March 22, 2015

Isles Snap Skid with Shutout of Devils

The Isles not only got a couple of players back from injury on Saturday night, but they were also able to get out of the small funk that they were in which saw them lose the previous four games.

They got back to their game in a big way too, coming away with the 3-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils.

This was actually a pretty entertaining game to watch, especially if you like wide open play and great goaltending. Even though it was your typical low scoring Isles-Devils game, there was a lot of offensive plays and scoring chances that the goaltenders stood up to. In a Devils season that has been more bad than good Cory Schneider has been nothing but fantastic for them and continued that trend with 27 saves on 29 shots. Jaroslav Halak meanwhile returned from his "lower body injury" and stopped all 26 that he faced. It's very similar to the last time Halak missed time with "injuries" in the sense that he came out with a strong performance. However this time around there were no goals to break shutouts with just seconds remaining.

Nick Leddy was the other big lift that the Isles got, and although he didn't put up any points you could tell where the Isles missed him. In the past 2 weeks it has been very clear that the Isles greatly missed his ability to carry pucks up the ice and it was something that I was very adamant about. We saw a few great examples in this game of Leddy using his elite skating abilities to get the puck out of harms way and although he have a few lapses - including one in the 3rd where he missed his man which led to a great scoring chance- he did the job we've all come to know and expect. He had a few nice chip-ins into the zone late in the 3rd period that allowed the Isles to play the chip and chase game that they need to be doing more frequently to be successful and for the most part it helped to create some great scoring chances. Had they not faced Schneider it's fair to say they would have put a few more pucks in the net.

Ryan Strome put the Isles on the board initially, thanks to Nikolay Kulemin and Schneider. With the Devils having moved pieces like Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr out there's been some transition and communication breakdowns and that happened on this play. Schneider's defenseman seemed like he was expecting the puck to be left behind the cage but Schneider put it towards the corner. By the time it was seen Kulemin was already in position to cancel his man, take the loose puck and find Strome as Schneider was still trying to set himself. Strome has been battling some inconsistency of late which earned him a trip to the press box against Montreal, so needless to say it was great to see him rifle that puck past Schneider.

The refs kept their whistles in their pockets for this game too, which seems to be a trend every year as we head into the final weeks of the regular season. Each side only had one penalty called against them so its tough to get on the Islanders for missing out on their one opportunity. Just seconds after it expired however, Travis Hamonic had a shot go in after a failed save attempt kept the puck in the Isles possession. Strome was once again a part of the scoring after Brock Nelson used his size in front to gather the puck after the failed save.

Kyle Okposo put the icing on Halak's shutout in finding the empty net, his first point since coming back from eye surgery. I felt that he had a pretty active game and you can see his timing is getting better, particularly with his entrances into the zone and board play. Once that part of his game continues to come around the scoring will start again.

The Isles played a pretty physical brand of hockey, which was necessary given that the Devils did play the night before. Although the Devils didn't play poorly there were moments where you could see the Isles were getting the better of play and it outweighed the amount of times that the Devils were able to carry the play. But it didn't stop a few close calls that Halak was up to the challenge on.

All in all it was a quality win for an Isles team that needs to provide more of that kind of style especially given the opponents coming up. Teams like Minnesota, Anaheim and Los Angeles will have to be handled with a strong dump and chase, in your face game and the Isles will need to ensure that they are pretty consistent with that style, not so much the carry the puck through the neutral zone style that they seem to revert back to for long stretches at a time. These are valuable points against some of the teams they have to learn how to beat and play with if they want to have some sustained success in the playoffs.

- Chris

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