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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Our Second Guest Blogger Weighs In On Last Night's Tilt Vs. Devs

Our good friend Dom has graciously taken over the controls in relief to provide his insight on last night's overtime loss against the Devils. A big THANK YOU to him for his help, and a job well done.


Devils 2: Islanders 1 (OT)

Hello fellow Isles fans! My name is Domenick, and I'm filling in today for Angie and Christine. With all of the regulars out of the lineup for this Isles team, I guess it should be of no surprise that it's trickled down to the bloggers as well! :)
I'll do my best to live up the standard set by Christine and Angie, but I'll warn you...If I was any good, I'd already be established in the NHL blogging scene! lol
I'm not much of a "stat", or even a "systems" guy. Much like Ted Nolan, I go by "feel". With that said, I'll humbly share with you my thoughts on last night's game...

So we've come down to the last meeting between the Isles and the Devils. The Isles had taken the season series between these two teams long before tonight's game. With a Devils win, they clinch a playoff berth. With an Isles win, they'll have proven that Ted Nolan teams don't like "tanking" for lottery picks.
The Devils already know not to take the Isles lightly. This scrappy, "untalented", and now undermanned team has given the Devils fits all year.
If the Devils had forgotten, the Isles quickly reminded them when, on the first shift of the game, JoVa tipped a centering pass from the Captain in on Marty. Marty made the save, but it was a harbinger of things to come between the two foes.

The Isles came out strong to start the game, and much of the first period was spent in the Devils' zone. The Isles even got the first power play of the game, just 26 seconds into the first, when John Madden was called for hooking Bergie on a break-in to the net from the boards. The Isles kiddies started the PP (Comeau-Park-Okposo), but after allowing a shorthanded chance, they switched up for the line which had earned the penalty call in the first place (Bergie-JoVa-Guerin). Bergie managed to set up a couple of nice chances on the PP with his speed, but they failed to score. This has been a real problem for the Isles, and one which has had a profound impact on the standings for this Isles team. Had they managed even an average PP this year, perhaps we'd be looking forward to the playoffs, rather than a lottery pick.

It felt like it took the Devils over 10 minutes of play before they managed to get a cycle going in the Isles zone. When they did so, the Isles young defense usually just made the safe play, and chipped the puck off the boards/glass and out of the zone. Meyer and Martinek are the notable exceptions here. Whenever they were tasked with starting the breakout, they usually chose to carry it out, or look for the open man in the neutral zone.

The first test for the Isles came when Davison took a tripping penalty on Michael Rupp. I was surprised to see Jeremy Colliton out to start the PK along with JoVa up front. Colliton even managed a nice short handed rush up the RW boards, before he was knocked off balance while trying to protect the puck with his back to the defender. He was in deep, so no real harm came of it, but I think it underscored a trend I saw exhibited by our kids throughout the game. More on that later...

The Devils never really managed to test the Isles' PK on that first man advantage. Then Comeau was called for a questionable tripping penalty with just over 6 minutes left in the first. Comeau was the first man in on the forecheck after a nice defensive play, and subsequent break out, started by Richard Park. Comeau was caught a bit flatfooted along the LW boards, and reached out to poke-check the Devils defender (Martin), but got a piece of Martin's skate instead, which took him down to the ice. Comeau then took the puck to the net, and would've had a nice scoring chance, but alas, the whistle blew (much to his and Nolan's consternation). It wasn't a truly "bad call" by the ref, but I would say the Devils defender embellished it just a bit.

On this PP, the Devils would finally create a number of quality chances. Once again, Colliton was out there to start the PK, this time paired with callup dejour, Matt Keith. Their inexperience showed, as the Devils managed to keep the puck in the zone for virtually the entire PP, but Joey Macdonald was sharp, and thwarted the Devils with a great shoulder save on Elias from a RW shot below the circle.

Following that PP, the Devils got the Isles scrambling in their zone, UNTIL...The Captain made a diving play just inside the Devils blue line to tip the puck up to JoVa, who took it to the net all alone before going backhand low on Marty, and depositing his 16th goal of the year. He scored with just 52 seconds left in the 1st period. JoVa has been a force in these games vs. the Devils, with 5 goals in 8 games.

The period ended with Joey Mac making 12 saves. From there, Joey Mac was really the story of the game. He's a big goalie, and he plays a style which is pleasing to watch (at least tonight). He appears to play his angles well, and he doesn't flop around at all. He's not afraid to come well out of his crease to challenge shooters. He even managed to use the poke check effectively on occasion, to prevent cross-crease passes in close.

