November 2, 2014

Sharks 3-1 win gives Isles Third Consecutive Loss

The Islanders improved play against the San Jose Sharks gave hope that they'd be able to score a 3rd period goal and get back on track, but ultimately it was a Logan Couture re-direct that would prove to be all the Sharks needed to give the Isles their 3rd loss in a row as they continued to shuffle lines and search for answers.

One question we all had on our minds was when Jaroslav Halak would put together a complete performance for this team and quite frankly we got that from him on Saturday night. Halak stood tall and made many key saves, but was done in by shaky defense that wasn't alert at all times - which was a direct result on the first goal with Tomas Hertl left wide open in front. In total, Halak stopped 28 of 31 shots and for the first time I felt we couldn't blame him on any of the goals.

The Islanders were better with some of their powerplay looks and made the Sharks feel the pressure a bit, but it still wasn't enough to get a puck past Antti Niemi on the man advantage. He actually had an easy time in general, specifically at 5-on-5 play, and made 19 saves as he continued his nice start to the season for the Sharks, giving up just the early goal to Kyle Okposo.

The Isles shuffled lines, going with Brock Nelson up top along with John Tavares and Okposo. Cory Conacher moved down to the 4th line, while Ryan Strome moved back to center as the 3rd line pivot. Jack Capuano said after that he didn't really notice much of a difference and I would have to agree however I would disagree with shifting things again. Although I've been a big proponent of putting Nikolay Kulemin on that top line, Nelson might be the best option for that right now and I'd want to see if any momentum can be sustained there, similar to the netminding situation.

However, Capuano must be feeling some pressure as well with his club struggling after the changes they made in the offseason. It was a loud and clear message that situations like this won't be tolerated as much as they were in past seasons, so that could be attributing to his quick trigger finger. I just don't think the lines need to be shuffled again just yet. The Isles overall showed improvements in some areas of their game - now just give it a couple of games. Go with the same line-up for the next one.

Besides, I felt that Nelson looked OK with Okposo and Tavares. Although he didn't show up on the score sheet, I thought Nelson did a nice job of crashing the net on Okposo's goal and tying up his man in Joe Pavelski. But after that the line didn't generate much.

Mikhail Grabovski, Frans Nielsen and Kulemin had an active game but had trouble finding each other with crisp passes. This seemed to go both ways though, which makes me wonder if the ice was a bit of a problem. The Isles used the boards more to try and go up the ice with odd man rushes but had mixed results. In general, a lot of their odd man rushes were killed when they tried to make the extra pass after entering the zone thanks to a combination of the ice and being too fancy.

As I mentioned on the show Saturday - and I know Sean disagreed in general - I don't think it's time to panic for this club yet. I wanted a .500 road trip and it's still possible but the Isles need to work their kinks out. In all honesty it's going to be difficult to walk away at .500 after these first two losses, but we can feel a little better that Halak might have picked up some confidence points.

With teams like the Kings or more in particular the Ducks not scoring much, if the Isles get some other big saves out of Halak and find a way to get more pucks in the net things can start to go back on the upswing. The fact that they won as much as they did early on helps with the feeling out period of this Western swing but won't mean a thing if it trickles out into the rest of November.

The Isles will have several days of practice in front of them to work out 5-on-5 issues, and I'm sure they will have various different looks. It will be interesting to see what they come up with by Wednesday night, if they decide to change anything up for Anaheim.

- Chris

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