One of the many questions about the 2011-2012 New York Islanders was whether or not they can win the “big games”. Throughout their much improved play during the last half of last season, it was said that a team that had “little stress” on them had the ability to play a far more relaxed game. There were no “big games” when you were written out of the playoff picture in December.
Thus, with a brand new slate, the debate among some hockey “experts” was over how this young team would perform in a game that “means something”. Obviously, it’s hard to say that there are truly “meaningful” games not two week sin to the season, but this was a division rival and 2 points are 2 points. So, I personally was curious and a little nervous about how the Isles would play.
Would we see another example of the uptight, nervous Isles from opening night again? Would we get one good period and 2 weak periods from the guys? Would we have a series of good spurts, but would manage to lose the game during a horrible lapse? Would the team even show up mentally at all?
The Islanders came to play. That was the bottom line. The Rangers, as well, brought a very solid and strong effort, and it turned out to be a very entertaining hockey game. The young Islanders faced a good challenge, and they didn’t fold or collapse, even when the Rangers came back to tie the game twice. To me, this was a very positive example of character and confidence shown by a group of guys who are coming together.
What can be said more about John Tavares. A hat trick, a 4 point night, and now 8 points on the season. Talk about stepping up and growing into his role.
Additionally, his line mates, Matt Moulson (a goal and an assist) and PA Parenteau (3 assists) cannot be overlooked either. The threesome brought their A-game again, and they got the big goals when they were needed. That, folks, is what a top line must do for a team. JT, Moulson and Parenteau were the major reason why the Isles hung in there and won the game in the end.
Of course, one cannot overlook Evgeni Nabokov’s first start as an Islander. I have to admit that I expected Al Montoya to get the start again, but Nabokov rose to the occasion and stopped 29 of 31 shots he faced. Also, he can’t be faulted for either Ranger goal, and came up with big saves when they were required. With Rick DiPietro now out with a concussion, having Nabokov on the roster is going to prove to be an important factor for the Islanders.
I don’t like to dwell on the “negatives” after a big game, but there are a few things that have to be mentioned purely from an observational perspective. I simply might be being over critical or such, but, to me, they are worth stating just the same.
It’s surely a great thing that JT and his line mates have stepped up and taken control, contributing significantly to the last two wins. A team needs production from their first line, and if they can get that kind of performance on most nights, it will go a long way towards making the playoffs in the end.
Nevertheless, the other lines MUST chip in as well. Nielsen, Grabner and Okposo also played well, but the Isles need goals from them on a consistent basis. That threesome, with Grabner’s speed, should be a serious threat that will make it difficult for opposing teams to solely focus on JT’s line and give defenders all they can handle each game.
On top of that, well, Mr. Bailey and Mr. Comeau have to get involved as well. Comeau sat out last night’s game, but as a third line, they also need to pick up their game and start tallying some points. Blake Comeau has to prove that last season was not a “fluke”, while Josh Bailey has to make a statement with a truly solid, “break out” season.
Finally, the defense is going to have to tighten up a bit against the “better” guys on opposing teams. Not that it played “badly” by any means, but Marian Gaborek ‘s goal and 3 break aways during the game demonstrated some defensive break downs. These are things that must be limited as the season goes on. I think it will be a matter of them staying healthy and playing together, so it’s not a “bad thing” to make mistakes early on in the season.
The Islanders have four days off until they go on the road to Tampa on Thursday. Hopefully, they can continue on from their 3-1 home stand and keep up this great start to their season. It will be interesting to see who gets the start in net against the Lightning. I would think that Montoya will be back, but Nabokov surely showed that he deserves playing time as well.
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