in the 3rd period and overtime, matching the Ducks and working hard to earn the man advantage that Tavares would score his 2nd of the game on to give the Isles the 3-2 win.

More impressive for me was the game on Thursday in Los Angeles, where the Isles didn't let an early, unfortunate goal by Dwight King take away from their game.

The Islanders were moving really well, and received a few powerplay opportunities because of the work they did. When you are going to constantly move your feet, chances are you're going to be difficult to beat and that you'll get the benefit of doubt more often than not on powerplay opportunities. Brock Nelson scored on one of these chances in the first period with an excellent shot in close on Jonathan Quick which somehow squeezed through in the smallest of spaces.

When you talk about a 60 minute performance, this is probably the closest the Isles came. Although there weren't as many scoring chances as the night before the Isles matched up well with the Kings who have been riding high at home. The lines seem to be mixing well in these last few low scoring contests.

The Kings definitely helped in bringing out the best the Isles have to offer as far as physical play goes. When the Isles are engaged in that aspect of the game they seem to tighten up in their own end as well.

The other huge difference for me was the Isles keeping the Kings to the outside. Although this still generated the odd scoring chance here or there, they kept them to the low percentage areas and also cleared paths to allow Chad Johnson to see most of the shots that came his way. For Johnson, it was the ultimate "keep it simple game" as he often held onto pucks between his pads, killing any offensive momentum the kings tried to generate. It was a great rebound game for him after the debacle in Colorado.

After picking up the win in Anaheim I think most would have been happy with a point against the defending champs. But the Isles clearly were not and withstood some solid chances by the Kings late in the 3rd and in overtime. The Kings did the same, thanks to Quick's unbelievable save on Lubomir Visnovsky all alone in front off a great cross-ice pass from Thomas Hickey, who had one of his better games of the season playing against his old team. Big shootout goals from Okposo and Frans Nielsen, coupled with big saves by Chad Johnson gave the Isles all they needed for the 2-1 shootout win.

In the case of these games, I'm fine with giving up the extra points to the Western teams in order to get four. It is a tough feat for most teams to play these two powerhouses on back-to-back days and walk away with all four points but the Islanders played good team hockey and really deserved them.

Now this road trip looks a lot better. I felt the Isles needed to go ideally 2-2-1 and they stand at 2-2 with Arizona as the next and final stop. Going 3-2 on the trip would be great, and something that didn't look at all possible.

The caveat I gave on last weekends show when playing these tougher games was that it was possible the Isles could sneak out with a couple of wins despite not scoring much if the goalies picked up some confidence with strong performances, particularly Halak after the Sharks game. Well, the goaltending was stellar in SoCal and the Islanders got two gritty wins to show for it to get back on track.

No matter how good or bad they've been in recent years the Coyotes seem to give the Isles plenty of issues in Glendale. The Isles will need a similar effort against the Yotes, who love to use their defensemen to create plays. They will need to be a little tighter with their coverage of guys on the blueline if they want to keep the Coyotes chances to a minimum. If they can take a lot of the habits from the last two games into Saturday they will be just fine.

- Chris

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