An independent blog on the New York Islanders, the NHL and AHL by a guy from New York.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Lightning Game 2: Isles With Out Force In R2G2

Our New York Islanders needed to be ready to face a desperate Lightning team in Tampa Bay for game 2 for what they deemed “a must win.”  A victory would give the Isles their first 2-0 series lead since 1993.  “We are expecting their best and we want to raise our game,” Tavares said. “We want to get to another level and build off of the first win.”  Tavares came into game 2 as the playoff point’s leader with 11.  Jack Capuano mentioned that Ryan Pulock will be considered for a return to the lineup when healthy. I’d look it to be in game 3 if at all possible.

The first period started in a bad way for New York.  After a few miscues and a couple of giveaways, Tampa Bay was able to score twice for a 2-0 lead on 4 shots against.  The first was after a mid-ice collision between Clutterbuck and Leddy, which allowed an odd man break that resulted in a soft goal by Johnson. The 2nd, a flubbed play by Nikolay Kulemin that yielded a first-ever play off goal by Drouin.  Kulemin (Hickey & Quine) would redeem himself a few minutes later on the PP when he deflected one past Bishop to make it a 2-1 game.  After the goal, the Islanders would come to life late in the period and looked as if they might be finding their rhythm.  The Lightning benefitted from a questionable PP chance in the second period after Clutterbuck was charged with goaltender interference when pushed by Boyle.  TBL would take that lucky call and get an even luckier goal as Hedman sent in a shot that was going way wide after it deflected off of de Haan’s skate for a 2 goal lead once again, 3-1.  It was Hedman’s first of the playoffs.  Another bad break for the Islanders.

The Islanders struggled again in the third period and generated very little offensive pressure, managing only 3 shots against a well-rested and comfortable, Ben Bishop.  So much so that the need to pull Thomas Greiss with 4:00 remaining was necessary.  That should tell you the story.  Johnson added an ENG to clinch a 4-1 win for Tampa.  To add to the ugliness, with the game outcome not in doubt, a barrage of penalties ensued at the close, because of the way it was called by the officials.

The Isles fell behind early again.  They have allowed the 1st goal in 7 of 8 games so far in the post season (04 Senators only other). There were also too many mistakes made by New York that kept Tampa Bay in the game, especially failing (1 of 5) on the man advantage.  They didn’t make Lightning pay when they had the chance on the power play.  They can’t seem to find consistency when up a man.  A dangerous trend when you are playing the most penalized team in the NHL (5 penalties taken with only 1 goal for the Isles) who rank last on the kill.  Tampa was just more motivated.  More desperate.  TB did a nice job of controlling the neutral zone while the Islanders continued to dump and chase and never generated much pressure (out shot 31-20), especially on Ben Bishop who looked too comfortable in his crease.  Nowhere near his struggles of game 1.  

For the Islanders, Marek Lidlicky did well at times in relief, but has become exposed.  The return of Ryan Pulock could give them a huge lift and punch on that struggling PP.  There is also a big need for players like Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and Johnny Boychuk to perform better.  Thomas Greiss (27 of 30 with a .900Sv%) was good, but felt the sting of his team’s flat play.  The Grail Knight of the game, to me, was Casey Cizikas.  The 4th line tried to do some things early on and Cizikas had some strong pressure in all areas of the ice.

We get 2 in Brooklyn. Don't flip out. But the Islanders had better come up with the necessary adjustments and be ready to make a statement like the Lightning did today.  If they do that, a 1-1 split heading back to Brooklyn for game 3 is really an OK place to be.  They still have a best of 5 series opportunity with 3 of those games at home.  See you Tuesday.

Isles Notes:

Yesterday, the Islanders called up Cliche, Florek, Dal Colle, Kearns, Mayfield, Wotherspoon, Gibson, per Arthur Staple.

Thomas Greiss is the first goaltender in Isles history to win 5 playoff games (1.94gaa & .941Sv%) in his first year with the team.

After game 1, Shane Price said “I am beyond grateful to be here." per Mark Herrmann.

NHL Notes:

The 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will be held tonight with live coverage at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC and TVAS.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Lightning Game 1: Prince Takes Bishop

The last time our New York Islanders won a game one in Round 2 was May 2, 1993 in a 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Tonight, they were in Tampa Bay to open a second round series vs the heavily favored Lightning.

