Earlier in the season, it seemed as if the opponent scored almost every game within the first few minutes. This led to the Islanders having to play from behind for a large portion of the game. Tonight, the roles were reversed. Josh Bailey finished off a great play with a nice deke to his backhand just 52 seconds into the first period. It looked so smooth that it could have been a set play– Thomas Hickey banked it off the boards to Kyle Okposo, who had the awareness necessary to get off a great tap to Frans Nielsen, who then flipped it over to Bailey for the early lead. That’s a good sign for the team, and the second line continues to be the team’s best while at even strength. A Travis Hamonic goal 7 minutes in was definitely one that legend Marty Brodeur would like to have back. His reaction told viewers that much.
That would end up being enough, but not before quite a nerve-wracking second period. It’s never easy for the Islanders. The Devils came out flying in the middle 20 minutes, outshooting the Islanders 11-6. Ponikarovsky scored 8 minutes in, which put all Islander fans into panic mode. The Islanders have had quite the propensity for blowing leads, whether it be 1, 2, or even the occasional 3 goal lead. That still must be addressed– the disinterested way in which they play while holding a lead, playing like they are trying to protect it rather than keeping up the things that make them succeed.
They were bailed out today by their power play. It hasn’t been performing well lately at all, including Saturday where they managed only 2 shots on a full 2 minute 5-on-3 and failed to score on a 5 minute major power play. The team clearly addressed it over the past couple of days, because this was night and day. Firstly, they were actually getting pucks on net (yes, a popular coaching cliché but still true nonetheless), not looking for the perfect pass. Second, they were moving their feet. The point men weren’t stagnant and the players down low were feeding off of each other. John Tavares showed off his hockey IQ, and knew exactly where to go to get a rebound and put one home which made it 3-1.
It is worth noting that despite a Tavares goal, their line has not been effective lately at even strength. Moulson doesn’t have a goal in his last 12 games, Boyes in his last 7, and a majority of the play when they’re on the ice is in the defensive zone, which is in stark contrast to the beginning of the season. It’s clear the threesome’s chemistry has flattened out, and the natural move would be moving Brad Boyes off of that line and giving somebody else a shot there. Perhaps Michael Grabner, whos play warrants a promotion just as much as Boyes’ play deserves a demotion.
The Islanders have a great opportunity tomorrow to put themselves in a great position. If they win at home vs. Winnipeg, they will be tied for 7th place in the Eastern conference. Equally as important is the fact that they would be 5 points above the 10th place Carolina and the 11th place Washington. Separation is great to have. Right now, the 8th spot pro-rates to 50.7 points. So if we assume that some team will pick it up a bit, it’s fair to say it will take 52 points to make the playoffs. If the Islanders win tomorrow, they will only need to finish the season 6-4-1 to make the post-season. It’s in their hands.