The Islanders dropped Tuesday’s contest with the crosstown rival Rangers 3-2 in what many naysayers will see as a crushing defeat. But the news wasn’t all bad, and in fact there is cause for optimism.
It was nice to see some scoring from the bottom of the roster for a change against the Rangers. True, the top end didn’t produce, and the end result was another on the loss column, but there is cause for optimism in the face of defeat. Oft-maligned goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played an excellent game, particularly through the barrage he faced in the second period. Goals from Cal Clutterbuck and Travis Hamonic actually saw the Isles take a lead into the third period. The game tying goal came on a power play, the result of an unfortunate penalty.
No, the top lines didn’t bring anything to the scoreboard on this night. John Tavares‘ league-leading points streak came to an end, and Thomas Vanek’s eagerly-anticipated debut was tarnished slightly by the loss. No doubt the armchair experts will be quick to point out the contrast between the first outings of Vanek and recently departed Matt Moulson with their respective new teams. I’m sure nobody wanted Vanek to score a couple of goals and silence the critics of the deal more than Vanek himself. But in the grand scheme, it’s one game. If he scores at the rate the optimists think he will, nobody will remember the results of a Tuesday night game in late October.
The same goes for Nabokov: he has allowed some untimely, arguably soft goals at times. His record over the past three games is a disappointing 1-2. Not great, but certainly not cause for the panic button. He’s 4-3-3 on the season, so for all the grief he’s taken he’s still got a winning record. His critics are taking aim at his play simply because this rough patch is coming at the start of the season, when every bad outing shows up glaringly in the numbers. A 1-2 stretch in February for a goalie with 20-plus wins under his belt draws far less attention. And it’s not as though he’s devoid of skill, or the ability to win; a lot of people seem to have forgotten that Nabokov ended up last season just one win shy of the league lead, playing behind what amounts to largely the same squad.
The ideal situation is to get a balanced attack from various sources. The more diverse the scoring threat the more difficult it is to defend against. If the Isles can get their offense firing on all cylinders at the same time they will outscore their opponents more often than not, occasional goaltending lapses will cease to be as big an issue, and their potent attack will help push them further up in the sagging Metropolitan Division.