Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kyle Breaks Out!

Kyle Okposo finally had the night that everyone has been waiting for. Over the course of a single period, he broke his goal scoring drought, doubled his season's points total, and silenced his critics.

The only thing missing was an Islanders win.

On Wednesday (11/23) night, the Islanders hosted the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that has traditionally given them fits. Coming into the game the Isles had dropped 24 of their last 26 to their southerly neighbors.

It looked to be more of the same in store for New York, as just 18 seconds into the game a puck found its way past starter Rick DiPietro. Andrej Meszaros scored on the first shot of the game.

The script would change, however, just 19 seconds later, as Kyle took a brilliant pass from Michael Grabner and lit Ilya Bryzgalov's lamp.

Before most of the crowd of 11,086 had settled into their seats, two goals had been scored.

Okposo, playing with a sense of determination as yet unseen this season, gave the Islanders the lead with a pretty "tic-tac-toe" type goal at 10:26. Grabner had a hand in this one too, thrusting the puck to Josh Bailey who got it to Kyle's stick blade.

The Isles led 2-1, and suddenly thoughts of the team's (and Kyle's) scoring woes were a thing of the past.

Not sated by two quick goals after such a long and miserable drought, Kyle turned around and assisted Grabner on a goal with about 1:30 to go in the period. The outburst of scoring, coming after 142-plus minutes of nothing, coupled with the fact that they were outplaying Philadelphia, was astounding.

The problem was that the Islanders had forty more minutes to get through.

During the first break, Peter Laviolette showed why he is a good coach. He yanked his starting goaltender and ushered Sergei Bobrovsky into the game.

Though Kyle played well (going end to end with the puck during one rush after making a nice defensive play, as an example), he and his mates were unable to solve Bobrovsky. "Bob" made 23 saves and was the benefactor of some quirky goals allowed by DiPietro.

Though they forced the game to overtime, and even had a man advantage during the extra session, the Islanders lost their 13th of their last 15 games.

Taking away the positives, though, Kyle appears to have put whatever was troubling him aside, at least for now. He looks like the young star that everyone saw for the last three seasons. He has regained a very nice chemistry with linemates Michael Grabner and Frans Neilsen, and even with Josh Bailey.

The Islanders haven't been able to have a game where they get scoring out of both of their top two lines on the same night. When they do, they're going to win the game easily.

Unfortunately for now, coach Jack Capuano is left to still tinker with his roster in order to get it tuned properly, and Islanders fans are left with a slightly less festive Thanksgiving mood.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will Kyle Be Back?

I had a moment to ask a very angry Coach Jack Capuano about Kyle's status for Monday's game (at the 2:30 mark) . While he didn't provide a definitive answer, one would imagine that after the stink bomb the Islanders put up against Boston on Saturday night (11/19), another shakeup will be afoot.

I expect Kyle to return on Monday night in Pittsburgh. I believe the message intended for Okposo and the team has been sent (and clearly received).

Unfortunately for the Isles, Sidney Crosby will be making a return of his own in Monday's game. As you know, he has been sidelined all season with the lingering effects of a concussion from last season.

Finally, a new face to look for in the Islanders' lineup is David Ullstrom. The young forward was called up as the corresponding move to goalie Al Montoya's placement on the injured reserve list. The young Swede has put up a 12-2-14 line at Bridgeport in 17 games.

There will be a lot to watch for tomorrow night. Hopefully Capuano rallies his troops in what has been a very difficult venue for the Islanders over the past few seasons.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Isles Win as Kyle Still Sits

Coming in to Thursday (11/17) night's game against Montreal, the Islanders were sitting precariously on the cusp of an unpleasant milestone.

The franchise, whose all-time record stood at 1317-1316-347-77 (W-L-T-OTL) before the puck dropped, was in danger of falling to .500 for the first time since 1978.

They were also facing a hot squad in the Montreal Canadiens, winners of 7 of their last 10 games. The one small advantage the Islanders perhaps held was that the Habs had played Carolina on Wednesday night.

Fortunately for the Isles, a bit of unpleasant history was averted.

The Islanders secured a 4-3 win, though they took an unconventional route to victory.

Evegeni Nabokov, part of the "three-headed monster" in goal (that has worked surprisingly better than expected this season) was injured just under eight minutes in. Rick DiPietro, the eventual winner, replaced him.

After an even first period, it took a lucky carom off the boards behind the goal and a misplay of the carom by Canadiens' goaltender Peter Budaj to gift wrap a goal for the home team.

P.A. Parenteau, the twenty goal scorer from last season, wasted no time in capitalizing on the mistake. For Parenteau, it was his third goal of the year.