Tampa’s Palat caught the Islanders a little off the mark early in the first and jumped out to a 1-0 lead – a trend New York needs to reverse at all costs.  The 4th line of Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck came out flying and throwing hits on everything that moved in a blue jersey.  Casey Cizikas delivered a hard, clean hit on Condra that forced him into the boards and out of the game.  Since the hit, The Islanders responded with a physical surge that put the Lightning off their game and themselves on the scoresheet.  Travis Hamonic (Quine & Tavares) got the Isles evened up a few minutes later.  Shane Prince (Strome & Nelson) responded with a pair of goals in a 2:30 minute span to put New York up by a 3-1 score.  Prince is the first Islanders’ player with 2+ goals in 1st period of a playoff game since Game 2 of 1983 DF (Duane Sutter: 2).  Tampa Bay went to the penalty box 4 times in the first two periods and struggled to keep pace with the Islanders pressure in the offensive zone.  Defensively, the Isles have been good and Thomas Greiss has been playing well.

John Tavares would add his 6th playoff leading goal on the PP in the last 2 seconds of the 2nd period for a 4-1 lead.  Per @Eliassports, “Tavares is only player in Isles history w at least 20 pts in 1st 20 playoff games. JT w 22 so far (11-11-22).”  91’s goal was enough to chase Vezina candidate, Ben Bishop (9 of 13 with a .692Sv%) from the net.  Three goals against Bishop is the most he's given up since the Islanders did it on 4/1.  Andrei Vasilevskiy came on in relief.  Nikita Kutcherov (4-2) would score his 6th goal of the playoffs at the 12:00 mark, once again tying Tavares for the NHL lead.  Then, in a fluke deflection off Ryan Strome’s shin guard, Jack Capuano was hit in the nose by the puck and had to be taken off of the bench to get stitched up.  Tampa Bay came to life after Kutcherov’s goal and were able to generate pressure in the Isles zone.  Conversely, New York seemed to go into a prevent mode of defense. But, Thomas Greiss continued to make big saves for New York, especially in close.  He robbed Drouin on a right post wrap around that looked to be a sure goal.  Casey Cizikas got called for a delay of game & Filppula converted off a rebound to close the score within one (4-3) with 2:30 remaining. Capuano returned to the bench and sent out the 4th line with time winding down. Cal Clutterbuck scored an ENG to help the Islanders endure a tense 3rd period and a 5-3 game 1 win.

The story of this game was pressure.  Even though the Islanders were out-shot 36-22 and went 1 for 4 on the PP, their initial response to a 1-0 Tampa lead was huge.  They brought a relentless and physical press that caused Tampa to make mistakes. Those mistakes tilted the game in New York’s favor with the secondary scoring from Shane Price (2 goals on 3 shots with a +1 rating) to Ryan Strome (previously scratched) & Brock Nelson (2 assists each), the Islanders didn’t need to just rely on John Tavares to carry their offense.  The TBL allowed 4 goals tonight after only yielding 8 in round 1.  Their defense was able to slow down the speedy Lightning forwards and got some solid goal-tending from Thomas Griess (33 of 36 with a .917Sv%).  The 4th line were awesome tonight.  From their physical play to the points, they were a factor for the Isles ability to control a large portion of the play.

My Grail Knight of the game is Shane Prince for the energy he brought tonight and the 2 clutch goals he added in just 9:05 of ice time to help the Islanders win the game.  Per Arthur Staple, “Prince had 3 goals in 42 games w/ OTT before trade, 3 goals in 20 games w Isles in reg. season. Now 3 goals in his first 7 playoff games.”

Game 2 is on Saturday afternoon and the Islanders need to be ready for an even more motivated Lightning squad.  The Isles have had Bishop’s number this season and he could be another bad start away from yielding his starting role to Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.  Here’s to the Islander’s continuing to believe in themselves and never slowing down, even behind the bench.

Tavares, "We heard when he went off it was his nose (not eye), I don't think we felt as bad, he is always telling us to block shots."

Whatever it takes.

Isles Notes:

Shane Price and Brock Nelson were named 1st and 2nd stars of the game.

Steven Stamkos has been skating in a non-contact jersey during practice for Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

KoC: 2016 Islanders Playoff Preview, Round 2

Our New York Islanders eliminated the Florida Panthers in 6 games of an exciting and competitive first round match up.  It saw 3 overtimes (2 double overtimes) and the kind resilience that made Isles’ fans proud.  My Grail Knights of the series blazed the way for New York.   John Tavares (3rd playoff ranked .83 goals per game avg.) had 9 points (5 & 4) and led by example the whole way through.  Tavares took the team on his back and, at times, controlled the flow and momentum of the entire series. His refusal to lose was infectious and was awesome to watch as it flowed through the entire bench.  Thomas Griess was thrust into the role of starter after Jaro Halak went down towards the end of the season.  Griess shattered his record for games played (41) and impressed everyone with his routine calmness to the pressures of the role.  Greiss was 4-2, using solid rebound control and a stingy 1.79 GAA and a .944 SV% to help New York win round 1.  The Islanders will need more of the same against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Due to some apparent arena scheduling conflicts, the NHL has the 1st round finish on the same day that the 2nd will start.

