December 21, 2014

Isles get late Comeback vs. Tampa, Win Fourth Straight

This year is different in the sense that even when the odds are against them, the Islanders seem to find a way to pull out a win. We're seeing the Isles get the better of play on teams and actually end up on top, which is a reversal from some of what we've seen in previous years as well.

On Saturday night the Islanders got the better of the Tampa Bay Lighting, beating them and sharp goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy 3-1 after out-shooting them 48-21.

Sometimes when we see a high shot total for a team, we wonder how many can be called quality. But the Islanders took several shots of high quality, meaning that Vasilevskiy really had to stand on his head for the Lightning to win this game. It was not unlike last month against the Philadelphia Flyers, when the Isles did the same thing to Steve Mason and needed a shootout to win the game 1-0.

Vasilevskiy stopped 45 shots, and every shot up until there was 3:10 left in the game. It was then when John Tavares scored while falling down, off of what looked like was going to be a broken give-and-go attempt with Kyle Okposo. The Isles got some fortunate bounces off of some skates in the faceoff circle and Okposo was able to regain control of the puck and find Tavares in the slot area.

With momentum now on their side - the Isles finally put one past a goaltender in a game where they clearly had more jump - the Islanders were poised to try and get one point and the second in overtime, right? Nope.

The Isles didn't even wait that long. After getting control of the puck again the Isles came into the zone, and with two big bodies cutting towards the net (that kid line again) Travis Hamonic took a high shot from the blueline that Anders Lee tipped in over Vasilevskiy's shoulder for the 2-1 lead with 2:57 to go. Someone is definitely watching over them this season.

It clearly was tough on Vasilevskiy, who had done everything in his power to will his team to win. The only thing he can't do is score for them, and in that department the Bolts struggled.

Jaroslav Halak played well once again in his first back-to-back start of the season. He made several good saves and used his rebound control to his advantage. The Islanders on the defensive end also did a really nice job, as we didn't hear much from Steven Stamkos aside from the few power play opportunities that Tampa had where the Isles were leaving him wide open for some reason. Fortunately it didn't hurt them.

The Isles powerplay has reached frustrating levels. Forget about putting up another 0-for, but how about generating some shots? They can't seem to get a good set-up in the offensive zone and when they do, they squander it and keep everything to the perimeter. They get a body to screen the goalie for a split second and then as the puck comes to the top of the point, the screener moves off to the side allowing for an easy read by the goaltender. There is a lot wrong with the Isles on the man-advantage right now and it's the same issues happening over and over again. I think Doug Weight needs to flip to a different page in his play book.

Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin both had strong and noticeable games, however Grabovski is still having some issues with getting shots off. There were a couple of times where he had good chances but missed the opportunities trying to look for the perfect pass. The one he made to Kulemin with about four minutes left in the 3rd was good but some earlier chances in the game he had to get the puck towards the net and failed. But I like these two back together again, as Josh Bailey seems to be picking up some momentum in playing on the top line.

Both teams seemed to go through the initial feeling out process, knowing that they each played the night before and needed to see what state they were in. By the time the 2nd period rolled around the physical play ratcheted up and it's no surprise that it's around that time when the Isles really started to come on strong and grab the better of play from the Lightning.

Okposo had a very strong game, taking eight shots and having some excellent scoring opportunities. His hard work in the 3rd period paid off on the Isles tying goal, as he kept his legs moving to generate that chance. He had made an excellent pass to Tavares earlier in the game too that Tavares either didn't expect or didn't like the positioning of but he was still able to get a nice shot off.

I mentioned Hamonic's part on the go-ahead goal earlier, but he had an outstanding performance for himself. He's reigned himself in a little this year from what we saw him trying to do last year offensively and it's paying dividends. He had his 2nd great game in a row, throwing lots of hits and did well in protecting the crease area. If he continues this upward swing of strong play it will be huge for the Isles.

The Islanders have already experienced lots of character wins this season. but this was a huge one. As frustrating as it was to go up against a hot goaltender the Islanders stuck with it and found a way to win late in the game. This is the benefit of playing a true, 60 minute effort more often than not. Good things will happen.

Now they will need a similar effort on Tuesday night for a Montreal Canadiens team that started off really hot but over the last couple of weeks have been playing around .500. This team gives the Isles fits when they come to the Coliseum, and is the type of game the Isles can use to continue to show the world just how much of a real deal that they are. Carey Price will be one of the better, more consistent netminders the Isles will have played in recent games so this will be a nice test.

- Chris

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