Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Isles Smacked in the Mouth

The title is true both literally and figuratively. First off, our best wishes go out to scrappy defenseman Jack Hillen, who took an Alexander Ovechkin shot to the face during Tuesday (1/26) night's game. He was taken to the hospital after the incident, which you can see (courtesy of ESPN.com) here. Nobody from the team had an update on Jack's condition immediately following the game.

If you clicked on the video and accompanying story, you probably also noticed that the actual game was just as unpleasant. A 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals. The Caps scored 1:05 in, and other than an Isles goal to make the game 2-1 early on, they never looked back. It was so bad that Washington players were skating through two Islander defenders and scoring goals. Too ugly to even talk about.

If there was a bright side to the game for the Islanders, it would have to be the small accomplishments of keeping Ovechkin pointless, and Kyle scoring a nice goal fed by John Tavares. And that's about it.

After a really nice run, our worry is that the Isles are backsliding a bit. They dropped their previous game to a struggling New Jersey team, and now get blown out by Washington. Not to take credit away from the Caps, a dynamic offensive team, but this game opened a few eyes as to where the Isles really are in their rebuilding process.

One can hope that the Islanders are able to pull out of this mini-slump as they now travel to Carolina, Philly, Florida, and Tampa Bay for a road trip. None of the teams listed are world-beaters, and it would be an opportune time for the Isles to pick up some much needed points.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Okie's 2 Points Can't Save Isles

Saturday (1/23) night proved to be a very frustrating night in Islanderland for both players and fans. The Isles played in front of a packed house against local rival New Jersey. Some New Jersey fans showed up to support their team. The Islanders fans showed up too, but their team was virtually absent for two of the three periods.

In the first period the Isles had good chances to strike first, but only struck Marty Brodeur's pipes. Close calls don't count in the NHL, though, and the Isles came away empty twice. The Devils had a close call of their own in the other end, as Rick DiPietro looked to be beaten by Jamie Langenbrunner, but Kyle slid across the crease and saved not only the puck, but DP's bacon. Despite an early flurry of activity, the score stayed 0-0.

Langenbrunner couldn't be held off the board for long, though, as he struck at 5:52. Travis Zajac got Langenbrunner the puck for a hard shot that whizzed over DP's shoulder and into the net. 1-0 New Jersey.

Penalties can be game changers in hockey, though, and this game changed when Colin White was sent off for boarding Sean Bergenheim at 9:15 of the second period. The We heard that Bergenheim broke his nose during the infraction, but could not confirm this after the game. Nevertheless, Islanders came alive with two important power play goals as a result. Tavares shanked a centering pass between the circles over to Okposo, who banked his 11th goal of the season. Two minutes and two seconds later, Jack Hillen's shot caused a scramble in front of Brodeur, and the puck slid over the goal line and in to give the Isles a 2-1.

Things were looking good, especially when yet again an opposing coach extended the Isles' power play time by neglecting to put a man in the penalty box during a major penalty. The Isles couldn't take advantage of this slip-up, but did outshoot New Jersey 14-1 over the full period.

The 2nd ended on a sour note though, as Zach Parise scored with just :32 on the clock to knot the score at 2. Bruno Gervais was in the box for a hook, and a really good period for New York was spoiled.

Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador broke the Isles' back with 6:49 left to play. He fired a puck on net off of a faceoff and it was redirected past a screened DP. The Isles showed little fire after that, and would up on the wrong side of a 4-2 final after an empty net goal.

After the game, both Kyle and the coach were upset that the team didn't take advantage of a Devils team playing their second game in as many nights. The loss broke the Isles' 6 game home winning streak, and drops them out of a playoff spot for the time being.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Long Shootout Nets a Win

Trent Hunter ended a marathon shootout on a high note for Islanders fans and Rick DiPietro saved 31 shots, as the Islanders escaped with a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Saturday (1/16) night. In a game we predicted would be a real test for the Isles, they passed, but not without some drama. Here's how it unfolded:

Rookie John Tavares ended his nine game goal drought early on, as Kyle Okposo swerved nicely to avoid a defenseman, took a shot, and JT cleaned up (Buffalo goalie) Ryan Miller's rebound. There was just 5:38 gone on the game clock, but the Isles led 1-0. For Tavares it was goal #17. For Okie, assist #22.

