Middletown, N. J. - Trap game. How will the Islanders respond after a tough loss to the rival Rangers on Saturday night? Do they know what it takes to bounce back and dominate a struggling team on home ice? Do they understand what is really on the line at this point in the season?
All those questions were answered tonight as the Isles romped over the toothless Florida Panthers 5-2 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. In their final regular season home game of the season, the blue and orange got the jump from the opening shift and did not turn off the jets until the game was salted away midway through the second period.
It was not always pretty as there were plenty of unforced defensive turnovers and some sloppy coverage but that was more of the Isles sinking to the level of opposition that on this night was not up to National Hockey League standards. The Panthers did not look like they even dressed any defensemen at times through the first 30 minutes as their play in their own zone was a myriad of horrors.
Michael Grabner netted two goals for the home team, one on the power play, giving him 15 on the season and bringing back memories of his fabulous rookie season. In an 82 game schedule, Grabner would be on pace for 31 goals. For all the criticism that head coach Jack Capuano received for cutting his ice time and moving him to the third line, it seems to have actually balanced out the forwards and might be the reason that secondary scoring increased once the team got comfortable with the changes.
The Islanders finished the home portion of their 48 game schedule with a record of 10-11-3 and had to go 5-0-1 over their last six at the Coliseum to even attain that mark. But a losing home record is what this team will more than likely take into the playoffs. With games remaining to go final in Philadelphia, Ottawa and Winnipeg the full playoff picture will be reviewed in tomorrow morning’s top shelf segment here at eyesonisles.
New York killed off 4 of 5 power plays against the league’s 7th ranked unit and outshot the Panthers 31-28. The Isles, one of the league’s top shot blocking teams, did nothing to dispel that statistic tonight, taking 21 more against the shin pads. Matt Moulson, Mark Streit (on the power play) and Radek Martinek would score the other Islanders goals, with replies coming from Dmitry Kulikov and Marcel Goc for Florida.
- Three stars of the night went to Grabner, Moulson and Evgeni Nabokov
- Casey Cizikas left the game after playing only 4:26 with an upper body injury and did not return. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
- Mark Streit led all Islanders defensemen in time on ice at 24:40 while John Tavares led the forwards at 22:04
- Jesse Joensuu, who seems reborn since his return and a totally different player, saw only 7:42
- Scary moment for Nabokov, who got run into by Scottie Upshall driving the Islanders net during the second period. The Islanders keeper was fine and stayed in the game.
- Islanders magic number was reduced to 8, no matter the result of any other game on the schedule.
- The team will travel tomorrow to Toronto for a road match with the red hot Leafs on Thursday evening, beginning their regular season ending 5 game road trip.
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