About 4 minutes into the 2nd, KO took a penalty, and this time, the Devils would not be denied. Once again Colliton was out there to start the PK, this time along with PK stalwart Richard Park. This PK, much like the 2 in the first period, featured our fowards cheating low. They rarely pressured the Devils point men, possibly in an effort the assist our inexperienced young defenders down low. Not to sound like an armchair quarterback, but I've never been a fan of this style of PK. I'm sure Nolan and the Coaching staff know what they're doing, but as a fan, I've always admired PK's which don't afford the PP ANY time to set up plays.
In any event, Elias converted on a laser beam shot over Joey Mac, and the Devils tied it at 1 on the PP.
Much of the rest of the period was played between the bluelines. Lots of shots from the Isles found only opposing shin pads, but no question about it... the Devils had the edge in play. They put 20 shots on goal in that 2nd period, but Joey Mac was on his game.

With 7:53 to go in the 2nd, the Devils were called for too many men. Madden had a great shorthanded chance against the young Isles PP, once again featuring Comeau-Park-Okposo, and once again Bergie-JoVa-Guerin were sent out to replace them, but not before Joey Mac was called upon to make a nice poke-check/save. Again Bergie managed to create some chances on the PP, but Marty was there to stop him.

The rest of the period featured an Isles team scrambling in their own zone, but also a Devils team which just couldn't seem to take advantage. This Devils team is NOT heading into the playoffs with a scary team. Sure, it seems we say that every year, and yet they're always a threat, but I do think this year is different. Unlike in years past, when the Devils could control the game from the back end with stalwart D men like Stevens and Daneyko, not to mention the two-way terror of Niedermayer, this Devils team is very pedestrian back there. Even the mighty Brodeur can't make up for a very average defense...not when coupled with the Devils' very below average offense. With that said, of COURSE I'd like to see the Devils take out that "other" NY team, should they face each other in the playoffs.
In any event, this is an Isles blog, and I'm an Isles fan, so back on point. :)

The 3rd period saw the Devils continuing to cary the play, interspersed with the occasional cycle by the Comeau-Park-Okposo line. I'll now expand a bit on my earlier comment regarding a trend I saw with our young kids.
I think Comeau, Okposo, Bergie, even Colliton, know how to cycle. I think they know where to go in the O zone, how to set up, and when to take it from the boards, and to the front of the net. Where I think they were exposed is in their lack of "man strength". Colliton's rush on the PK in the first highlighted this. He was using his body effectively to sheild the puck from a Devils defender, but once he turned his back to the defender, he was easily knocked off balance. True, he was somewhat prone, and I'm not saying he's "soft on the puck", but to thrive at the NHL level, all of our kids need to get stronger. A LOT stronger. Especially the crafty Frans Nielsen, but this holds true for Colliton, Comeau, and to a lesser extent even Bergie and Okposo.
Time after time, our kids would start a cycle in the Devils zone, only to be pushed off the puck by the Devils defenders. This is in stark contrast to the Isles' early season M.O.
Hunter, Tank, JoVa...even Guerin and Silly were very good at this aspect of the game. Most of our admittingly anemic offense this year was generated off the cycle. Had this team been blessed with a little more top-end talent, I'd venture to say that we'd have been a tough team to play against in the playoffs. "Ted Nolan type play" (hard working/dirty goals) is also known as "PLAYOFF HOCKEY".

It's too bad we've lacked the talent to get to the big show this year, because although we've been tough to watch for most of this season, this is the first time in years where we've been built for the dirty game of the post season. I guess the term here is "balance", much like that Colliton play I mentioned earlier. Last year, we needed a bit more of what we've had in spades this year (grit, dirty goals, etc). This year, we needed more "raw talent".
Maybe next year, we'll move somewhere closer to that elusive Hockey Shangri-La...a state of hockey which this franchise PIONEERED with the Cup teams. A team which was built to beat you with any style you cared to play. Finesse/Skill/Speed? Got it. Defense/Goaltending? Got it. Physical Play/Grit? Got it. Cagey Veteran/Clutch Play/Intimidation? Got it.

In any event, this entry is getting kind long, so I'll spare you the suspense. lol

A young Devil named Zach Parise, who's father embodied many, if not all of the traits I mentioned above when he played for the Islanders, scored the game winner just 29 seconds in OT to secure a playoff spot for the Devils. He scored off a deflection in front, even though he was physically overmatched by the 6'5" Matt Spiller.
So while the Devils would skate away with the victory, the young Isles acquitted themselves admirably in getting a point. As much as I'd like the chance to take a top prospect in the upcomming draft, I like that our kids haven't given up. Winning breeds winning, and there's no time like the present to instill that in our kids. Besides, they still have to face Brendan Witt in practice, and I don't think he'd be pleased with a half-baked effort, whether he's in the game or not.

Balance...that's what I'm hoping for from my team next year. Youth is alluring, but winning is better. I'm sure we'll get much of the former next year, I just hope more of the latter follows as well.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it!

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