After some strong play over the last four games (six out of eight points) and three out of four possible points over the weekend, the Islanders next task and test of strength comes against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Nassau Coliseum.
The young Islanders are set to face off with another team rebuilding their image in the Leafs, as General Manager Brian Burke did his thing prior to and on the trade deadline.
Several of the Islanders have been consistently hot, often times scoring highlight reel worthy goals. Kyle Okposo scored a nifty between the legs goal against Minnesota in their 4-1 win at home last Thursday. It was Okposo’s fourth goal of the season and he would finish the game with a goal and assist (4g 12a 16 points in 21 games). Blake Comeau would find the scoring touch he found prior to suffering a concussion against Pittsburgh, netting two goals Thursday – his 16th and 17th of the season.
Frans Nielsen would finish the game with three assists, although he played a great game – you could tell he was still upset about his defensive mistake that lead to the Capitals game winning overtime goal the game prior and told us he felt he played like, well – excrement. If a three point night is a bad game, well I’d like to see what his idea of a great game is.
Moving onto the matinee game against St. Louis on Saturday – John Tavares would open the scoring for the Islanders, off a sweet pass from Parenteau that certainly earned highlight space. Tavares muscled his way to the slot, beat two men low and then the Blues netminder for his 24th of the season. PA Parenteau would make up for missing a gimme, scoring off a slick pass by Michael Grabner – giving the Isles an early two goal lead.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald would double up on his goal total, adding two more for four on the season and third in two games. His first tally of the game came on an absolute howitzer from the point and his second on a breakaway. Speaking of breakways, Grabner would finally break his scoreless streak topping off the scoring for the Islanders by netting his 26th of the season and his second point of the game.
The trio of Islanders players all flirting with 30 goals are all getting closer – Tavares now with 24, Grabner with 26 and Moulson with 28. Each player has plenty of time to reach the feat, with 15 games remaining on the season.
On Sunday, the second of back to back matinee games this weekend, the Islanders suffered a 3-2 Shootout loss to Red Hot New Jersey. While the loss was disappointing, the Islanders played very well against a team doing all they can to reach the post season.
After a scoreless first period, the Devils would score early in the second period on the power play – needing only one shot to tally the go ahead goal. The Islanders would score the equalizer on a power play of their own – Josh Bailey found a small section of open net above Martin Brodeur and make him pay.
The tie would last until the third period, when Ilya Kovalchuk would catch Al Montoya off guard with a knuckler that beat him between the pads. Blake Comeau would again tie the game for the Islanders, capitalizing on a Devils turnover and beating Brodeur. The tie lasted the remainder of the third period, and overtime. The Shootout did not end well for the Islanders – although Nielsen would score first, Kovalchuk and Rolston would score for the Devils giving them the extra point and the win.
Toronto comes into tonight hungry for two points – they are 4 points behind 9th place Carolina, 5 points behind the 8th place Sabres and 7 points behind the 7th place Rangers – with 16 games remaining.
The Islanders sit at 14th in the East at 60 points, 12 points out of the 8th seed with 15 games remaining. While not technically mathematically eliminated – it would take some unstoppable hockey down the stretch. That said, they CAN continue to play the role of spoiler and give the teams ahead of them headaches from here on out. It only helps their experience for next season, one that’s sure to be better before it even begins.
I’ll be covering the game tonight, be sure to follow me on twitter @islesblogger all throughout the game!