October 22, 2010

The Return of Ricky D

Tonight's game in Tampa was a heart-pounding affair with a bizarre ending as the Isles notched a victory in OT after a ten-minute review that came almost two minutes after the play in question occurred. Rick DiPietro and the Isles' defenders came up huge against a star-studded group of Lightning forwards that could comprise the most dynamic top six in the entire NHL. The whole team gutted out another quality performance on the road against a quality team, walking away from this one with two points. Though the Isles are now tied with the Fighting Sidney Crosbies for first place in the Eastern Conference, they have a game in hand.

Positives

Rick DiPietro is back, baby. DP looks a lot like he did before he got hurt, needing only a couple performances before regaining something resembling his old form. He made several really good-looking stops when the Isles were getting outclassed at even strength, especially in the third period. Particularly good was his stop on Marty St. Louis when he had to go East-to-West to get in the correct position.

The PK came up enormous. Constantly aggressive with tons of movement, and Tampa had a great deal of trouble working around it. The biggest moment, obviously, was when the blue and orange killed off a five-on-three that lasted for an eternal 40 seconds and made it look easy. Mark Eaton has been the unsung hero here, proving that the Isles needed to bring him in simply for his ability to clear the zone in these situations. That goes for Milan Jurcina as well.

Nino Niederreiter sure does look like he belongs. El Niño came up big again in subtle ways, always finding the right spot on the ice to make a contribution. On the Isles' first goal, he made the first shot on Dan Ellis before Michael Grabner swooped in to bury the rebound. However, even before that, Niederreiter was strong on the cycle and got himself open in the low slot. He may not be exceptionally noticeable, but give him time: he's already shown he can make it here, and sooner or later, he'll prove he can thrive at this level also.

Just in case you didn't believe, Matt Moulson is for real. The guy knows his way around the front of the net, he works harder than 90% of the other players in the League, and his hands are very, very good. I advocated a long-term extension for him this summer, but it wasn't to be. He has four goals in seven games, and the likelihood is that this'll be his second 30-goal season. We can only hope he's willing to stay on for a reasonable price come season's end.

The team refuses to fold in high-pressure situations. Down two goals? No problem. Third period deficit? No problem. Killing a five-on-three? No problem. Four of your top eight players injured? No problem. Rolling three lines for two periods in the Air Canada Centre? No problem. Five defensemen for two periods against a Tampa offensive juggernaut? No problem. The team just keeps on rollin'. Gotta love the fight in this squad.

Negatives

James Wisniewski needs be more careful. Couple gaffes from him tonight, two of which led to Bergenheim's breakaways. What's surprising about the Wiz through the five games he's played is that he doesn't seem like a traditional Garth defenseman. The Isles didn't miss him very much for the two games he was gone. He does add some good power play skills, but he's almost a liability at even strength.

The Isles need to be more effective as a team at clearing the zone. The problem came up once again this game: the team had a shot to clear, and the player with the puck on his stick was overanxious to start the rush. The funny thing about this phenomenon is that Gordon preaches to keep things simple, but I've seen nearly every member of the squad pass up a very good opportunity to send the puck out of the zone. Eventually, that'll come back to bite them as a team. In the third, the Isles spent way too much time in their own end for this reason.

On the Bolts

Good to see Sean Bergenheim, one of my favorite Islanders of recent memory, continue to do what he's known for doing, even if it's in another uniform. I'm obviously way more happy about this idea because the Isles ended up winning the game. He generated a couple breakaways and nearly missed the shot he ended up scoring on, but he causes so much havoc and frustration through his relentless puck pursuit that all his warts make him a worthwhile player if you can notch the right contract.

As for the rest of that team, it's gonna be a serious contender for awhile. Victor Hedman is already exceptionally impressive for such a young kid. The Isles would've been very well off with him on the team also, though it's not like I'm complaining about Tavares. The addition of Gagné rounds out a ridiculous top six with arguably the most talent in the whole Show. Stamkos is such a beast at this age that it's astounding; the sky is truly the limit for him. Marty St. Louis looks like he'll never get old-- a constant threat every time he's out there. His goal tonight was insane. Tampa, lest we forget, also finished tonight at the top of its own division despite losing in OT.

Next up, the Isles enter the time machine to play the 2008-2009 version of themselves in Miami.


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