January 11, 2015

Isles Dominate Blue Jackets; Tavares Named to All-Star Roster

The Islanders gained some momentum for themselves heading into the game on Tuesday against a red hot New York Rangers team by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Saturday night. The game was the second of a back-to-back and after playing into extra time with the Devils in that previous night the Islanders certainly made a huge statement in Columbus.

The Blue Jackets struggled mightily in the early going of the season, but had picked up the pace recently in their effort to get back over .500 and back into the playoff picture. In watching this game, if I were a Blue Jackets fan I would be upset with the way my team played. If you want to make noise after digging yourselves a bit of a hole, you need a better effort than what was put forth on Saturday night against the leader of your division.

The Isles jumped off to the early 1-0 lead, with a strong opening shift and a good play to get the puck to Nick Leddy at the point. Leddy took a shot with two Isles in the slot area, and it was Nikolay Kulemin who got the tip-in. Kulemin has been relegated to the lower lines with the Isles shuffling of the top units, but it's good to see him still provide some of that offensive skill set. He could fit in well as the 'offensive' presence for the grittier players.

The Blue Jackets didn't have much going at all offensively, and it took a powerplay for them to even get a shot in on Chad Johnson. On their first shot they scored, with the first five minutes being dominated by the Isles it wasn't a great feeling for the game to be tied 1-1.

Johnson, however did his part in giving the Isles the chance to win the game. He hasn't played much, mostly due to being generally ineffective and giving up a goal to a team on their first shot certainly didn't provide any good feelings to the team, the fans or even himself. But Johnson settled in and stopped most of whatever else was thrown his way, despite really only needing to make one or two really nice saves.

Matt Martin scored a beautiful goal, finishing off a series of excellent passing by the Isles started by Brian Strait. Ryan Strome showed great vision in getting the puck to Martin, who has been cutting towards the net with some more consistency over the last couple of games.

Aside from that, a lot of beauty was lost on the other goals. Defensive miscues and bad breaks gave Strait, Anders Lee and Kyle Okposo their goals. Lee put on some excellent pressure to cause a turnover with the Jackets attempting a line change and took a loose puck in on a breakaway. He did make a few nice moves to get Sergei Bobrovsky to leave the 5-hole open though. Okposo and Strait showed us why it is important to get pucks to the net, especially when a team looks vulnerable and is having trouble maintaining any order in their own zone.

The Isles defenders looked a lot more settled in for this game than they did in New Jersey. I liked the fact they were very aggressive on the boards, trying to wear down a Jackets team that thrives because of some of their role players who enjoy that type of play. It really helped to neutralize many of the threats a team would face when playing this team.

Johnny Boychuk has been showing us his physical side a bit more lately and on Saturday night threw the body a lot. The Blue Jackets were not happy with all of the hits, and I think that attributed to some of what went on at the end of the game.

Of course I am talking about the barrage of penalties that the Blue Jackets took against the Isles in the last few minutes of the game, giving them some extended 5-on-3 time. The Isles were content with passing the puck around the boards, already up by three. For some reason the Jackets took offense to the Isles refusal to pile on. Perhaps they felt it was mocking in a way, but in a league where offense rules I had no problem with the Isles trying not to pile on and risk injury to guys screening Bobrovsky, or even those trying to defend against the Isles. But the Blue Jackets didn't like it one way or another.

Calvin de Haan has continued some solid play getting in the way of shots. However his skating seems to have returned to an extent and he looks more confident when skating out of the corner with the puck. In prior weeks this caused turnovers for him, but the ability to block shots and then go after them to get them out of harms way will be the key to his success. Travis Hamonic, his partner, also has continued a run of real solid play.

All in all the Isles had a game plan and executed it well, not allowing the Blue Jackets to get much in the few times during play when they were buzzing. So give the Isles credit for not letting up and sticking with a plan.

This was clearly a game the Isles should have done well in, aside from the fact of the little success they had in Columbus since their inception. The fact that the Isles came out on the second night of a back to back and did exactly what they had to do is key for them heading into the big match-up on Tuesday, no matter how much Jack Capuano tries to downplay it. They had their legs moving and it helped create some excellent scoring chances for them, and even generated the dirty goals they scored.

And of course the Rangers won again on Saturday night, giving them five in a row as they return home. The Islanders will enter MSG on Tuesday with possession of first place in the Metropolitan division, and with the bump in the road the Isles and Pittsburgh experienced hot teams like the Rangers and Washington can smell blood. This should be fun.

All-Star Selections: On Saturday night the NHL announced the players for the All-Star game, to be held in Columbus in a couple of weeks. Isles fans were disappointed with the absence of Jaroslav Halak from the team.

If someone asked me, my response would have been to shrug. I don't really care who does or doesn't make it because quite often those who have played the best during any particular season don't always make it in - especially if they aren't name players.

Honestly, don't look at just the Halak snub. What about Henrik Lundqvist? P.K. Subban? We can name many players who were inexplicably snubbed. But no worries, because Patrik Elias, who hasn't even been the best player on his team, is going.

Remember, the league wants every team to be represented at the festivities. So teams like Edmonton and the Devils need to have representatives. Furthermore, the team that is hosting always gets the benefit of the doubt, so enter Bobrovsky as a goaltender.

If it's something that you care that much about, more power to you. But given the popularity contest that surrounds it, and the fact that the last time an Isles goaltender went their career pretty much ended, to me it's much ado about nothing.

Congrats to John Tavares however, who did make the team. It was pretty clear that he was going to be the Isles representative, and likely will be for several years to come. So we can sit back and watch him do his thing, while praying he doesn't tweak something during a trick shot attempt on the evening before.

- Chris

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