Hockey From The Bllind Side, Did the Bruins Exploit The Isles Big Weakness?
By John Panarese
The 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in Boston was simply one of those games you have to put behind you. There are going to be nights like that. Regardless of whether or not you are a developing or rebuilding team or not, it’s a long season and one cannot expect perfection all of the time.
I was, of course, hoping for a much better effort. After the inspiring comeback Saturday night to beat the Capitals, I had believed that the Islanders would come out to play Boston with equal intensity and with growing confidence. It’s the little things that often can turn a team around, and I was of the mind that we saw, perhaps, a not so little thing that would get the Isles back in the winning frame of mind.
The game was, arguably close for two periods. The Islanders did rebound to make it interesting with goals from Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner to only trail going into the third period 3-2. However, the wheels fell off of the bus in the final stanza, and the Bruins skated away with a convincing 6-2 victory.
Evgeni Nabokov certainly didn’t play his best game as an Islander. If the Isles were showcasing him for a potential trade on national television (the game was broadcast on Verses), well, it probably wasn’t the kind of demonstration of his skills that the Islanders or Nabby would have liked.
Overall, though, the biggest problem, in my opinion, was the poor play of the defense. One of the “weak parts” of the Islanders team, as Gary and I have mentioned for a while now, has been the lack of speed of the back liners. To be honest, the Islanders simply do not have many guys who are fleet of foot.
In fact, the point, several times over the summer, that Garth Snow should be looking for an upgrade on defense was made here. It was the area I personally had hoped would be addressed by way of an acquisition or trade in the off season, but, unfortunately, it really wasn’t. Steve Staios is not a bad blue liner, for sure, but he wasn’t the commodity Islander fans were hoping would take the ice in the blue and orange in October. Getting a healthy, Mark Streit, back was certainly a big help, yet it didn’t change the overall complexion of the defense.
The harsh reality is the D lacks speed and a physical presence. Travis Hamonic is the only guy who really takes the body, and as big as Milan Jurcina is, he does not always play like a guy who is 6’4 as far as hitting goes. In a division and conference that features teams with big wingers, this was going to be a potential problem. Add to that the speed of a Boston Bruin forward compliment and, well, it got pretty ugly at times.
Of course, consistency and a tight, solid system can overcome this to some extent. The Islander defense can play MUCH better than they did Monday night, and I don’t think the victimizations we saw Monday night will be the norm. The thing is, there is little room for an “off night” for the blue line, and if there is a break down with more than one guy, it can be disastrous. In addition, it puts pressure on the forwards to have to come back even harder and, thus, hurts the transition game. yes, you want back pressure and hard back checking from the wingers, but you don’t want them having to have to make up for the lack of speed of the D either.
To me, the bottom line is if the Islanders, as a team, come to play and put out a sixty minute effort, there won’t be games like Monday in Boston. There are three great goaltenders and offensive potential among the forwards. It’s simply a matter of making up for the shortcomings with a more disciplined and intense effort. I certainly would like them to play the body a lot more and I think that effort can make up for the deficiencies in overall speed on the back line. Some guys basically have to step up and come to play. There is little room for error as far as the seven guys on defense the team is carrying currently goes.
So, the Islanders move on to Colorado Thursday. to take on a much improved Avelanch squad. That is not going to be a much easier task for them. A quick rebound and a game with serious determination and effort is going to be necessary. Will we see the return of Al Montoya for the start in net, or will Jack Capuano try Rick DiPietro again? We shall see.
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