UNIONDALE, N.Y.– The New York Islanders are 1 for 3 at home, both losses at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, a team that seemed to have the uncanny ability, this past weekend, at dismantling a supposedly cemented Power Play unit and befuddling, yet again, one of the best players in the NHL in John Tavares.
The Islanders now have the daunting task this evening of repeating their performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins from over a week ago, showing a flair and a determination that produced a 4-1 win, while deriving a game plan that must collect a winning streak before returning to the road February 19th.
I guarantee you that if the Islanders do not break .500 before that date, or if they produce a par performance, they’ll be staring up at the rest of the Eastern Conference before the close of the month.
Carolina and Buffalo are scheduled to visit toward the end of this week, and suffice to say that no game is a sure thing, but I’d much rather prefer putting my money on an Isles win against those aforementioned, than say (with a straight face ) that a win against the Pens at home, or a win against the Rangers anywhere, is a sure thing.
(I would’ve brazen enough to say such things had the Islanders shown something more than 0-7 on the PP. As it stands I will remain reserved, choosing my words carefully, rationally.)
Tonight’s matchup against the Pens will show all of us just who the Islanders think they are: Are they the mediocre team that everyone in the NHL and major media markets think, or are they fighters, who ebb and flow with every game as most middle-ground, emerging teams do when they climbing the ladder of success, to coin the phrase?
This past road trip allowed Isles fans to dream a little dream of relevancy; this humble blogger definitely fell hook, line, and sinker. But in actuality what we have in the NY Islanders is a team that may very well make the playoffs, but not under their own speed–a destiny very much dependent upon others’ failures outdoing themselves.
Game to game is the motto/mantra I preach from now on. A win tonight doesn’t guarantee a thing other than we have a team with gumption. A loss, a team with lots and lots of work to do and little time, if any, in which to do so.
Game Recap (Sunday February, 3rd)
The highlight in need of severe scrutiny is the Islanders lack of creativity and production on their short-lived ‘prominent’ Power Play, now ranked 3rd in the league.
The Devils played such a stifling backcheck, forcing the Isles PP unit to work from outside, you’d swear the Devils had six men on the ice.
New Jersey spread out their 4-man box formation so well, the Isles were pretty much unable to face forward/the net for any given amount of time to take a decent shot.
Their movement through the Neutral Zone lacked zeal, and since the stingy Devils clogged up all the passing and skating lanes, the Isles resorted to dump n’ chase for all 7 PP opportunities.
The goalies were the best players on the ice Sunday afternoon, especially Johan Hedberg, who seems to have a witch-doctor’s curse over the Isles, especially Tavares, for he made stops that on other nights, against other teams, would have (and have) been made:
But perhaps the key lesson for my esteemed reader(s) to be ascertained from this rather quick recap is that the Devils had just played a taxing match the afternoon before against the Penguins, losing handsomely 5-1. Never once did the Devils looked tired or defeated, but rather the more prepared and rested and focused of the two teams Sunday afternoon.
I bring up this point as the thesis for my quick rant: if the Islanders can put together a showing similar to the Devils’s this past Sunday, shutting down a winning machine that is now the Pittsburgh Penguins, then we have something to laud. If not, if the Isles lose, then serious measures need to made the nature of which I will discuss, nay, speculate upon next time.
Final analysis of the Devils-Isles game: let’s put it this way, the Red Sox have Bucky F. Dent, the Isles, for now, have Steve F Bernier and Johan MF Hedberg. (You cannot go 0-7 on a PP and expect to a win or tie or anything positive to happen. Impossible. Sorry.)
Hedberg: Owns an Island
The one moment of controversy comes in period 3, when at the 14:57 mark a GLIDING Brian Strait is called for Charging, but there’s absolutely no indication of anything resembling such an act in the replays shown. And yes the Islanders’s PK unit would be scored upon minutes later, but I will not blame the referee for the loss. Why? Very simple…pay attention: 0 FOR 7 ON THE POWER PLAY!
What to Expect/Not to Expect
- The much needed return of Colin McDonald, for his play on both ends of the ice has been one major key to the Isles’s success on even strength. And I’m sure the Pens’ Ben Lovejoy will have some choice words for him, as well–that’s if he’s not scratched again.
- Do not expect the same Pittsburgh team that looked haggard and flat against the Isles January 29th
- Do not expect the Isles’s Power Play to have their way with this Penguins team, but do expect improvement from Sunday
- Chris Kunitz is leading the scoring charge, tallying 4 goals against the Washington Capitals in their 6-3 rout. He’s the Man of the Hour.
- Expect the Islanders to start slow and gauge these new Penguins, and when they are scored on within the first four minutes, expect the Islanders to pick up their game. I’ve noticed that as of late that’s basically what’s happening.
- Keep your third-eye glued to the Rangers-Devils game tonight: we need to look at what to expect from them come Thursday.
Tonight marks my own return to the Coliseum in almost four years, give or take (not that any of you would care, right?!) But the point is, I feel a vested interest in this team, and allow myself (but in this evening’s case, a certain benevolent and generous kin) to spend hard-earned cash on tickets for a team I believe, I do, on the verge of becoming quite relevant.
I hope they prove me right tonight. I hope so. For a win tonight would truly be a statement similar to the one the Devils’s made this past Sunday.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles