Coming off a 5-3 win last night against the New Jersey Devils, the Islanders looked sharp on both sides of the puck.
Kevin Poulin appeared shaky in the 2nd Period, but rebounded nicely in the 3rd, making a few impressive saves.
In all, the Islanders had some key elements in their game last night that helped effected the outcome of the game, none more important and apparent than Kyle Okposo.
Okposo had the best overall game, along with Josh Bailey who is showing that same spark on display late last season. Yes it’s only preseason, but both players looked quite impressive. Okposo contributed in just about every aspect of the game of hockey, especially his physicality; much needed since Cal Clutterbuck has yet to return from his leg injury. Okposo chased the puck into corners, fought hard all night long, not making any highlight reel hits, but showing an overall gritty attitude.
Undoubtedly, Okposo’s most impressive play came on the penalty kill. He had some offensive flash while short-handed, notching a goal, and assisting on Josh Bailey’s SHG goal. While offense is always an added bonus on the penalty kill, the most important element while short-handed is obviously the defense. Okposo looked solid on the defensive side of the puck while on the penalty kill, without any noticeable flaws.
He had a strong defensive mindset, clearing the puck multiple times while out on the ice. He had a tenaciousness on the ice, playing aggressive, forcing players to pass the puck or take a low-percentage shot.
Okposo must be given some consideration to be on the top-line penalty kill. We’ve seen it in the past, Okposo, when given time on the penalty kill, can convert on short-handed scoring opportunities (see his short handed goal from Game 3 of this last postseason here).
Okposo has now established himself as a solid defensive forward after last season. The second offensive line consisting of Okposo, Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen often served as a checking line squared off against opposing teams’ top forwards. Okposo has proven he can hold prolific goal scorers in check, which is the primary quality in a penalty killer.
The Islanders have had a weak penalty killing as of late, coming in the bottom ten in percentage of successful penalty kills last year. Clearly, some degree of change is needed on the power play.
Given the circumstance, a top-line of penalty killing consisting of Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo as forwards and Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic as defenseman would be a solid penalty killing squad. There is no questioning the penalty killing skills of Andrew MacDonald and Michael Grabner. They’ve proven themselves useful in that category.
Hamonic adds a fearless element to the penalty kill, blocking shots and checking everything in sight. Put Okposo in this group, a guy who the Islanders have used to play against the league’s top forwards, and they have a solid penalty kill.
Okposo can also occasionally score a short-handed goal, and will definitely give the breakaway machine (A.K.A. Michael Grabner) some chances to score on the penalty kill.
Change in the penalty kill seems imminent, but let’s embrace it. It should lead to good things down the road for the Islanders.