G1: Wednesday, April 27 – Islanders at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m. -  NBCSN
G2: Saturday, April 30 – Islanders at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. - NBC
G3: Tuesday, May 3 – Tampa Bay at Islanders, 7 p.m. - NBCSN
G4: Friday, May 6 – Tampa Bay at Islanders, 7 p.m. - NBCSN
G5: Sunday, May 8, if nec
G6: Tuesday, May 10, if nec
G7: Thursday, May 12, if nec

The Isles just learned that Josh Bailey (upper body) will be out, but haven’t revealed their guess as to how long.  This should get Ryan Strome (1 & 1 for 2pts and a +3 in 4 playoff games) out of the dog house with the motivation to become an impact player for the Isles offense.  The Islanders placed Ryan Pulock on the IR (upper body), retroactive to April 20th.  However, his return is possible around the game 3 mark if all goes well.  Pulock’s IR placement allowed the Isles to recall James Wright from Bridgeport to get a look with the big club.  We all know what kind of an impact Alan Quine has made.  He had a goal in two regular season games and 1 huge OT winning goal (in game 5) and 2 assists for New York in 6 playoff games so far.  Other recent call ups of Bracken Kearns, Ross Johnston and Scott Mayfield have seen the prospects play well.

Tampa Bay dispatched the Detroit Redwings in 5 games without a couple of guys named Steven Stamkos (blood clots) and Anton Stralman (broken leg). The 2015 eastern conference champions have been resting since last Friday and that should help some of their banged up players (J.T. Brown-upper body, Tyler Johnson-undisclosed) as well as cure them of any residual flu that might still be hanging around their locker room.  They will have Ben Bishop guarding the net.  The 6’7, 214# net minder was 4-1 vs Detroit with a 1.61gaa and a .950Sv% and 1 shut out.  Bishop has a 17-12 career post season record and will be a major factor for the Lightning.  Tampa Bay has seen huge contributions from Nikita Kucherov’s playoff leading, goal-a-game average (5 & 3 for 8pts) in round 1 and is pleased with Johnathan Drouin (4 assist in 5 games) fighting back to redeem himself after an awkward refusal to report to the AHL in the regular season.

The Islanders have the season series edge at 2-1-0 behind John Tavares (2 & 3 for 5 points in regular season vs TBL) and have averaged 4 goals a game against Ben Bishop.  The Isles also have the edge (.947 vs .942) in 5 on 5 goals against, while Tampa Bay boasts the best PK (96.0%) to New York’s 5th best unit at 86.7%.  Their keys to winning will be pretty obvious.  Will John Tavares and Thomas Greiss be able to continue their high level contributions in the next round?  Will the Isles struggling PP (6th at 23.8%) ever find consistency when it matters most against the best PK in the playoffs so far?  Will the secondary scoring be able to contribute enough goals against the strong play of Victor Hedman and the TBL defense?  Will their impressive PK be able to negate the struggling PP of the TBL?

Yes. But they will have to account for a refreshed, veteran team who is eager to avenge last year’s painful loss of the cup to Chicago.  The Islanders need to resume their agitation of Ben Bishop and keep him out of his comfort zone.  They will have to use what they’ve learned, over the past few seasons, to overcome their own inexperience in navigating the later rounds of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The coaching, special teams, squad depth and top players will need to perform at an ever higher level.  But most importantly, the Islanders need to explode from the opening faceoff and play their fast paced, hard hitting game.  They cannot continue to play from behind and expect to win another playoff series.  

But if they can accomplish these things while mounting a successful defense against a dangerous opponent like Tampa Bay, they will win the next round in 6 games.

Isles Notes:

Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Pulock were skating earlier today per Arthur Staple.

Per Eric Hornick, “The Dynasty Isles won 15 series in defense of their 1980 championships (19 in all). All Cup champs since 2000 have won 13 series in defense.”

Joshua Ho-Sang is enjoying OHL playoff success.

With their round 1 win, the Islanders ended their drought dating back to 1993 when they lost to Montreal in the eastern conference finals.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 6: Sundown in Brooklyn

Our New York Islanders welcomed the Florida Panthers back to the Barclays Center for a critical game 6 showdown.  Historically, the Isles are perfect (6/6) as a franchise at home in game 6’s (13-2 all-time) and have won 9 of the 10 series that they have led 3-2, losing only to Toronto in 1978. In all 9 w’s, they clinched each series with a game 6 win per Eric Hornick.  It would be their first series victory since 1993 and would also be the first time they have won consecutive games in a playoff series since 2002.  Motivation shouldn’t have been a problem for our boys in Brooklyn.  What a great accomplishment to win one at the Barclays Center for the current group of guys.

