January 19, 2015

Isles defeat Flyers 7-4, Lead Metro at All-Star Break

If the Islanders were looking to have something resonate with the league during the All-Star break then they were successful thanks to their 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday afternoon. The win guarantees that the Isles will sit atop the division for the next week until play resumes after next weekend's festivities.

The Flyers have had a tough season so far, and an injury to Steve Mason has not made things any easier. 33-year-old rookie Rob Zepp has gotten a chance and he was the man in between the pipes against the Isles.

It didn't take long for Michael Grabner to score, about a minute and a half into the game with a beautiful wrist shot up high. You knew that the floodgates were going to be open at that point.

Nikolay Kulemin really was the star of the afternoon for the Isles, getting their second goal on a great second chance with a rebound right in his wheelhouse. The Isles, just as they had several times throughout the game, had some extended pressure in the offensive zone and Kulemin's first goal of the evening was one of a few second chances the Isles cashed in on.

Kulemin wasn't done. He got the Isles third goal on a breakaway, going from literally skating backwards to beating and out-muscling Matt Read, making a nice move to go up high on a sprawled out Zepp all while the Isles were down a man. We talked about Kulemin on the show on Sunday, specifically about how he's been scoring goals in big spots for the team. He brings a big frame that has the ability to skate and he's been using that to his advantage to force turnovers just as he did here with Read, who is not a bad skater himself.

In what surprised many, Jaroslav Halak got the start and made 25 saves for the Isles. The Flyers third goal was gifted to Claude Giroux, thanks to a brain lapse by Halak behind the net to start the 3rd period. He didn't get enough on his pass and seemed to freeze for a minute upon realizing this. This left a wide open cage for Giroux. Unfortunately for Halak turnovers behind the net have been something that's become somewhat common place and over the last few weeks has been adding blemishes to his records.

The Isles chased Zepp, who was replaced by Ray Emery. The Isles didn't let up and tested Emery early and often but he was up to the task, making several saves in succession. The thing with the Flyers is that they give up second and third chances, and both goalies did not stray from that today.

After the Giroux goal, the Flyers began to step up the intensity. The Islanders had an answer for it however and it was the best thing that they could have done. Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas came out for their shifts throwing the body. The Flyers are a team that loves to do that and likes to get back into games using that style of play so it was key for the Islanders to try and cut that off before the Flyers got the upper hand. This resonated with some other guys who began to show their muscle, like Anders Lee and Travis Hamonic who threw a few big hits of their own.

Overall the Isles were solid defensively, giving Halak the chance to see the pucks. He had to make a couple of unbelievable saves but gave up his usual rebounds. As mentioned the Giroux goal was unfortunate, and their final goal came in the equivalent of garbage time on a nice tip in front.

Calvin de Haan had some of his usual issues. In the first period with the Flyers getting some pressure he lost track of a puck and took a really bad tripping penalty. Quite simply you have to be better with your stick in the slot area and also need to be able to know where the puck is. Hamonic has been pretty solid for long stretches this season so any of these issues have to be directed more at de Haan. Maybe there is something to the sophomore slump theory.

Nick Leddy has had some tremendous games lately, and the few times he's gotten himself in trouble he's been able to skate right out of it. It was great to see him rewarded with his 7th goal of the season on a nice shot from the blueline after faking R.J. Umberger out of his skates.

John Tavares had a strong game and was difficult for the Flyers to knock off the puck. His powerplay goal was a thing of beauty, lifting the puck up high effortlessly while in tight. And it gave the Isles the momentum they needed after the Flyers had scored a little bit before that.

The Isles powerplay had better movement and more chances than we have been seeing in recent games. They had one attempt that was a real stinker but the others saw some crisp passing and nice set-ups along with some excellent scoring opportunities thanks to more of a willingness to shoot the puck.

The next time we see the Isles will be just over a week from now, however we will see Tavares and Halak at the All-Star festivities on Saturday and Sunday. The Islanders are sitting pretty going into the break, at a 31-14-1 mark. They have been the talk of the league, and the fact that they are still in first in the division for this extended time will keep the positive buzz around them.

- Chris

No comments: