NYI 4, TBL 3: Islanders Survive Late Scare, Bolt Past Tampa Bay
Nothing like a bounce-back win to give you a boost in confidence and the standings.
Don't let the scoreboard fool you; the Islanders absolutely dominated for about 98% of this game (or 55 minutes out of 60, however you want to look at it).
From the get-go, the Isles looked poised and very much in control. They were always attacking, constantly applying pressure and their transition game was about as good as it's been since this rebuild began.
Twice, an Islander forward was on the receiving end of a spectacular long pass, and on both occasions, the play resulted in a goal.
Mark Streit found Michael Grabner, begging for the puck at the blueline, and the speedster darted in on Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback. Grabner faked to his right then back to his left, tucking the biscuit past Lindback for a power play goal of the highlight-reel variety. Grabner's tally put the Islanders ahead, 1-0.
If his performance last season suggested that Grabner didn't know how to finish, his start to this one would suggest he's fixed that problem.
Speaking of Grabner, he was strong on the penalty-kill as well, continuing to prove his worth as a guy who can play in multiple situations.
A little under 20 minutes later, John Tavares sent a long lead pass to Matt Martin, who had just exited the penalty box, and Martin fired a wrister up and over Lindback, giving the Isles a 2-0 advantage.
Tavares would notch a second assist, connecting with Kyle Okposo on a 2-on-1. That goal extended New York's lead to 3-0. JT's two-point outing earned him the first star of the game, and was undoubtedly a welcome development.
Despite the fact that he scored, Okposo had a bit of a disappointing game, in my opinion. I felt at times he tried to do too much with the puck, and instead of passing it or shooting, opted for the fancy route. Those decisions were poor ones.
Just 1:31 into the third period, David Ullstrom powered towards the net, taking a wrist shot that screamed past Lindback to make it 4-0, Isles.
Ullstrom had a real strong day, showing a lot of swagger and launching five shots in Lindback's direction. He's impressed through 120 minutes of hockey thus far.
All seemed to be going well. That is, until these young Islanders decided to get far too comfortable with that big lead they'd jumped out to. I wouldn't even say the defense was entirely at fault here; EVERYONE was. The whole team let up at the worst possible time, and against a very capable opponent.
In a matter of six minutes, this game got awfully exciting, with Martin St. Louis, Benoit Pouliot and Steven Stamkos scoring for Tampa Bay. Each was the result of an Islander turnover in the defensive zone.
The Isles snapped out of it after head coach Jack Capuano called a timeout, and from the very next shift on, looked noticeably more alert on defense than they had been during that brief, but costly lapse.
Otherwise, the defense was excellent today. Travis Hamonic had another good outing; he was physical, made some key defensive stops and even recorded an assist (two points on the season). I thought Andrew MacDonald had a nice game, too.
Evgeni Nabokov didn't see an awful lot of rubber, but he was sharp when he needed to be. Don't blame him for any of Tampa Bay's goals; those were 100% on Nabby's teammates in front of him and their decision to lay back with a 4-0 cushion.
When all was said and done, the Isles had outshot the Lightning, 45-26. Not bad for a team that's supposedly horrid in the offensive zone.
Perhaps it's time everyone woke up and realized that, of all the issues surrounding this Islander squad, offense is not one of them. There's plenty of talent already here and plenty more on the way.
Though they did nearly tear down their own sandcastle this afternoon, the New York Islanders buckled down and did what all good teams must: They found a way to stop the bleeding and, more importantly, they found a way to win.
A young, inexperienced team will tend to let their guard down more often, and that's precisely what transpired in this game. But they plugged up all the holes, were able to draw Nate Thompson and Brian Lee into taking late penalties and kept the Bolts in check, right 'till the very end.
This victory represents another glimpse of the kind of success this team is capable of, and that's pretty darn exciting, if you ask me.
Like I prefaced with, don't let that scoreboard fool you. But if you're the Islanders, let it teach you a lesson anyway. It might just come in handy.
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