The first period ended with little else happening, outside of two ineffective power play chances being awarded to the Islanders. The crowd would enjoy a bit more action in the 2nd frame.

The save of the night came nine minutes or so after the intermission, as Matt Moulson fed a beautiful pass to Frans Nielsen, who was waiting just outside of Miller's crease. The Dane was looking to put the Islanders up by two goals, but Miller somehow kicked Nielsen's attempt aside and kept his team down by a solitary score. It was a highlight reel save; one of the best we're seen this season.

The Isles did net a second goal at the 15:33 mark, though. Sean Bergenheim struck with help from d-men Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit. But before the ink was even dry on the score sheet, Sabre Mike Grier answered for Buffalo. The score was now 2-1 in favor of New York, the goals coming only 21 seconds apart.

It stayed 2-1 into the third period, when a seemingly good New York goal was waved off by one of the officials for goaltender interference. Andy Sutton was claimed to have been the guilty party on the play. The video replay shown to the fans and benches was inconclusive, but it appeared as if little or no contact with Miller was made. The fans were up in arms, and some unpleasant chants rained down on the officials. The ruling stood nevertheless, and it stayed 2-1.

Later on (9:35) Rick DiPietro allowed a second goal, this time to Drew Stafford, his 12th of the year. The teams went to overtime, with the home fans feeling as if they had been cheated out of a point by a dubious call.

Nothing was settled in overtime, so the teams went to the shootout, or "skills competition," as some announcers like to call it. The battle lasted for eight rounds, but the Islanders finally came out on top. Scoring for the Isles were Rob Schremp, Matt Moulson, John Tavares, and Trent Hunter, the final shooter. Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Doug Weight, and Kyle Okposo missed on their opportunities. The final, though: Isles 3, Buffalo 2.

After the game, coach Scott Gordon thought that Rick DiPietro did a good job of controlling rebounds against a very good offensive team. DP made 31 saves and earned his first NHL win since December 26th, 2008.

Rick was more focused on the big picture, saying that he moved well and stressing that "we got the extra point which is going to be huge for us coming down to the end of the season."

The point was the Islanders' 50th of the season, vaulting them at least temporarily into a playoff spot.

Another test comes quickly as the Isles play conference leader New Jersey on Monday (1/18) afternoon at 2 PM.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Goal Barrage and A Shutout

When Matt Moulson scored just 1:11 into Tuesday (1/12) night's contest, there was a sense that this game had the potential to be different from most the Islanders play. It certainly was, as the Islanders continued to score all night and seemingly never stopped. Add to the equation the fact that Dwanye Roloson never let a puck past him, and the result was nearly perfect for Isles fans. New York 6, defending Western Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings 0.

When the coach of a team, any team, uses the phrase "most complete game of the year," it's a good thing. When he uses it repeatedly throughout the first half of a season, you likely have a team on the rise. And that's what the Islanders appear to be right now. They now have earned 48 points in 47 games, and are fighting to put themselves in the playoff picture for the rest of the season.

Using the aforementioned phrase and extolling the virtues of his team's defensive effort, Gordon was upbeat after the big win. He described the reasons for the better play out of game notables such as Rob Schremp (who had 2 goals on the night) and Bruno Gervais (who contributed a goal and an assist). But the win was truly a team effort, as 11 Islanders recorded at least a point against the Wings. Gordon was also sure to praise the fact that his team allowed only 16 shots on goal to a normally very good offensive squad.

After the drubbing, we had a brief chance to speak to Josh Bailey. He is the hottest Islander right now, with points in 9 of his last 11 games. He feels as if he has not consciously changed his game despite a move to the wing, and says that things "are working pretty well right now." He believes the team is "happy but not content" and finds it very easy to play with gifted teammates such as Kyle Okposo and John Tavares.

Speaking of Kyle, he notched his 10th goal of the year, and nearly found Bailey for what would have been a prettier score midway through the second period. That one rang loudly off the post.