John Tavares has been huge in his leadership role for New York.  I am sure he and the rest of the team knows what they have a chance to do with a series clinching win tonight.  "We're excited. For us it's just staying in the moment & staying composed. We have a great opportunity tonight," Tavares said.  Unfortunately, Ryan Strome finds himself benched again.  "I certainly didn't see it coming. I'm not going to lie and say that I did."

The 1st period started with snarl and intensity.  Jokinen grabbed and held Hamonic’s stick and they exchanged pleasantries.  Clutterbuck took a puck to the face and casually goes off to be stitched up.  The Islanders came out dialed in, especially on defense but Florida was energized as well and managed to block 11 shots and score a goal to take a 1-0 lead in the last minute of the period.  Isles led in shots, 7-5, but fall behind again early.  Josh Bailey did not come out to start the 2nd period.  Cal Clutterbuck was on the bench.  Florida’s fore check was problematic for the Islanders, especially while advancing the puck and caused way too many icings.  That eventually led to difficulty clearing their own zone and multiple turnovers committed in the second half of a lesser middle period for New York.

Josh Bailey was still missing to start the 3rd.  The Islanders came out slow again in the period, yet still generated a few huge chances in close, but Roberto Luong was big each time.  After an even worse second half of the period, when all looked lost, the Islanders dug just a little deeper.  With Thomas Greiss pulled, a scrum ensued in front of Florida’s net and John Tavares (Kulemin & Leddy) stuffed in a loose puck with Luongo on his stomach and the Islanders tied the score at 1-1 with 53 seconds remaining.

Regulation would end with a need for OT for the third time this series.  Shots were 32-30 New York in regulation with the Panthers blocking an impressive 20 Isles shots on net.  But the real reason Tavares scored was MaryBeth had snuck back to our closet and rubbed my Tavares jersey asking him to score, and he did.  Take it to the bank.

In overtime, The Islanders were on the attack, pounding the Panthers net with several realyl good scoring chances, including another one by Quine.  Greiss made a few big saves of his own.  With 14 shots to the Panthers 7, the Islanders called their timeout to get a breather with about 2:00 left in the 1st OT, but they would need more time to decide a winner.  Isles with a 15-8 edge in shots.

Game 6 required a second OT period for the second time in the series.  It opened with a surge by Florida, but to me, it showed the desperation by an older Florida team.  With the Isles closing in, The Panthers were relentless on defense, but with Luongo out of position, John Tavares scored the wrap around GWG and propelled them to the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs vs. Tampa Bay.  John Tavares, Thomas Griess and Nick Leddy were named 3 stars.  The fans in attendance were amazingly loud and supportive.  The Islanders out shot Florida 51-42 in the game. 

Thomas Greiss (41 of 42 with a .976Sv%) was spectacular with a quiet, but well-played game in net for the Islanders.  The only goal he surrendered in regulation was a shot unintentionally screened by Leddy early in the contest.  He made a few big saves in OT as well.  John Tavares (Okposo & Quine) came through once again (2 goals tonight, 9 points in 6 games) to force overtime and keep his team alive in their hunt for the 2nd round and beyond.  John Tavares is my Grail Knight of the game.

As for my Grail Knight of the series, I’m going to split the award and name both, Thomas Greiss and John Tavares for the honor.  They were both hugely responsible for guiding their team the next level.

The winner of this game would be the team that was more desperate.  Both teams had different challenges and were equally driven, but for different reasons.  The Islanders had great difficulty dealing with Florida’s fore check and offensive zone entry.  Their eventual frustration gave way to committing turnovers and an out-of-sync attack.  Once again, the PP deserted them in what seemed to be the worst of times.  We all saw the kind of officiating endured by both teams on the night, so we won’t relive the misery here.  But this year’s Islanders’ squad showed remarkable resilience and a will to come back in those games.  Some accused them of not being motivated enough from the start, while others (Me) called out the coaching. The rest pinned it on the leadership from the ice.  But more than not, the Islanders and coaches came up huge when it mattered most and put themselves into position.  They did it again as a team tonight and they will be playing in the 2nd round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs back in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It’s an unbelievable feeling to have waited so long and now I can share the joy with all of my fellow Islanders fans.

See you soon with my KoC round 2 preview.  You heard me.

John Tavares, “"Last year we learned how hard it is to win a series. Now we want to keep this going."

Isles Notes:

Josh Bailey never returned to tonight’s game.  His status should be updated tomorrow.

The Islanders boast a 32-14 (16-7 at home) with a .696 winning percentage in playoff OT before tonight’s game.

