Sunday, February 13, 2011

New York Islanders Going for Three in a Row against the Buffalo Sabres

The New York Islanders have drawn a lot of ire around the National Hockey League over the last 48 hours, and it's not because everyone is dripping with jealousy.

In a season where the Isles have been described using several terms, be it "pathetic,"  "inexperienced" or "lottery team," they added a new one to their repertoire: "thugs."

To a certain extent, I agree. I think the Isles got extremely carried away. As I said last night, I think they certainly wanted to send a message, and obviously, they did. I just think that message was way too clear.

I personally believe the reason it got that out of hand that quickly, is the Islanders are just absolutely fed up with being disrespected in this league.

Now, they ultimately did nothing to help that cause, and if anything, they now have even less respect than they originally had.  But I think the frustrations in that locker room reached a boiling point, and given the tight-knit environment on the team, everyone felt the need to stick up for one another and stick it to their opponents.

I don't think they realized at the time things would get that carried away, but nevertheless, they did, and so the Islanders will have to pay the consequences.

And pay they did, both literally and in the form of suspensions.

The NHL levied a $100,000 dollar fine to the New York Islanders organization for failing to control the actions of their players. Matt Martin was suspended for four games, Trevor Gillies for nine.

I certainly understand the Islanders deserved some discipline. What I cannot understand though, is how the NHL lets the Pittsburgh Penguins get away with playing dirty all season.  The refs don't care when other teams' players take runs at Islander players, but when the Isles get out of line, the league throws the book at them. But that's for another time.

The New York Islanders need to move on, and as Isles' forward Zenon Konopka is on record saying, they will move on.

Good move on their part, because they have a hockey game to play in Buffalo later this afternoon. This will be another big game for the Islanders because they can go on a three-game winning streak and will have a chance to perhaps show the league they are not the bunch of goons they were made out to be in the game against Pittsburgh Friday night.

What people forget, is that aside from all the fighting, the Islanders showed a lot more about what kind of team they can be that night. They scored nine goals. Their passing plays were nothing short of brilliant. Mikko Koskinen was phenomenal, making 35 stops.

What frustrates me about the Isles' performance this season is that they are clearly a very talented team; a very inconsistent team, but definitely a talented one.

Many of the wins they earned this season did not occur out of sheer luck or just because "the other team had injuries," which has become the No. 1 excuse of Penguins' fans since Friday night. You want to talk about injuries? Ask the Islanders about injuries because they are on pace to top 500 man-games lost due to injuries.

The Islanders have shown talent in the games they've won, and they've beaten some good teams too, such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Colorado (twice), the Ducks and the Flames. If they can develop consistency and stay healthy, they can really become a force to be reckoned with next season.

The Sabres come into this game red-hot as well. They've won three games in a row and have shown offensive flair of their own during that stretch. Defenseman Tyler Myers has really stepped up for them lately, and they also have a goaltender named Ryan Miller, who I've heard is decent. He only has a Vezina Trophy and an Olympic silver medal to his credit. So the Isles will definitely be facing a tough challenge in this one.

The Isles' offense will need to play at the level it has since the All-Star break. John Tavares needs to keep finding ways to put pucks in the net, as well as contribute on offense. He tends to do well against the Sabres, and even has a natural hat trick against them this season.

The Islanders have not yet announced who will start between the pipes in this game. My guess is Al Montoya gets the nod, as Koskinen hopefully gets a much-needed and deserved breather.


X-Factor

The Islanders' offense needs to continue to produce as it has these last few games. The Isles do not have a shutdown defense, nor do they have a goaltender who can steal the game away. The Sabres however, do have that kind of goalie in Miller, and their defense is very solid. The Isles need to establish their presence on the scoreboard early.

Three Players to Watch
  1. Michael Grabner.  Seriously, is there any reason he shouldn't be in this spot? He is a threat to score every time he touches the puck and is creating breakaways for himself at will nowadays. He will either score in this game, or if he doesn't, someone will because he was able to burst into the Sabres' zone and create an opportunity for his line mates.
  2. John Tavares.  He's been an offensive force against the Sabres this year. Not to mention, he's been on fire of late, and will be looking to keep it going today. I say he's going to stay hot in this game.
  3. Travis Hamonic.  This marks the first time I feature an Isles' defenseman as one of my players to watch. He's been involved in the offense for a few games in a row now, and he made some fantastic decisions with the puck in the Isles' last game, the 9-3 slugfest against the Penguins. He had a big offensive night, with a goal and two assists, so look for him to keep it going today.

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