Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Preseason Analysis: Three Exhibition Games, A Whole Bunch of Answers

Last night, the New York Islanders fielded a shorthanded roster and came up short against the Calgary Flames, who played most of their regulars, by a final score of 2-0.

While I'd have liked to see a bit more from the boys on offense, I still had to like some of the things I saw in Calgary, namely, the solid performance turned in by one Evgeni Nabokov, who was playing in his first game against NHL-competition in quite some time. 

Nabby played two periods and finished with 15 saves on 16 shots, and though Isles fans were quick to blame him for giving up a shorthanded goal to Curtis Glencross, I'm not sure Dominik Hasek would've made that save, let alone whoever was between the pipes for the Islanders last night. 

That one's on the defense, and Glencross was able to just slip behind 'em undetected and put home a perfect backhander off a spot-on feed from Matt Stajan. I can't fault the goaltender here, the play was simply executed far too well not to culminate with a goal scored. 

Other than that, I felt Nabokov was square to the shooters, was able to keep up with the pace of the game at all times and was generally "with it." His puckhandling miscues were a bit of an issue, but then again, that's never been a hallmark of his game and never will be. 

Nabby's going to be here for a while, and those who still believe he won't last a day past training camp are likely to be wrong. I said it before, the Isles would be wise to carry three goaltenders for now, at least until things really sort themselves out. You never know what's going to happen to Rick DiPietro, and if he goes down, you don't want to have to call up Kevin Poulin or Mikko Koskinen, because they need to develop in Bridgeport (AHL) this season. 

It can't hurt to have another experienced netminder on the roster to turn to, and whether that "third wheel" will be Nabby or Al Montoya (it won't be DP unless he's not healthy) remains to be seen. But I'd be shocked if Evgeni Nabokov isn't an Islander on October 8th, let's just put it that way. 

Another pleasant surprise, though not surprising to anyone who observed him during the Isles' rookie camp this summer, was the two-way play of Ryan Strome. This guy might be known for his offensive prowess, and rightfully so, but he's very tenacious, both with and without the puck. When a loose puck goes into the corner, Strome will come away with it 9 out of 10 times.

He'll still be sent back to the Niagara IceDogs, but maybe the Isles will give him a nine-game look, much like they did with Nino Niederreiter last season. I think he deserves a shot. 

Also evident last night was the fact that Kirill Kabanov's not ready for the NHL. His head's stuck in Moncton and he's trying to pull off too many moves that he simply can't get away with at this level. Kabanov's going to need to make several adjustments if he's to succeed here on Long Island. That might take some time.

For the third consecutive year, Calvin de Haan is making things very difficult for the Isles' brass, and for all the right reasons. It's getting harder and harder to cut him, and I firmly believe that, while they probably will have him start out the year in Bridgeport, as long as he impresses down there, the team will open up a spot for him by mid-season, whether that's by making a trade or sending another player down. 

He played a ton of minutes last night in Calgary and that wasn't by accident. 

Steve Staios has certainly made a strong case for himself in training camp. I'd be very surprised if he's not on the Islanders' opening night roster. 

On the other hand, Jay Pandolfo hasn't really shown enough to make the team. I thought he'd play better and be in a different position right now, but I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again.  I do think he'd accept a two-way deal with the Isles if they offered him one, and I think they will. He'll be an Islander at some point, but he'll have to start off in the minors and prove his worth, because he just hasn't done enough of that in training camp. 

Saturday night at the Coliseum, the Isles played one heck of a game against the New Jersey Devils. 

Boasting most of their regulars, while New Jersey dressed most of theirs, the boys from Nassau really took it to their opponents, turning in a fantastic all-around performance and defeating the Devils by a score of 6-2. 

The powerplay, which had struggled to no end last season, managed to scratch together a goal-scoring trilogy, off of goals by Mark Streit (who's back and better than ever), Matt Moulson and the ever under-appreciated Frans Nielsen. 

Speaking of Moulson, he hasn't lost one step and he showed that by lighting the lamp twice. Surely he's not going to reach 30 for the third straight year, right (that was sarcasm, you can all relax)?

Kyle Okposo opened the scoring and John Tavares, the newly-elected (and paid) face of the franchise, added a helper on Nielsen's powerplay marker. 

Both Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin looked solid, and each played roughly a period and a half. Poulin stopped 16 of 17 shots faced, while Montoya repelled eight of the nine shots fired in his direction. 

During their first exhibition match, against the Boston Bruins, the Islanders only dressed a few of their regulars to take on the Bruins, who, unlike the Isles, featured most of the group that won a Stanley Cup last year. The B's took the game 6-3, with Rick DiPietro making 20 saves on 22 shots, over 40 minutes of work. 

Ricky still has a lot of work to do before he makes a believer out of me. Two periods of solid play does not prove much; he has to keep the trend going on a consistent basis. 

The regular season is right around the corner and, the way things look, the New York Islanders are firing on all cylinders. It's going to be an exciting year for the organization and the fans. 

On a personal note, I'd like to wish all my readers a happy, healthy new year. 

Comments are welcome.


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