Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That Felt Good

It had been a long time since the New York Islanders have looked good on national television. Well, they looked good on Tuesday night (1/29) as they went into Pittsburgh, shut the Penguins down for nearly 59 minutes, and took home two points.

Evegeni Nabokov was stellar again, saving 37 shots in the 4-1 rout. Casey Cizikas, who I saw drafted in person (2009), scored his first National Hockey League goal.

The Islanders did almost everything right, save for a dumb Colin McDonald boarding penalty at the end of the second frame.

Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner each scored their fourth goals of the season; John Tavares his second. The Islanders penalty kill remained nearly airtight.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'd love to write more, but I'm about to slip into a warm bubble bath, light a cigar, and enjoy this martini...


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Uneven Play Marks Season's Start

After witnessing the New York Islanders rally from behind and then drop a two lead and eventually lose in Winnipeg tonight (1/27), one word comes to mind: inconsistency.

In the midst of a five game road trip, in a season in which a good start is mandatory in order to remain competitive, the Islanders have waffled. There have been bright spots, such as a burst of three goals early on in tonight's third period (an eventual 5-4 OT loss to Winnipeg). There have been dreadful stretches that wholly lacked energy, such as most of the first two periods tonight or the final period in Boston.

On an individual basis, there have been some pleasant surprises. Head Coach Jack Capuano was pleased with defenseman Thomas Hickey's National Hockey League debut tonight, even rewarding Hickey with late game minutes.

Journeyman Keith Aucoin has three goals and has surpassed expectations so far. David Ullstrom, the Swede, has led by example. Brad Boyes has fit nicely into the scheme, and Michael Grabner is skating like a rejuvenated man after a 20 point decline last season.

Conversely, Capuano noted after tonight's game that the first scoring line (Moulson-Tavares-Okposo) isn't working they way he'd like. The problem hasn't been J.T., who has notched three multi-point games this season.

I'll say what Capuano wouldn't state over the air. As much as I like and prefer to lavish praise on Kyle, I must also be critical of him now.

I believe he'll be dropped down to the second line for the next game (Tuesday, 1/29, in Pittsburgh).

For some reason, he fares better when placed apart from Moulson and Tavares.

Mind you, he hasn't been awful. He has scored this season, and as we should all know by now he's a slow starter in most years. But he, like the team, has had inconsistent stretches. Just going by the most recent game, he began slowly and had better shifts as the night wore on.

Make no mistake, the team is .500. They are in the midst of a grueling trip travel-wise (I know the season has just begun, but consider the miles they have logged and the lack of down time).

The Islanders are improving. Help is also on the way in the form of Lubomir Visnovsky.  Moving Kyle to the second line (and moving Ullstrom or Boyes up?) might be the tweak this team needs to really get on a roll.

We'll see what, if anything, Jack chooses to do.

News and Notes:

- Evegeni Nabokov has been outstanding this season, at times single handedly keeping the Isles in games. He came into the Winnipeg game with a 2-1 record and a 3.02 GAA. He saved 30 shots in the loss.

- Travis Hamonic and Matt Martlin logged a combined 12 hits in the loss.

- With his two assists, Tavares ties Benoit Hogue and Mikko Makela for 30th on the franchise's all-time list (124).

Monday, January 21, 2013

It Shouldn't Have Been That Hard

Coming off an opening night loss to the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders rebounded nicely on Martin Luther King Day (1/21) and notched their first win of the season.

Kyle Okposo, who has been somewhat of a slow starter in past seasons, netted his first goal of the season in the 4-3 win.

The two points avoided a calamitous 0-2 start for the Isles, who nearly frittered the victory away in a six minute stretch in the third period. Up 4-0, with me already tweeting that the win was in the bag, so to speak, Tampa Bay roared back with goals from Martin St. Louis, Benoit Pouliot, and Steven Stamkos.

The Isles rode out a final ten minutes and wrapped up the win after the Lightning took two penalties in the final minutes.

Over 15,000 attended the Monday matinee, and Head Coach Jack Capuano was in attendance as well after missing the opener with a medical issue (kidney stones).

Though he couldn't have liked what he saw in the third period from his team, his side played well and at time dominated a more talented Tampa Bay squad.

Travis Hamonic played well and is rounding into form on defense, and Evegeni Nabokov has been solid in both of his starts. He stopped 23 of 26 shots for the win.

It's too early to indicate any trends yet; we need to see a few more games to identify some of the issues that will surround this version of the Islanders. They'll get tested this week, as they play five straight games on the road, beginning Thursday (1/24) in Toronto.

This shortened season is going to fly by. As of right now, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

And We're Back!

After a prolonged involuntary hiatus caused by the National Hockey League's labor dispute, New York Islanders hockey is almost back. The abbreviated 2012 (?) - 2013 season begins Saturday (1/19) night at Nassau Coliseum, but we were afforded a sneak peak last night. In attendance for the annual Blue and White Scrimmage, along with 3,000 or so loyal fans, we had a chance to reconnect with Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, and Matt Moulson. We also had our first look at some newcomers, such as Ryan Strome and Matt Carkner.

Make no mistake, the roster is still in flux. Strome and Griffin Reinhart were returned to their junior teams today, while the Isles added veteran center Keith Aucoin this morning.

The 48-game format will be a "sprint" to the playoffs with some added challenges thrown in. Games will be played more frequently than in a normal season and the travel burden will be heavier. One of the pressing concerns Head Coach Jack Capuano expressed last night was the recovery time for his players, especially his veteran goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. He said that the team's conditioning staff will have to be especially vigilant maintaining tabs on the hydration and nutrition of his players.

"Cappy" was pleased with what he saw during the split squad exhibition game, noting that the players have been skating and eager to play meaningful games since September.

With seven regular season games before January ends, they'll get plenty of opportunity.

As for Kyle, Capuano has him playing on the top line with Moulson and Tavares. While Okposo wasn't available for comment, Moulson noted that the trio are familiar with playing together even though they "need to work on some things." He didn't further elaborate.

Realistically, how this team fares over the season should depend on the defensive corps, special teams, and goal tending. It will be interesting to watch how Capuano and his staff distributes the playing time among his forwards.

The team should get deeper and have some defensive relief if and when Lubomir Visnofsky reports to the team and if Mark Streit remains healthy.

We should see a leap forward in production from the young forwards once again, though in hockey as in life nothing is certain.

Our fingers are crossed and we are cautiously optimistic that, as Matt Moulson predicted yesterday, the New York Islanders will be a playoff team in 2013.