March 8, 2015

Panthers hold off Rallies by Isles in Shootout Win

For some reason the Islanders generally have trouble solving the Florida Panthers. Even in games where they've come out on top it seems to take every ounce of energy they have and frequently they blow leads against them.

So after what happened in Florida on Saturday night, we probably should be feeling fortunate right now.

The Isles had to battle back down by one goal three times in this game as they fell just short in the shootout in Michal Neuvirth's first game with the club.

What we saw was a very hard working Florida Panthers team fighting for their playoff lives, and using their 3rd string netminder came out with a quality win that they desperately needed. They took advantage of an Isles team that made some errors and had some sloppy passing plays, particularly in the neutral zone, and ensured that they had a few extended shifts in the Isles zone.

Although the Panthers didn't test the Islanders with much in the way of shots as they only took 18 to the 28 the Isles ended up with, many of their chances were of high quality.

The Isles allowed the Panthers to dance around freely in those high percentage areas all night and they paid dearly for it. I didn't think Neuvirth played bad but his defense was really sloppy and easily fooled. The worst case of this was on Jonathan Huberdeau's turn around goal when he made Calvin de Haan look silly. Neuvirth did his best to use his pad to recover and get back to the post after leaning the other way but Huberdeau's excellent shot was a no doubter.

The Panthers first goal was the only low percentage chance that the Panthers did cash in on, thanks to an inability to clear a loose puck. Erik Gudbranson picked up the puck at the blueline and took a harmless looking shot that got through a screen, and Neuvirth did react late to the shot as it trickled across the line.

The Isles answered back every time though. After giving up the Gudbranson goal midway through the first it was John Tavares in the second period who picked up a lose puck thanks to a great defensive play by Anders Lee and went in on the breakaway, which is exactly what you want against a guy like Dan Ellis. The backhand shot by the captain was a no doubter and capped off a beautiful play. It's a shame he can't replicate that in shootout attempts.

After Nick Bjugstad's goal it was Nick Leddy on the powerplay that evened things up again. That powerplay sequence was excellent by the Isles and they really got the Panthers to over commit, allowing Leddy to get a nice hard shot off.

I actually liked the Isles chances being tied 2-2 after the 2nd period, because they had a second chance to really take over the game. I liked how they played in the second frame and liked the looks on the powerplay so it made me optimistic. But they did find themselves battling from behind again, only to have to tie again and Josh Bailey took care of that. Although it was a great feed from Tavares it was kind of an inexcusable goal for Ellis to give up. But with Ellis down in the butterfly after Tavares passed the puck from the wall to the faceoff area Bailey let off a rising shot. The confidence is really showing in his game and he's on pace for career highs across the board and certainly deserves to retain his spot on the top line once Kyle Okposo returns.

Tavares had a three point night overall which gave him sole possession of first in the NHL's scoring race. It's a tight race with all the big names you'd expect to see up there (sans Patrick Kane) so that's something for those of you who are into the personal accolades.

The size of the Panthers was something that I felt the Isles had trouble with all night, and they were fortunate to tie it every time and get at least a point out of the game. It definitely could have been a lot worse, and I hate to say it, but it would have been if Chad Johnson was in net (setting aside the fact of his injury right now, of course). But I felt Neuvirth did the best he could when you see what he had to work with.

Getting points is certainly crucial for the Isles at this point and although the two points would have been ideal you take the point against a team that has been playing well of late and is trying desperately to find a rallying point within their own room as the Bruins continue to figure out what they want to be.

With Toronto on the schedule for Monday and a match-up against the Rangers Tuesday it is very fair to call the game against the Leafs a must-win. Teams on the second half of a back-to-back games don't fare too well, so with the odds stacked against the Isles they need to walk out with the two points Monday - regulation or otherwise.

- Chris

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