Tonight’s game was the longest Islanders home game (NVMC or Barclays) in franchise history.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 5: Cold As Greiss

Our New York Islanders went into Florida to try and win a game 5.  Something they have failed to do as a franchise 11 straight times.  It’s also important to note that Ryan Pulock is out due to injury for at least the remainder of the series.  Pulock’s PP presence and strong defensive play has been a boon for New York.  Marek Zidlicky would take his place with Thomas Hickey on defense and Ryan Strome would be scratched for Steve Bernier to try and shake things up.  Coach Capuano wasn’t stopping there.  Alan Quine was elevated to the first line with JT and KO, while Frans Nielsen centered Kulemin and Bailey on line 2.  What would that all mean?

The newly formed 2nd line would pay dividends at the 13:00 mark of the first period when Frans Nielsen (Hickey) wristed one past Luongo to give New York an unheard of first goal and a 1-0 lead in the game.  Something they haven’t been able to do yet in the series.  Their lead time in this game lasted longer than they had led through the first 4 games combined.  The second period didn’t see any goals, but would see a wild back and forth surge between the two teams.  In a nervous moment, Cal Clutterbuck’s head "collided" with Jagr’s shoulder near center ice and he went straight to the locker room.  Florida out shot the Isles by a lopsided 14-7 margin in the period.  The Islanders struggled again on the fore check and found themselves trying to keep up with the bigger, more active Panther forwards.

Cal Clutterbuck returned, but Florida’s pressure continued into the third period.  Barkov’s goal would tie the score at 1-1 a few minutes in, but the Islanders went to the coach’s challenge again.  New York claimed the Panthers once again went off sides on the play, but lost the gamble (and their timeout this time) as the goal counted.  The game got more physical and uglier as the period closed.  Frans Nielsen took a flagrant hit up high from Gudbranson into the boards & left the ice but returned. Neither team would grab the go ahead score in regulation, so it took extra time to settle things.  Shots were 30-24 in favor of Florida during regulation and the Isles PP was 0/3.

Overtime maintained the physical tone set earlier in the contest.  The Islanders played catch up for much of the period, seeing the Panthers tilt the ice and pressure Greiss early and often.   In an exchange in front of the Isles net at the 13:00 mark, Calvin de Haan would be called for closing his hand on the puck in OT, giving FLA a penalty shot opportunity.  Greiss bailed both de Haan and his team out again with a huge save on Barkov.  The Isles would press and come close to punching it in behind a scrum in from of the Florida net a few minutes later.  The 1st OT ended with a 12-10 shots advantage for New York.

The Islanders entered a second OT period for first time since 2003.  The intensity was high as Florida’s Nick Bjugstad caught a toe on the ice, fell awkwardly into the boards and went to the locker room.  I hope he isn't seriously injured.  Jaromir Jagr was called for a trip on John Tavares, but Isles failed to capitalize on the man advantage.  Fatigue really started to show mid-way through the 2nd session, but Greiss continued to make huge saves for New York.  John Tavares drew another penalty as MacKenzie was called for a slash and Alan Quine PPG (Zidlicky & Hickey) won it for the Isles at the 16:00 mark in 2nd OT of game 5.  I told ya he was more than a prospect.  Florida led in shots 48-42.

Aside from the rubber rat randomly tossed on the ice and a FLA’s penalty shot in the 1st overtime period, there were a couple of things that I could have done without.  The Isles seemed to be playing way too cautiously for most of the game.  They were guilty of scrambling far too often, trying to keep up with the Panthers offensive press.  The almost fatal failure of the PP (1-5) in the biggest game of the season was inexcusable, especially in OT.  The Islanders have been outplayed for much of the series, but their resiliency has been huge.  Let’s give Marek Zidlicky credit for playing a nice game in relief as well.

How good was Thomas Greiss?  He just stopped an OT playoff penalty shot.  No big deal.  Greiss (47 of 48 with a .979Sv%) was the biggest impact player for New York.  He kept the Isles in the game, especially in close and is once again my Grail Knight of the game.  His play has been so steady, you might even say he is close to being named series MVP for NY already after game 5.  

The hustle of John Tavares in the OT sessions led to PP chances and the winning score.  Alan Quine was a prospect that always got my attention with the BST and tonight showed why.  He proved it to all of his critics with the biggest goal in recent history for our New York Islanders.

The Isles have a 3-2 series lead into Brooklyn with a chance to close out the series and reach the 2nd round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.  Game 6 will be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday at 7pm.

Isles Notes:

Tonight’s Isles game was the 2nd longest is team history (Easter Epic 1st).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 4: Advantage Surrendered

Our New York Islanders game 4 match up against the Florida Panthers has all the makings of a statement game.  The possibilities for the modern day Isles are clear. Will it be a 3-1 or a 2-2 series going into game 5?

The Islanders needed a quick start and to score first to set the pace, but instead, they were lethargic in the first period slow. 

