It was nice to see the New YOrk Islanders win a game again. Although they gave up a 2-1 lead in the third period to the Montreal Canadians last night in Montreal, they managed to win in the shootout on a Josh Bailey goal.
The Canadians scored the first goal about 3 minutes in, and I started to wonder if this was going to be another of those games again. However, the Isles rebounded and played well enough to get out of the opening period trailing 1-0. Al Montoya, though the first goal was a little soft, settled down to hold the fort and give his team a chance to come back.
In the second period, Mark Streit got the Islanders on the board with a very nice solo effort on the power play that was helped by a Matt Moulson “pick” to give Streiter the running room to break in alone on Peter Budaj and score the goal. Frans Nielsen scored his 14th goal of the season in a period that was dominated by the Islanders in all categories, including outshooting Montreal 18-9. Nielsen would also score one of the 3 goals in the shootout for the Islanders, even though it was not on his usual backhand shot.
Unfortunately, the lead didn’t hold in the third period, and after a fairly evenly matched final frame, the game went into overtime and then the shootout. Each team ended up using six shooters in the skills competition. Matt Moulson forced the shootout to go beyond the three shooters when he “tied” the score before Bailey won it in round six.The Islanders did play well throughout the majority of the game. To the Canadian’s credit, they were coming off a hard loss in overtime to the Senators the previous night in which they had to kill 9 penalties in the game. Still, it was good to see the Isles play a strong game and get some clutch goals when needed. More than a few guy stepped up and played well, and Montoya seemed to recapture some of his early season form.
As usual, I am left with some “blind observations” from last night and the previous few games. I will present them in no specific order. Once again, of course, these are the opinions of myself and not those necessarily shared by all in Islander Country;
• Mark Streit perhaps played one of his best games of the season last night. This was Streit from a few years ago. The guy dominated in both the defensive and offensive ends of the ice, taking control of the puck and the game at times. If he could play every game like that, the Islanders would truly be in a much better spot. Maybe, the leadership burden as the captain has been heavier on him than he might want to admit, but last night, he showed the reason why he deserves to be wearing the “C” on his jersey.
• Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic are our top pairing on defense. Folks, that is our shut down pair of the future and I’m tired of hearing about the top pairing on the “Blue Shirts” all of the time. A-Mac and Hammer have stepped up and shined throughout the season. MacDonald single-handedly saved the game in overtime twice last night.
• Every game, John Tavares continues to impress me and often shows the little things that demonstrate why he was a first round overall top pick. There was a point in the overtime in which he simply would not give up the puck and fought off two Canadian players to maintain control of the pill. The will and desire to win and compete in that guy is simply impressive and something I enjoy about him just as much as his raw talent.
• The feature on Matt Martin between the first and second periods was well done. Martin has become a favorite of mine, but the respect and admiration I have for his character and willingness to hit and stand up for his teammates continues to brow. I still firmly believe he has the potential to score 15 plus goals, and I think it’s just a matter of time before that facet of his game shows itself.
• Kyle Okposo may not be having the kind of year we’d have liked him to have with his offensive numbers, but his leadership and intensity cannot be denied or missed. His hard work each night and his ability to lead by example are traits that have been demonstrated ever since his early season slump.
• I was happy that Al Montoya earned himself a victory. Having only played 5 games since Christmas and not having had good performances in the last few, he definitely shook off much of the rust last night. I think the “Big Cubano” can and will recapture his early season form in time.
• Broken record or not, sixty minute efforts and not letting up on the gas peddle are things this team needs to establish firmly for the future. They can turn it on and play dominating stretches of twenty or forty minutes, but they can’t close the deal on too many nights. This is simply the brutal fact why they won’t make the playoffs this season. If they had finished the kill in even 3 or 4 of the games they had control of, they would be in a fierce fight for the 8 spot. Look at the Capital game from Tuesday blowing a 4-1 lead and losing a game the Caps had no business even being in. That should have been a 5 or 6-1 win for the Islanders, as Washington had no life and should not have been given CPR by Islander mistakes and a lack of effort at times.
• Defense need to be just as much a focus for Garth Snow in the off season as getting another scorer in the lineup. If ownership is truly committed to making this team a winner and putting a product on the ice fans will pay to see, the “rebuild” excuse is just not going to cut it any more. We need a few good players to enhance and solidify the core we have and enable the vast talent we do have coming along to have the time to develop properly. I don’t think our 3 defensive prospects are ready to step into the lineup like Hamonic did, so there needs to be an effort to sign more than “serviceable” guys on the back line.
• Again, not to repeat myself, nothing short of 80 points and a .500 record is acceptable from this season. Despite the playoff picture, the last 11 games should be successful and not a sit back and try to earn a higher draft position deal. At this point, as far as I feel, a 29-32-11 record for 69 points and 14th place in the Eastern Conference is down right embarrassing. This team is better than that, and the fan base has every right to have expected and desired more.
• With that said, let me also say that my respect and admiration for the boys and the coaching staff has not wavered or diminished either. I don’t play the game nor can I physically do so. Thus, I don’t know what it’s life to have to play an 82 game season and bring it every night. It is my passion as an Islander fan and my belief and loyalty to this organization that causes my spirit to burn and yearn for improvements and success in the future. I think of the seasons JT, Moulson, Parenteau, Martin, Hamonic, McDonald, Nabokov and others are having, and I feel the future is still bright for this team. The core is nearly solidified, as Garth Snow only needs to keep PA in the fold, and it’s just adding some more pieces to the puzzle and settling for nothing less than the playoffs next season.
The Isles move on to play the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Don’t even get me started on the home and home series from a few months ago and the crappy officiating that gave the leafs the back to back wins…. Hopefully, we will have a fair and consistent pair of referees who will recognize the fact that there are two teams on the ice.
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