Winnipeg, Manitoba–The New York Islanders arrive this evening to a rumbling and boisterious MTS Centre, doubly so after the Winnipeg Jets handed Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins a surprising loss. Surprising because Crosby and his club led the charge with two early goals, setting what most people undoubtedly thought would be a tone carried throughout the rest of the match.
The Jets, however, went ahead and stole this game right out from under the Pens, proving an invaluable point/lesson the New York Islanders should schematize immediately: depend lots more on your core discipline rather than on your core talent, especially during these ‘truncated’ times.
Again, everyone is starting at “0” with regards to conditioning and implementation of systems and set plays, etc. Mistakes will happen, you can bet on that. Talent helps, obviously. But if a team thinks of itself as a unit instead of funneling pucks to one or two players, or heavily dependent upon their upper-tier lines, what you get is the results laid bare in the Jets’s victory.
Teams who play disciplined hockey have a much better line of sight on the ice, capitalizing on turnovers, rebounds, and sloppy checking with greater success than those who don’t.
You needn’t be a Crosby to put a puck in a gaping net, having split an undisciplined opposing defense on a 2 on 1 rush, or need to undress a defensemen with fancy stickwork if there’s no defensemen in front of you because he missed his mark. Just top-shelf it, get your bro-hug, and tally the “W.”
But this isn’t revelatory is it? I mean, I’m not saying anything new, enlightening, and heck, even all that intelligent. Why? Because it’s simply, simple hockey. Brass tacks hockey.
All NHL teams need to see what happened to the highly talented Penguins here the other night. For if you truly think about it, then you’ll see that it’s truly anyone’s Stanley Cup this year. Just play your game, as the late great Herb Brooks said to the 1980 USA squad. Play your game-responsibly.
The Jets won because they stayed out of the box when it mattered most, and this fact allowed their system to make Crosby’s life and that of his line a bit more difficult as the game wore on, which leads to mistakes, which leads to goals, and which leads to victories.
The Islanders have one thing going for them that, although, an attribute in much need of heraldry, is a necessary evil they can do without: the Penalty Kill. The Islanders need to spend less game-time energy on the PK and turn that corner, playing solid 5 on 5 hockey, encompassed by simple, crisp passing, consistent backchecking coupled with a physical presence inside the crease area, and conscientious awareness of neutral zone play. The rest will fall in-line. (And has at times.)
The Isles loss against the Bruins on Friday also showcased the grave importance of playing tenacious third period hockey. The disappointment for most Isles fans comes from the feeling that they could’ve won Friday had they stayed on their marks and not worn out their ‘road’ legs chasing pucks all over the arena, while producing more scoring opportunites and goals on the Power Play. Take a look:
TEAM STATISTICS (courtesy of hockey-refernce.com)
Two things to take from the graph above: the Isles are “just making it” on the Power Play, but so is the rest of the league, apparently. Turn the corner, Isles. The graph is revealing that teams aren’t thinking offense first. I know I’ve got to be wrong here, but maybe not.
Maybe teams, even talented ones, are playing scared. (Tired, disogranized really. Obviously.) Now’s the time to use what energy you have to capitalize whenever possible–be scavengers not aggressors–as opposed to fending off odd-man hockey because of penalties or poor positioning. Racking up wins before anyone notices.
Will the Blues, Rangers, Bruins, and Penguins win more games than the Jets, Leafs, Islanders, Predators, et al. this year? Of course. Well, maybe. But can those ‘weaker’ teams put a serious hurt on them than at any other occasion? Absolutely. Without a doubt.
The Isles weren’t penalized that often on Friday, but they didn’t win as many faceoffs either. Especially in their own zone. See, that’s the issue. Fundamentals.
So, it boils down to “simple” hockey, and nothing outrageously philosophical or Post-modern or European or Canadian or American or what-have-you. Just play your game. Stay away from the sin-bin, but once in it, continue your box formation on the PK and just wear down your opponent.But know that your energy expenditure will cost you in areas in much more need, mainly scoring. I’d rather see more physical play along the boards and clearing of screens in front of the crease than anything else at this point.
Now is the time to play your game, Islanders. A victory tonight is the road leading to redemption.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
- Al Montoya will be between the pipes tongiht. Looks to be an interesting night for all involved.
- Expect the Winnipeg Jets to repeat their disciplined hockey, as they only allowed for one penalty the entire game against the Penguins
- The Jets won the +/- matchup against a heavily armed Penguins club. Seven Jets players with +’s (Ladd, Enstrom, Little, Antropov, Hainsey w/2, Slater, and Stuart.) Keep an eye out for them
- Lubomir Visnovsky will report to the Islanders February 11th, according to sources at espn.com
- Look for the Islanders’s Third Line to continue its relentless pursuit for goals
- Michael Grabner is the spark the Islanders need on the ice. Pay attention, people. He’s playing some solid hockey. Expect his presence to be made in this game in particular.