January 30, 2015

Bruins Strong vs. Isles in 5-2 Win

Although the Islanders didn't play their best, they also didn't play their worst. What we saw in the 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night was the Islanders play a team that they will have to figure out a way to beat if they truly want to be seen as a Stanley Cup contender come April.

The Bruins started off the year slowly but have figured out ways to get themselves back into the race. Their timing couldn't be better, with the job the Detroit Red Wings have done of late too.

One of the things that really stands out in my mind was how quick the Bruins were in pressuring the Isles when they were trying to break out from their defensive end and up the ice. The Bruins forecheck was constant throughout and the Isles quick decision making was not the best. Frequently it lead to goals or bad turnovers and the Bruins got quality scoring chances all night.

Jack Capuano spoke about players doing a lot of standing around after the game and I do have to agree with him. It was quite noticeable from many players, especially the forwards. It seemed like the Isles breakouts were slowed down by an inability to begin going on a rush the other way when the team got control of a puck in the offensive zone and it allowed the Bruins to cut down on the Isles odd man rushes.

Tuukka Rask did not look as crisp as he has in the past, which has been the case with him for much of this season. The Isles knew to take advantage of that and John Tavares scored his goal by just chipping a puck on net while surrounded by four Bruin players and going to work deep in the zone. It was the game plan that the Isles tried and in the second period it certainly helped them generate some nice scoring chances. Rask covered up most of the pucks but it was always a close call.

Jaroslav Halak continued to be his own worst enemy when he decided to come out of the net and play the puck. We didn't see much of that earlier this season, but as he's adjusted to the system that the Isles play he's come out more and more to play pucks. And more and more, over the last month and change he always has that one play he makes that's driving us all nuts. Although he was actually able to get back into the crease after he tried to put a puck around the boards with time expiring in the 2nd period, he didn't have enough time to set up and Kevan Miller quickly threw a shot on net all the way from the blueline. Although Halak had the right idea, it was not necessary to do that with no time left on the clock and his team already winding down (which is also inexcusable). But that turned out to be the winning goal and really changed the whole complexion for the Isles, causing them to lose any momentum they were gaining.

The Bruins were able to get a goal quickly to start the third from Torey Krug and the Isles were trying to get into battle back mode. They did outshoot the Bruins in the final frame but Rask was careful with covering some of his rebounds. The Isles took a lot of shots too late as well, letting good scoring opportunities fly by them before they finally released a shot. So it didn't help that they were allowing the Bruins, and Rask, to get into adequate positions to make saves.

The Isles defense did have some issues. I felt it was not a good night for Thomas Hickey in particular. On the Isles first penalty kill Patrice Bergeron made him look silly. He was easily knocked off the puck and had trouble getting the puck out of the zone. Really he wasn't the only one thanks to the work the Bruins put in, but with his lack of size and the Bruins excess size it really bled through.

Tavares did his part but Mikhail Grabovski was not as good as he was against the Rangers, and he went back to hesitating on some chances that he had. I was happy with how quickly he tried to get shots off in his first game back, but against the Bruins we saw some old habits. Hopefully it was just another game for him to try and get back into the groove of things.

Casey Cizikas got hurt but really tried to inspire the team by returning. he was pretty physical but ultimately after a missed trip by a Bruin, his leg would not let him participate further. It doesn't sound like the injury was anything serious but the Isles have called up Colin McDonald just in case. Obviously that would throw a lot of the lines off, particularly the 3rd and 4th ones. The Isles gave both Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson looks on the 4th line and I liked it a little better with Nelson. I'm all for getting Strome back at center but it's tough to break him, Frans Nielsen and Anders Lee up right now.

Michael Grabner made a nice tip in front to help the Isles tie the game at two and I felt he was one of the Isles best forwards all night. He should have had multiple goals if not for the fine work of Rask on some of the saves. He seems to be picking his spots more with when to go into high gear but he did a nice job of getting pucks towards the net. I also like that he's been playing more in the slot area and going into battles with opposing defensemen. Perhaps he could be a dark horse candidate to get more ice time if Grabovski doesn't cut it.

Overall it was not a bad game for the Isles, but one they slept through at points and for far too long. I enjoyed watching the game because of how much it showed us the Isles stack up with one of the best teams, and clearly they could have done better. They really weren't that far off from this game being different if not for a few blunders, but even the best teams will suffer some setbacks here and there. If they replayed this game I highly doubt that the Isles would make some of these mistakes again.

I think that it bodes well for the Isles in Detroit on Saturday afternoon as well. Typically when the Isles have been 'flat' in the next game they don't fall into those same habits. So I think they can come out strong against a team they do match up very well with.

- Chris

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