December 20, 2014

Isles Extend Wings Loss Streak to Five

The Detroit Red Wings have struggled since starting off the year on a hot streak, but that didn't mean they weren't dangerous. The Islanders had the task of going into the Motor City in an attempt to keep their Eastern Conference foes at bay and searching for answers. They succeeded in doing so, winning 2-1 as Detroit fell to an opponent for the fifth time in a row.

The Islanders have had some serious success at Joe Louis Arena in recent years, however they have not had many chances to play the Red Wings as currently constructed. This is a team that has older players and really young players and not really anyone in the middle. They haven't had much of a chance to get acclimated to the Tomas Tatar's and Gustav Nyquist's of the team yet. However the Isles did an excellent job of keeping all the big guns in check despite the early goal from Henrik Zetterberg.

Zetterberg's shot was the only one that Jaroslav Halak would let in as he stopped the other 17 that he faced. However, many of these shots were not of the easy variety.

Halak needed to stand on his head in this game, and the Isles got the benefit of a couple of pucks trickling just wide of the goal line or flying over the cage as there were moments where they were really pressing to gain possession and scrambling to get themselves out of trouble. As a matter of fact, had I not been told what the shot totals were I would have never guessed the discrepancy was as wide as it was.

The Red Wings didn't play badly. The Isles did a solid job of tying guys up in the slot and getting to some of those loose pucks that trickled wide. Overall, they did a nice job with judging the very generous boards that line the ice at The Joe and we saw a few times where players tried to use this carom to their advantage. Johnny Boychuk even tried to use it but the Isles didn't cash in on his attempt.

Lubomir Visnovsky had a strong game and was huge in creating the goal that Brock Nelson would score to tie the game at one. He has not been afraid to get the puck towards the net this year - perhaps because of the presence of guys like Boychuk or Nick Leddy who are not shy with their offense either - and his ability to get a shot to the net came through huge. Also huge for the Islanders was Nelson's continuous pursuit of the slot area as he once again found himself there with a rebound opportunity, and he got his stick on a puck that surely looked like it was about to be covered by Jimmy Howard. We've seen this from him a few times already this year over his other 13 goals and this one really helped in changing the complexion of the game.

It was unclear what happened, but Howard did not return after the 1st intermission because of a "lower body" injury. However Petr Mrazek came in and did a phenomenal job starting off with an outstanding save on the penalty kill. He stopped 22 of 23 in the 40 minutes he played, only beaten by a puck that Anders Lee barely put over the line after a strong shot by Nelson was not held by Mrazek.

I was encouraged that the Isles did not play too conservatively with a 2-1 lead and peppered Mrazek with several attempts, forcing him to make many excellent saves. They did tighten up defensively when required however, and having both Boychuk and Travis Hamonic back for this game gave them the ability to do that. Both made a good impact throwing the body around and Boychuk used his skill to help create some good offensive chances from the back end which allowed the Isles to maintain possession of the puck more often than not.

The kid line stepping up in a game against an opponent built the way the Red Wings are was something I was also happy to see. Mike Babcock spoke very highly of this line, particularly of Lee so it was only fitting that Lee and his line mates were the ones that did the damage, along with the help of Halak. The style that Detroit plays requires that you get bodies to the net and both Lee and Nelson did that with great consistency.

The Isles made the short trip back home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are in town after playing in New Jersey on Friday night and losing in a shootout to the Devils.

The Islanders may have caught a break with the timing of the Lightning coming to town. A strong team offensively, the Bolts usually get a big lift in net with Ben Bishop as their primary netminder but he is battling through some injuries right now meaning that the Islanders will see either Evgeni Nabokov or Andrei Vasilevskiy. Nabokov played against the Islanders at the Coliseum earlier this season and probably wishes he could have that one back despite starting off very strongly against them. This is a favorable match-up for the Isles with a full roster again (Michael Grabner aside) and the situation on defense and in net for the Lightning, although Vasilevskiy is very talented and just 20 years old.

Halak will start in net for the Isles according to Jack Capuano which is a smart decision given the recent trend of Chad Johnson and the fact that shots were kept to a minimum against Halak on Friday.

A four game winning streak is there for the Isles taking if they stick to the basics and have another strong effort on the forecheck against a team that also played the night before, albeit a tad longer.

- Chris

No comments: