December 28, 2014

Halak Returns from IR after Sabres Stun Isles in Shootout

Prior to their game on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, the Islanders announced that they had placed goalie Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve retroactive to December 20th. This meant that the Islanders had to be without him through the completion of Saturday's games. So despite getting his maintenance day in the final game before the holiday break, the Isles deemed that it made sense to give him one more game against a weaker team to get over his bumps and bruises.

And for much of the game, things were going swimmingly for the Isles. They were playing well and in general controlling much of the play. Nick Leddy scored his goal early and the Isles had some issues getting some others past Jhonas Enroth, who did have to make some nice saves. They were able to get two goals from John Tavares in the second period and appeared to be sitting pretty. The Sabres had done better of late, but still have issues getting pucks in the net especially when they are battling from behind.

Quite frankly, this was a bad game for the Islanders to lose. Buffalo had 13 wins and with about 10 minutes to go down three, there was no reason for them to storm back the way they did.

I've seen and heard lots of comments about Kevin Poulin being the one to blame and quite frankly can't completely agree with that. Although his fundamentals are not great, he used his athleticism to make some nice saves and keep the puck out of the net - which is ultimately the goal. If defensemen are going to get caught flat footed and allow themselves to get beat to the outside by the boards, that's not on the goaltender. On Saturday it was on Calvin de Haan (which is becoming a theme) and Travis Hamonic. Hamonic had been playing quite well since coming off of IR, so we chalk this one up to just one of those games.

On the Sabres first goal, we can certainly look in the direction of Poulin and to a lesser extent Kyle Okposo. Poulin pushed the puck up in the slot area, getting it away from a spot where Okposo could have easily cleared it and it allowed Nick Deslauriers an easy snap shot goal.

The Isles powerplay continued to struggle, despite getting some better chances in the game. What ever slight progress they made was taken away by the shorthanded goal they gave up to Zemgus Girgensons and the fact that after the timeout the Isles took, Buffalo set up their penalty kill like they were on the man advantage. It all happened on the same sequence and really is the lowest of low points of the Isles recent woes on the powerplay.

But despite all of this, the Isles did walk away with a point on a day when the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in regulation, so they remain two points out of the top spot.

On Sunday afternoon the Isles took Halak off of the IR, which means that Poulin is headed back down to Bridgeport. This is only a good thing for the Isles because as serviceable as Poulin and Chad Johnson played during Halak's absence, nothing beats a goaltender who makes some of the huge stops that maybe eluded Johnson and Poulin.

It will be interesting to see if the Isles go with Halak against Washington but I don't see why not. With the early season success, they had this ability to rest him in two games, including in a game that they had an excellent chance to win with the others in net. They blew that chance but did get a point from it, and as we've seen a few times this season the Isles are not afraid to be cautious with players that are nursing injuries or sore spots.

With the schedule getting a little tougher in January, it is going to be important that the Isles keep themselves in good health. Off the bat they will have a Western Conference trip and some of those teams the Isles have favorable match-ups with.

Everyone breathe. There is no Halak controversy here!

- Chris

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