As bad as it was, the game remained tied due to a Brock-Nelson-swat and a few ‘Thomas-Greiss-saves’ on turnovers, away from an even worse, scoreless 1st period. 

The second period was much of the same with some weird plays.  We even saw a coach’s challenge from Florida’s Gerrard Gallant, costing them a timeout on a goal already called “no goal” by the officials.  And that was after an almost 10 minute review process.

Florida came back buzzing and eventually made the Islanders pay with a PPG near the end of the period.  With an assist on the Purcell goal, Jaromir Jagr became the 5th player in NHL history to post 200 career PTS in the NHL playoffs.  But John Tavares answered for New York and scored a 5 on 3 PPG by roofing it, short side with 15 seconds remaining in the second to make it a 1-1 game, recapturing momentum for the home team to start the third.

The Islanders struggled to fore-check, gather dump-ins and they iced the puck way too much.  They were out of sync and couldn’t seem to generate much in the way of offensive pressure.  Neither team seemed able to score until Petrovic’s 1st ever playoff goal, giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead at the 9:25 mark of the period.  Even a late PP chance in the third couldn’t help New York find the spark they had lost.  With the goalie eventually pulled, the Isles took a timeout with 57.1 seconds remaining in regulation to try and find some magic, but couldn’t find a way to convert and lost the game by a 2-1 final.

This was a frustrating and uncomfortable game at times and the officiating was notably poor, ignoring some blatant penalties and calling a few suspect ones.  But the Islanders were simply flat and inconsistent with their pressure against Florida, especially in their offensive zone.  But there a few positive things to note.  John Tavares continues to elevate his game.  As an elite player in the NHL, he has managed to lead his team at an even higher level and continues to score huge, momentum-changing goals on the playoff stage. Then we have Ryan Pulock. He has been growing quickly in responsibility for the Isles.  He’s now on the 1st PP unit and contributing, even if it’s to force Florida to account for him on their PK.  Hopefully he wasn't hurt too badly in tonight’s game.  He will be reevaluated tomorrow.  And lastly, Thomas Greiss (27 of 29 with a .931Sv%) kept his team in it and made some monstrous saves throughout the contest.  Although a loss, it was probably his best game in a very respectable playoff performance thus far.  He is my Grail Knight of the game.

The Islanders have been resilient in this series and have put together some fantastic, gutsy performances, but they cannot come out flat in a game of this magnitude.  The team needs to get a lead instead of always having to play from behind.  The effort needs to be better and they need to play with a more consistent effort.  This is especially true when they are on the cusp of reaching that next level as a team.

The Islanders failed to win back-to-back playoff games for the 12th consecutive time and the series is now tied 2-2.  Game 5 will take place at 8pm in Sunrise on Friday, 4/22.

It’s now a 3 game series to reach the 2nd round.  Challenge accepted.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 3: Never Say Dielanders

John Tavares knew that game 3 would be epic.  "We love our fan base and the passion and the intensity they bring, so we're looking forward to that." The Barclays Center was buzzing at the start of Islanders game 3 against the Panthers, the first ever NYI Bklyn playoff game.   New York lost game 2 in Florida after doing a lot of things right, but needed more secondary scoring and more defensive contributions from everyone on the ice.  The Isles were in need of a fast start, but instead would fall behind early as they have in each game so far after surrendering a goal in the first few minutes of the first and second periods, falling behind 2-0.  The Panthers had thought that they had a 3-0 lead 5 minutes into the second but Coach Jack Capuano and the Islanders video coach, Matt Bertani issued a coaches challenge, gambling that the play was off sides and would soon have the goal overturned.  And after the replay confirmed it, the score remained 2-0 and the Islanders would be re-energized as a result of the momentum exchange.

Soon after, the Islanders would take advantage of a 5 on 3 PP opportunity off a Ryan Pulock (Okposo & Tavares) blast to close the deficit to a 2-1 margin.  Florida would soon add another tally a few minutes later, but the Islanders would answer back in a flurry of offensive pressure.  An emotional Shane Prince (Pulock & de Haan) and Frans Nielsen PPG (Tavares & Okposo) would help New York tie the game before the second intermission.  The third period would be a queasy, mistake filled flurry of missed opportunities that saw both teams come close to the go ahead score with both goalies make the big saves.  At the end of regulation, the shots were even at 31, the Isles were 2 of 4 on PP and 3 for 3 on the PK.  They were hitting and grabbing takeaways (13) all over the ice.

The Islanders came out hard early in the O.T. period, getting quite a few good changes in on Luongo while Thomas Greiss made a few great saves in close as well.  At 12:31 of O.T., Thomas Hickey (Nelson & Bailey) was the hero after taking a feed from Brock Nelson with a defender draped all over him from behind the net and putting it past Luongo after moving past Jagr to make the play.  Per Eric Hornick, “Hickey is first Isles D to score a playoff OT goal since Ken Morrow vs NYR in 1984.”  Isles win 4-3 in O.T.