The Islanders will try to keep the momentum going against Buffalo on Saturday (1/16) night, but with three full days off until then there is a chance they can lose their sudden head of steam. Let's hope coach Gordon can keep the train on the rails and have the Islanders play another complete game against an excellent Sabres team.

News and Notes:

- Former Islanders defensive standout Kenny Jonsson was honored with a standing ovation just before play began. Jonsson recorded 232 points in his Islander career, the 4th highest all time for an Islanders' defenseman.

- Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard was replaced in favor of Chris Osgood after allowing a goal to Matt Moulson and two to Schremp.

- An octopus was thrown on the ice at 18:47 of the second period. The Islanders held a 4-0 lead at the time.

- The Islanders have shutout the Red Wings two games in a row, as they blanked the Wings 2-0 in Detroit last March.

- The announced crowd was 12,254.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

There Is No Lead...

...too big for the Islanders to blow, apparently. On a day (1/9) we sort of dedicated to watching football, the Isles played one of their stranger games this year. They won it, 5-4, in the shootout, but not before squandering a three goal lead in the 3rd period.

The Islanders all but had a win gift wrapped for them by Phoenix in the 2nd period of the game. The Coyotes' coach, Dave Tippet, neglected to put a man in the penalty box after an Ed Jovanovski major. This turned a routine 5 minutes of Islanders power play into a zany seven and a half minutes without a whistle. The team could not get a full compliment of players on the ice and the defense tired. Play finally stopped when Phoenix's Martin Hanzal took a slashing penalty, ensuing in another power play. Former Islander Adrian Aucoin compounded the Coyotes' woes with another penalty, and the Islanders scored on both, opening up a 4-1 lead. It seemed like the Isles would make the long flight from Phoenix to Farmingdale with 2 points in the bank. We should have known better.

Paul Bissonnette scored a flukey goal, followed by tallies from Taylor Pyatt and Peter Mueller all in span of 3:44. What had been a laugher was now a 4-4 tie.

Disaster was averted when Matt Moulson scored in the 6th frame of the shootout, and the Isles escaped with their 4th of a possible 6 points on the Western road swing. It should have been a lot easier. In fact, it could have been a perfect road trip if not for their stumble in Dallas. But we'll take what we can get.

The Islanders have 46 points in 46 games. They will take on Western Conference Champions Detroit on Tuesday night (1/12) in New York.

News and Notes:

- Kyle Okposo scored his 9th goal of the season with his dad looking on from the Phoenix stands. Announcers Howie Rose and Billy Jaffe mentioned several times this week that Kyle's father was on the road trip with the team.

- Josh Bailey is coming on! With 3 points against Phoenix and 10 in his last six games, Bailey has begun to really impress us. Okposo leads the team with 30 points on the season, but Bailey has now slipped into 5th place overall with his 22.

- Lastly, congratulations to prospect camp invitee Shuhei Kuji, whose Waseda University ice hockey team (Japan) won their first league championship in 19 years this weekend! Continued good luck, Kuji-san!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Okposo Nets Winner Out West

In a fun game that featured two young teams, the Islanders won in Denver for the first time since 1999, by a 3-2 score. As the header indicates, Kyle Okposo scored the game winning goal. He scored on a 3-on-1 rush with 3:17 remaining in the contest, beating Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson over his left shoulder. For Kyle, it was his 7th goal of the year and his 28th point overall, which ties him for the team lead (with John Tavares and Matt Moulson).

Dwayne Roloson, who has played many great games this season, notched what may have been his finest one yet, making terrific save after terrific save in big spots. He finished with 30 saves on 32 shots.

We also must mention Rob Schremp's highlight reel goal in the 2nd period, where he knocked the puck out of midair with his hand and batted it into the net like a baseball. Islanders announcers Billy Jaffe and Jiggs McDonald were beside themselves when the play was initially ruled no goal, but video replay corrected the injustice and Schremp kept his SportsCenter moment.

The win puts the Isles back at .500 for the season at 18-18-8. Their 44 points also puts them right on the cusp of a playoff spot, currently positioned 9th in the Eastern Conference. They will take on the Dallas Stars on Friday night looking to improve their standing further.