And the Islanders decided that it wasn’t quite their turn to roll over and let the season pass them by. You see, the lucky bounces were back – or was it more of an effort that allowed the Islanders to defeat the Rangers 4-3 in dramatic shootout fashion last night at Madison Square Garden? To make things even more exciting, the Islanders would do it without their franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro!
For what seemed like the first ten minutes of the first period last night, the Islanders looked like they were going to get steamrolled by the Blueshirts. They could not clear their zone, gain any momentum through the neutral zone and would constantly go offsides. What happened next simply amazed me; the second half of the period the Isles looked like a completely different team, gaining the zone and supporting the puck. Comeau would capitalize on a weak defensive play by Marek Malik in the corner to Lundqvist’s left and attempt to center a pass to Mike Comrie in front – the puck would hit Michal Rozsival’s stick and into the net for a 1-0 lead with 1:17 remaining. Comeau wasn’t the only “kid” who looked great, Jeremy Colliton, Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim all looked spectacular. Wade Dubielewicz also looked great during the first period – and would continue to make save after save throughout the night.
The lead would last until a Rangers power play goal by Nigel Dawes tied the game at 1, but the Islanders wouldn’t quit there. Sean Bergenheim would unleash a sizzler of a wrist shot that beat Lundqvist through a screen 41 seconds later to make it 2-1. Exactly two minutes later the Islanders had great presence in front of the Rangers crease and Fedotenko would throw the puck at the net through traffic, it would hit Hunter’s pads and trickle through Lundqvist’s pads for a 3-1 lead. The Rangers at this point seemed to catch whatever was ailing the Islanders during the first period and were just outright sloppy – however, in a game of up and downs (that many fans of each team know follows their respective clubs) you could almost guess that neither team could keep the momentum on their side for long. Two minutes and two seconds later, Chris Drury would score his 22nd of the season to bring the Rangers back to within one – where the score would remain for the rest of the 2nd period and 14 minutes and 13 seconds of the third. With Jaromir Jagr off for tripping the Islanders abysmal power play would once again fail to control the puck at the blueline and give up a shorthanded 2-1 rush where the Rangers would tie the game at 3. It was the 14th time the Islanders would give up a shorthanded goal this season and the 4th time in the last 5 games.
Going into overtime neither team would have much of an advantage and the 5 minutes went by in uneventful fashion. Moving into the shootout – Nigel Dawes would start things off and beat Dubielewicz through his five-hole for a 1-0 shootout lead. The Captain, Bill Guerin would go first for the Isles and beat Lundqvist through his five-hole. Richard Park, Mike Comrie, and Miroslav Satan would fail their attempts for the Islanders, as would Brendan Shanahan, Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Michal Rozsival and Martin Straka for the Rangers. Jeff Tambellini would unleash all the fury he could muster, perhaps from the frustration of his up and down season for an absolute laser of a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s glove to win the game for the Islanders in the shootout.
It was certainly do or die time for the Islanders, a loss last night would have made things very tough down the stretch with so many important divisional games remaining. What makes things even more interesting is the Islanders will again face the Rangers on Thursday at the Coliseum – another must win contest. What will be an interesting story to watch is that the starting goaltender for the Islanders is still up in the air. DiPietro had before this morning, been without practice for several games – so the decision to ride Dubielewicz in similar fashion to last season will need to be made shortly.
Aside from the Islanders power play giving them absolute fits, the defensemen continue to play solid without injured mainstays Chris Campoli (season ending shoulder surgery), Bruno Gervais (concussion – day to day) and Andy Sutton (hamstring). Brendan Witt did an absolute amazing job keeping the Rangers Sean Avery at bay – continually jawing at him whenever he would open his mouth, Bryan Berard would shutdown Jaromir Jagr all game and would literally cause Jagr to take him down in frustration. Freddy Meyer continues to shine by out skating, hitting and making smart plays in his own end and even the occasional offensive rush to get the puck deep. Equally as impressive (as always) was Radek Martinek, who was also used as a shut down man for the Jagr line. Rob Davison would get his first taste of the Islanders-Rangers rivalry and was amazed that so many Isles fans were in attendance – just wait until tomorrow night Rob!
Power Play Woes
While I was watching the power play, I noticed the Islanders try (and fail) at executing the same set play at least 5 times before trying something else. It is this lack of creativity and perhaps reluctance to change the system, that continue to produce more shorthanded goals that goals on the actual power play.
In the sequences I noticed, Bryan Berard would go down low and support Martinek (or whomever else was on the ice at the time) and skate up to the Islanders blue line and receive a pass. He would then gain the red line and dump the puck in where the Rangers would out hustle the Islanders to the puck and easily clear it. Now, I don’t know the exact play – but someone is obviously not completing their assignment properly. Berard shoots the puck in, the forwards should be rushing the corner opposite of where the puck was shot from and pressure the Rangers defense and back checkers. The puck has either been shot in with too much speed (beating the forwards rush) or the forwards have been way too slow on the attack. I have never been a fan of dumping the puck in on the power play, but I can see where the reluctance to gain the zone and make a passing play comes in for this coaching staff (holy lack of confidence on the blue line Batman!).
For a change of pace, I would like to have our newly acquired defenseman Rob Davison out on the power play – but I don’t want him at the point, as much as Satan prefers being on the half wall I want to see him at the point. Davison needs to maintain position in the oppositions crease and screen the goalie. It has been way too long since anyone has been willing to take the punishment of being in front, so let’s do what Boston has done with Chara in the past. Our power play can’t any worse – so to me keeping a defenseman down low is worth the gamble.
Power Play Unit #1
Hunter, Comrie, Davison
Power Play Unit #2
Fedotenko, Vasicek, Guerin
Between those two units you have just about everything you need – size, speed, grit and most importantly two completely different styles. There may be those who disagree with me and think the idea is crazy, but I really do not like the look of our current power play units.
If the Islanders are going to be successful down here on the stretch run, they need to score at even strength, on the power play and keep their opposition from scoring shorthanded. The also need to trust the “kid line”, 10 minutes of ice time is a start – but they are proving more and more every game that they deserve more time out there in order to shine to their full potential. Lastly, the Islanders need to continue to get bodies in front and manufacture those goals – two times last night bodies in front of the net and just throwing the puck on goal turned into goals. Keep up the same pressure as they did last night and they will be fine.