Both teams had 8 shots on net in the overtime period.  The Islanders surrendered ground early and clawed back into regulation a little later than most fans wanted.  They made things hard for themselves again, but were resilient and kept grinding despite 3 tough games in 4 nights.

Matt Martin played big again.  He was throwing the body, using his speed to negate icings and just playing his regular irritating brand of hockey.  The line of Prince, Quine & Strome was also good again, doing a lot of the little things that helped their team win.  Thomas Hickey got the game winner and has had his share of quiet heroics for the Islanders, including the playoff clincher vs Washington.  Matt Larkin had a comment on Hickey, “Three years ago Thomas Hickey didn't know if he'd ever make the NHL, six years after he was drafted. Now he's a playoff overtime hero. Cool.”  He is definitely been a quiet, inconspicuous hero for the Islanders this year. And good for the oft’ maligned Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey for strong efforts tonight setting up some big goals and the game winner when it mattered most.  Thomas Greiss (36 for 39 with a .923Sv%) was reliable throughout the game and definitely made his share of big saves.  And don’t forget Head Coach, Jack Capunao and video coach, Matt Bertani’s ballsy challenge that could be looked back upon as the turning point of the game.

Ryan Pulock (1 & 1 for 2 pts) is my Grail Knight of the game.  He has risen to the occasion, making big plays on special teams and has really made a difference in the defensive zone so far in the playoffs for New York.

The Barclays Center was bangin’ tonight.  Kudos to the faithful who came out and jammed the stands for game 3.  You guys definitely helped keep a few of their critics quiet.

The “Never Say Dielanders” lead the series, 2-1.  Game 4 is in Brooklyn on Wednesday, 4/20 at 8 p.m.

Isles Notes:

Per NHL PR. “After 121 playoff games at Nassau Coliseum, @NYIslanders will play their first postseason contest at Barclays Center.”

Per Petter Botte, “Isles have lost the next game following their last 11 postseason victories. Haven't won back-to-back playoff games since 2002 vs. Toronto.”

Per NHL, “Clark Gillies, who attended Game 3 of #FLAvsNYI, scored GWG in the @NYIslanders’ 1st playoff win at Nassau Coliseum (April 20, 1975 vs. PIT.)”

Friday, April 15, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 2: Secondary Flaws

Game 2 started with a pretty even pace, but yielded a couple of Panthers goals in each of the first two periods despite New York doing a lot of things well. Florida gained a 2-0 lead and were able to dictate most of the play, generate odd man rushes and capitalized on the Isles lack of control in the neutral zone. The Islanders did get fired up late in the second period and started to become a little unpleasant to play against, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

The third period saw the Islanders grind away at the Panthers control.  John Tavares (Leddy & Okposo) put in a Nick Leddy rebound with around 3:30 to go in the game causing Florida to take their time out with the score at 2-1.  Isles pulled Greiss with 1:27 remaining and call their own timeout with :48 seconds left, but surrender the ENG with :09 seconds remaining as the rats rain down causing a huge delay to end the game.  Isles lose game 2 by the score of 3-1.

It was close, but the Panthers adjusted from yesterday and although the Islanders outshot the Panthers 42-31, Florida had a better effort throughout the game.  To make things worse, the Isles misfired on the PP (0/3) and were terrible in the neutral zone, giving up way too many odd man rushes and it cost them.

Some things that really peeved me: The lack luster efforts and missed assignments by Josh Bailey.  The Isles secondary scoring or lack thereof.  The PP was brutal and really let the Isles down in the game.  Questionable officiating usually comes into focus when a team is frustrated and tonight’s example was no exception.  Florida escaped quite a few blatant penalties (only going man down once) including an open ice trip on Quine with a few minutes remaining in the 2nd period that could have finished off some of the snarl the Isles were generating.

Some of the pros in tonight’s game; Thomas Greiss was good, going 28 for 30 with a .933Sv% and has not slowed down with a career high workload and in back to back playoff pressure.  Both goals surrendered by Greiss were off blown plays and the odd man rush.  Quine & Pulock looked good again and the first line was very good.  They generated a lot and played with bite with Tavares (12 pts in last 5 games, 4 in 2 playoff games) & Okposo took 17 shots.  Kyle Okposo played with the snarl that separates him from other star forwards in the NHL.  He has a relentless work ethic that made enough of an impression on me tonight to name him Grail Knight of the game.

