Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Morning After: Observations From Heartbreaking Loss to Sabres


Most people will tell you that last night's 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres was only typical, as  they say around here in Islander Country.

But if you stop and think about it for a moment, it was anything but typical.

After all, the Isles out-shot the Sabres 43-15 and, if not for a razor-sharp goaltending performance by Ryan Miller, could have easily scored two or even three more goals.

If not for John Tavares hitting the post twice, that might have been another two goals.

The Islanders are on a four-game losing streak, and that's certainly not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination.

However, unlike the other three losses during that span, this team showed us something different last night. They showed us that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps some of those 43 shots could have packed some more wallop or been better-placed. I won't disagree with you there.

That being said, you don't accumulate 43 shots in a single hockey game by accident. You don't dominate the opposition in scoring chances or time of possession without showing up for battle.

Don't get me wrong; there's plenty of blame to go around for this catastrophe.

You can blame Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald for allowing Thomas Vanek to have 600 chances to whack that loose puck into the net on Buffalo's first goal.

Never mind the fact that Vanek's the hottest player in the league right now and that common sense would suggest that you should probably pay more attention to him.

Both Hamonic and MacDonald let him slip away and gather rebound after rebound, and by the time either defenseman realized they should probably get to the front of the net, where they should've been all along, it was of course far too late.

In fact, the defensive coverage was so poor, that Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen had to abandon their positions and leave their men wide open in a desperate attempt to stop Vanek.

David Ullstrom let Christian Ehrhoff glide right past him and Cody Hodgson, a fine young passer in his own right, didn't think twice before feeding Ehrhoff that puck. Evgeni Nabokov had no chance whatsoever of preventing that goal.

The same cannot be said for the third Buffalo tally, a slap shot from Alexander Sulzer that went off the shoulder of Nabokov and then into the net. He's gotta stop that one; there's no two ways about it.

Still, the Isles certainly had their chances to tie the hockey game and you can't put the entire loss on Nabby's shoulders, even though Sulzer's goal literally was.

As much as we hate to think about it, maybe it's time to give Nabokov a rest and let Rick DiPietro start the next game. He does appear to be exhausted.

The Islanders lost this game for the same reasons they've lost other ones: Defense, defense, defense (or a complete lack thereof).

When given the opportunity to skate with the puck, the Islanders were much more confident and productive than they'd been in the past three skirmishes.

Unfortunately, in the few instances when they had to get back on defense, they failed to do so and it ending up costing them. You simply cannot take opposing teams for granted on any night, even when you're nearly out-shooting them by a 3-to-1 margin.

All the Isles needed to do to skate away with a victory last night was clamp down a bit in their own zone, a place Sabres rarely even visited during this contest.

The Islander defense could not handle the task. It was one of the more pathetic showings I've ever seen from them, and that holds true for virtually everyone on that blue line, including Travis Hamonic.

Brian Strait was the only exception. He had four hits, blocked a shot, made a few nice defensive plays and was a plus-2 on the night.

Like I said before though, you don't get 43 shots by accident. There were some positives in this hockey game.

Josh Bailey's season debut was a good one. Seven of those 43 shots were fired off the blade of his stick, and I liked his aggressiveness and confidence. Bailey logged 12:48 of ice time and did not take a single one of those minutes off.

If Lubomir Visnovsky hasn't played any hockey over the last month, it sure didn't appear that way. There was instant chemistry between him and his teammates, at least on the ice.

Visnovsky wasn't afraid to join the rush, took three shots and, for what it's worth, was a plus-2. He made smart decisions with the puck in terms of when to pass and when to shoot. I think he's really going to help the power play.

A healthy scratch Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Casey Cizikas returned to action and made  a significant impact. He competed on every shift, with or without the puck and was directly responsible for Colin McDonald's game-tying goal in the second period.

Not only did Cizikas do all the hard work to maintain possession of the puck behind the Buffalo net but he also made a gorgeous pass to McDonald. Cizikas has shown glimpses of the two-way stud he can become and the Islanders are a better, grittier hockey club with him in the lineup.

I'm also encouraged by Thomas Hickey's performance. He got involved in the offensive zone and moved the puck well. Something that perhaps has gone a bit unnoticed is the fact that he's an excellent skater. Not only is he an excellent skater, but he's the smoothest-skating defenseman on this team.


I still think that Brad Boyes is a better fit on the second line, while a motivated Kyle Okposo (he'll be the focus of my next article, so stay tuned) is better-off playing with Tavares and Matt Moulson.

Neither line moved the puck well or seemed to have any chemistry whatsoever until last night, so perhaps it was just a matter of getting used to one-another. In light of their performance against the Sabres, I'll wait a few more games before making a final prognosis.


After the game ended, I was disappointed but somewhat reassured, because if the Islanders can exhibit that same kind of puck control in their next game, I doubt they'll loose.

It's one thing to lose because you didn't show up or compete hard enough, it's another when you do play well but lose.

Could they have been better on defense last night? Absolutely. But can you honestly say that, overall, the New York Islanders didn't have a good game, didn't bring it?

Folks, it's a four-game losing streak. It sucks, but it has happened before. There are still 37 more to go, the season's not over.

Last night, this team showed me they're serious about turning things around. They showed that aggression and  passion I felt was missing in their previous three games.

This was definitely a heart-breaker, but it was also something the Isles can build off of and learn from.


Comments are welcome. 

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