Invigorated by a rare lead, Josh Bailey helped Jay Pandolfo score another one with just 3:01 gone in the period. For Pandolfo, it was a double milestone, as it was both his first goal as an Islander and number 100 in his NHL career.

Mark Streit tripled the home fans' pleasure with a goal of his own at 9:01. Of note, the goal was the first this season by an Islanders defenseman at even strength.

The tide turned against the Isles soon, though, as two poor defensive plays led to Montreal goals. The fans, and perhaps the coaches, were having flashbacks of the game against Colorado earlier in the season in which the Isles frittered away a 3-0 lead.

Matt Moulson righted the ship towards the end of the period, however. Matt has been hot of late, scoring four goals in his last five games. John Tavares and the aforementioned DiPietro assisted on the effort.

Though they allowed a late power play goal to Brian Gionta which set up a tense finish, the Islanders held on and secured a much needed victory.

The sentiment in the locker room after the win was both one of relief and a sense of a deserved payoff after some recent games filled with hard work and no points.

The Islanders get a chance to take another step in the right direction on Saturday night (11/19). More on that game below.

News and notes:

- Somewhat surprisingly, Kyle Okposo was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game. It was reported elsewhere that he has watched all of his shifts from this season on video. I fully expect him to return to the ice for Saturday night's tilt against the Boston Bruins.

- Speaking of Saturday night, Islanders legend (and the team's first captain) Ed Westfall will be honored in a pregame ceremony. He will be inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame, and will even call a period of hockey with "Jiggs" McDonald. It should be a fun evening.

- Nabokov left the game with a reported groin injury. He will be re-evaluated on Friday. Rick DiPietro, making his second relief appearance of the year, filled in ably by saving 24 of the 27 shots he faced.

- Lastly, this game featured a unique personnel quirk. It was believed to be the first time that four Swiss-born players had ever played in the same NHL game. The teams had two apiece; Mark Streit and Nino Niederreiter for the Islanders and Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber for the Habs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I'm going to keep this one short because after last night's gut-wrenching 4-3 overtime loss in Colorado, I'm completely deflated. So here we go...

The Good:

Josh Bailey (!) opened the scoring by netting his first goal of the season. One of the glaring underachievers so far this season (yes, Kyle obviously belongs in that category), Bailey ended his drought under five minutes into the contest.

Brian Rolston doubled the Islanders' lead less than a minute into the second period. P.A. Parenteau and Neilsen assisted the effort.

Michael Grabner looked like the Grabner of last season, scoring a beautiful goal (his 5th of the season) fed by Matt Moulson and having two other breakaway chances in which he did not score. (Who could have known how big those missed opportunities would be later in the game?)

Kyle Okposo gets partial credit in this column, as does starting goaltender Al Montoya. Kyle was strong on the puck during this game and chased down a few loose ones. One of his passes sprung Grabner on an aforementioned breakaway chance.

Montoya was good; very good in fact. For half or 2/3 of the game. There's the rub.

The Bad:

Montoya was run over several times during the game. Did it take a toll on him? Perhaps. Or maybe the thin air exhausted him. Or perhaps, and most likely, his defense allowed him to see 51 shots on the night, easily a season high for the team.

The Islanders blew a 3-0 lead and all of the good momentum they had built. Yes, just frittered it away during the final 20 minutes. Completely inexcusable, especially in a game in which they were at times (literally) running circles around the competition.

Also frittered away was a point that was desperately needed in the standings. Normally I'm a "glass half-full" kind of guy. Not on this one.

The Ugly:

Kyle's goalless drought now stands at 13 games this season. His season line is 0-3-3 so far. Ugly indeed.

Moving on, and sadly we must again discuss the officiating.

I really don't believe in blaming officials for a team's woes. However, the Islanders have been on the wrong end of some terrible calls this season.

Whether it was phantom tripping calls, no-calls, or very minor infractions that were whistled, the Isles had it all go against them in this game. Some of Colorado's power plays should never have even taken place. Oh well. Some among you will say that the Islanders should have overcome those bad calls, and maybe you're right, but on this night the poor officiating was egregious.

To add insult to injury, a rumor circulated around Twitter after the game that goalie Evgeni Nabokov had been traded to Columbus for defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

The rumor was, of course, unfounded.

If a trade is made (and believe me, the Isles need to shed a goalie in the worst way), you'll find out right here. The Islanders send me (and my fellow bloggers) press releases, you know.

The Isles get a chance to redeem themselves on Sunday night in Vancouver at 9 PM.