Roberto Luongo had a clear view of the puck for much of the night without Lee in the lineup and really wasn’t pushed too hard, although he had a much better game in net.  Florida’s defense also had a better effort in front of him.  As frustrating as it can be about what didn’t go right, the Islanders are now tied with Florida in the series, 1-1 going back to Brooklyn.  “We played better tonight than we did last night,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said referencing the Islanders’ 5-4 win in Game 1. “We should be going 1-1 and we are. We’re going back to Brooklyn and we know the atmosphere is going to be great.”

The Islanders had some good elements to their game tonight and they have home ice if the series goes the distance.  The blood between the two teams is starting to get bad and the hate is growing, you can see it.  Brooklyn finally gets its first Isles playoff game and the fans will be there in force and are sure to make an impression.

Isles Notes:

Per Eric Hornick, “have not led series 2-0 since 1983 Stanley Cup Final, when they swept Edmonton in 4 games. Look for 2-0 lead tonight.”

Peter Botte, “Sixth straight playoff series the Isles have gained 1-1 road split. Lost all five previous ones. Went 3-9 at the beloved Coliseum those yrs.”

Rick DiPietro reminds us of a stat that Luongo hasn't won a playoff game since 2011, loser in 8 straight early in broadcast. Jinx?

Sound Tigers Notes:

Michael Dal Colle has been reassigned from Kingston (OHL) to Bridgeport (AHL) and will make his Sound Tigers debut tonight.

Isles announce Devon Toews signs entry level contract.  Should go to BST after conclusion of school year per Arthur Staple.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers beat Portland 3-2, clinching their first playoff spot since 2012.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Panthers Game 1: The Urgency Of The Moment

Tonight, your New York Islanders opened up their 1st round match up against the Panthers in Florida.  Coach Capuano announced that Quine, Hamonic, Pulock were in with Zidlicky and Strait, out.  Three times, the home team went up by a goal and three times, the guys from New York answered.  Brock Nelson (Strome), Frans Nielsen PPG (Tavares & Leddy) and John Tavares (Okposo & Nielsen) led the Islanders in the first two periods on the score sheet with some impressive tallies.  In the third, Kyle Okposo (Tavares) added to the Isles momentum with a nifty wrister to put the Isles ahead for the first time in the game just a few minutes into the period.  A few minutes later, Ryan Strome (Quine & Hamonic) scored the third unanswered goal for New York and gave them a 5-3 lead against a stunned BB&T crowd and a stupefied Panthers team.  Panthers Tender, Roberto Luongo had been made uncomfortable by a few New York goals and started to go down early.  But the Panthers would close within one just a minute later and the stage was set for them to benefit from a horrible slashing call against Matt Martin, but the Isles PK would hold true, 2/3 on the night.  Oh, and how did you guys like what my guy, Alan Quine brought in this high pressure opportunity?

In the final minutes of the closing period, the Islanders would clamp down and repel the repeated pressure applied by the Panthers to try and mount a comeback.  Even after a timeout by the home team in the final :10 to strategize, New York shut the door and won the game by a 5-4 final score.  A huge game 1 win on the road builds confidence and builds momentum for game 2 and certainly showed the heart and the “compete level” of a team that hasn’t been given much of a chance by hockey experts to win the series.  They held on, negated the snarl of Florida’s game and answered each and every surge bought on by their opponent.  Their PP was 1/2 in the game.

The return of Travis Hamonic was certainly a big factor.  Hamonic played almost 25 minutes along with Nick Leddy on a blue line.  Defensively as a unit, the Isles need to tighten up more for game 2 in front of Thomas Greiss.  Greiss was solid all game long and made a few insane saves, including a desperation save on Jagr with around 31 seconds left.  Despite being outshot 46-26, Greiss held on for his first full NHL playoff victory and posted a .913Sv% with 42 saves on the road.

The first line was awesome and set the pace for their team.  Both Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo not only got on the scoresheet a few times, but complimented a driven John Tavares in his quest to open the series with a statement.  It wasn’t an easy choice, but Tavares is my Grail Knight of the game.  

A huge goal at the end of the second and one to start the third certainly set the table for the Islanders to take this game from the higher seated Panthers.  As determined as Florida seemed to be to set the pace, the Islanders proved equal to the task and mounted a high pressure & relentless, able to surge back after each and every Panther strike.

Game 2 will have to be a more complete effort from the Islanders.  They need to be better defensively and keep up the intensity built up in game 1.  Tonight’s win should make even the most fickle Isles fan proud, but we all know it’s still only one game.  Don’t think Florida won’t be motivated to answer back tomorrow night.  But I imagine the Islanders don’t feel they played their best game either.

Just imagine if they are able to grab a two game lead heading into Brooklyn.  Cue the theme from Jaws.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Isles announce today Michael Dal Colle headed to BPT on an amateur tryout. Contract only starts if he plays for Islanders in postseason.”