January 10, 2015

Tavares the Hero as Isles Beat Devils 3-2 in OT

With less than stellar efforts in their prior two games in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Islanders needed to get back to their winning ways with the team now back in the East. A win against the Devils would be just what they needed heading into tougher games against the Blue Jackets and Rangers later this week. But to do that the Islanders needed some better play than what we saw in Western Canada.

At first this didn't seem like it was going to be the case and the Isles were really playing with fire. The first period didn't have much flow to it as far as offensive play is concerned, for either team. The Devils have struggled to score much this season and didn't generate many offensive chances early on in the game. The Islanders controlled the puck but it came more in the neutral zone because they really didn't do much with any of the chances that they had. As Butch Goring pointed out during the telecast, there was not enough movement by the Islanders. Not only does this affect a teams chance to get scoring opportunities, but it also affects the ability to draw penalties.

The game became a sloppy one, and you got the feeling that the goals were going to be ugly. Well this game did not disappoint.

Jaroslav Halak badly misplayed another puck behind his next, just as he had done in Edmonton earlier in the week. Defensive turnovers gave the Devils some excellent chances that missed the net or that Halak made nice saves on. But lately his play behind the net has left fans with heartburn, and there have been other close calls that teams have not cashed in on as well.

I was curious to see Mikhail Grabovski on the first line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but unfortunately that experiment only lasted about eight minutes thanks to his injury. Josh Bailey took over the spot again and that line actually looked very good. Of course, Tavares was the star of the show with his two goals.

Bailey had an active game, getting a nice tip on the shot that Calvin de Haan took early in the 3rd period. The Islanders came out buzzing after two lackluster periods that saw them trailing 1-0 and Bailey was in great position. Even if he didn't get that tip in, it was still a great play and his presence in front of the net has been fairly good this season.

But that good work was undone thanks to the Halak miscue, and Scott Gomez (of course) cashed in on the wide open cage thanks to the pass from Adam Henrique. And given the way the game had gone up until that point you couldn't help but wonder if this was going to be the beginning of a longer losing streak for the Isles

Over the past few weeks, we have been seeing the Tavares of old and he gave us glimpses into how good he can really be. The Islanders had great movement on the powerplay leading to the first goal he scored, when a hard shot that missed the net came right to him and he had the time to turn and flip it off of Keith Kinkaid. This completely changed the complexion of the game for the Isles, as the teams had now traded bad goals and it was going to be one of those finishes.

The Isles play in the 4-on-4 left something to be desired, as for much of the beginning of the OT frame it looked more like a Devils powerplay than anything. Fortunately, the Devils had trouble corralling some pucks after some crisp passes which is something that has plagued them for much of the year. Tavares turned a harmless play into the game winner.

Tavares showed great strength on muscling the puck away from Adam Larsson and then great sense in slaloming through everyone to put the puck past Kinkaid, who over committed on the poke check attempt. To cap off a huge comeback, Tavares pumped his fists at the large contingent of Isles fans at the game, paying homage to the "yes, yes, yes" chant that has quickly become a fan and player favorite at home games.

The Isles needed something positive in this game, and they got just what they needed in a huge way. While it wasn't ideal, it meant a lot to have the captain basically carry the team to a victory. It gives them the momentum they need to go and play Columbus on Saturday night, a team that they generally do not do well with on the road. Not to mention the big game coming up next week with the New York Rangers.

To have success on Saturday night, the Isles need to get back to a good style of play. A dump and chase, grind it out game will do well against the Blue Jackets and seems to be an effective way to stop them with the way they play. The defensive support is what makes me nervous, and with Chad Johnson set to man the pipes the Isles will need to take extra care of their own zone.

- Chris

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