It took overtime, but the New York Islanders beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3 to 2 on a Kyle Okposo goal. It was his 2nd goal of the game and 3rd point, as he also assisted on Frans Nielsen’s power play goal in the 2nd period. The 2 points collected by New York puts them at 39 points in the standings, which is good for 4th place in the Eastern Conference just a single point behind the Rangers.
Over the last 9 games, in fact, the Islanders are 7-0-2, only missing 2 points out of the total 18 they could have earned. This has helped them tremendously in the standings, as the rest of the Eastern Conference around them seems to be either hot or cold.
The Islanders did blow 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the game last night in Columbus, and were quite fortunate that the potential game winner by the Jackets with 46 or so seconds left was reviewed and overturned by Toronto. Perhaps I’m just a cynical Islander fan, but I was actually expecting the goal to stand, despite the fact that Howie Rose and Butch Goring were strongly indicating that the puck was put in the net with a distinct kicking motion by Columbus’s Boone Jenner. Then, in the overtime, the Jackets were buzzing and it really seemed as if the Isles were standing around waiting to lose until they got a fortunate bounce of the puck that sent Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo away on a 2 on 0 break away which led to the game winner from Okie.
With Cal Clutterbuck out of the lineup, Eric Boulton was inserted to play on the 4th line. This was a bit of a surprise to me, but it neither seemed to hurt or help the Islanders in my opinion. As has been said when Thomas Hickey is out of the lineup by the guys on Islanders Point Blank, “you don’t know what you got until it’s missing”, and that was the case without Clutterbuck on that line.Let me be clear that I am quite happy that the Islanders have been winning games and, in turn, positioning themselves well in the standings. This is the time to bank points, and they are going to need that, as it seems the Eastern Conference is going to be a horse race as the season progresses. The Metro Division, in particular, is going to most likely come down to a dog fight by the time we reach March for ultimate playoff spots.
With that said, and not to take a negative turn compared to our lead writer, Paul, but I do have my concerns. I’ve honestly not been thrilled about everything I’ve observed over the last couple of weeks. To me, I think the Islanders simply got lucky winning in Philly and Columbus and probably would not have come out with 2 points if they played that way against Montreal or Washington or the Rangers. While they did play well against their crosstown rivals a few weeks ago and follow that up with an impressive effort to beat the Blues, I think they have been fortunate to continue the winning since then or, at least, gather points.
I surely don’t think, at all, that the picture is utterly grim, but here are a few “blind “observations” that I have cataloged of late:
• It is obvious that John Tavares is an a slump. There is no point in beating that dead horse, but it is concerning to me. The top line just seems absent at times, though Kyle Okposo has surely been contributing and scoring big goals. For this team to succeed in the long run, though, they need JT to be …. JT, and they need a #1 line that is picking up the points and scoring goals every night.
• If there has been a major reason why the Islanders have been successful to this point, look no further than the goaltending. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have both stolen games for their team, and have made countless Huge saves to preserve points. Greiss has been one of the most valuable signings Garth Snow has made in the off season, and Jaro is starting to find his groove as well. However, you cannot keep relying on the guys between the pipes every single night to save your bacon and carry the team on their backs the entire season.
• I am not contradicting PK here, as I believe there is a lot of chemistry among the team both on offense and defense. My problem is it just seems as if the spark and consistent intensity the Isles showed last season is missing at times. Last night, they were out hit by a very large margin and they had well under 20 shots in the game. It’s hard to clearly explain my feeling, but it’s as if they are simply not bringing their A-game, and are winning by virtue of the fact that they do have the depth on the offense and can rely on the goaltending to hold the fort. Despite the reality that goals are down all over the NHL, I am still concerned just the same for the long term.
• Nick Leddy doesn’t have a goal yet this season. No, I’m not overly concerned about this and I am not trying to simply parrot what’s been said in other places. The “big picture” is the lack of contributions on the offense by the defense. The Islanders have six guys on the back line that can score goals and provide some offensive spark. In fact, with Hickey back in the lineup, I believe any of the defensive combinations are a scoring threat on the ice. They just need to start Being that threat with better results.
Again, I’m certainly all about the winning and I think these 1 goal games are good for the character of this team, especially as those are the types of games they were not winning in the past. So, once more, I am Not complaining. I guess, as I’ve said, my expectations of this team have changed, and it irks me when they are not doing all of the things they are capable of.
Today, the Isles come home to play the New Jersey Devils at 5 PM. Make no mistakes. The Devils are for real. If the Islanders come out playing like they did last night, they won’t earn 2 points today. I expect Greiss to most likely start in net, and I just hope the rest of the team shows up to play in front of him or it’s going to be a long late afternoon.