November 8, 2010

Your woefully belated Isles-Flyers review

This one was a hard-fought contest at the Coliseum that ended in heartbreak for the Islanders, with the surging Flyers yanking this one out in the third period on Andreas Nodl's ricochet goal. Essentially, at this point, we know what the Isles are missing and why they're struggling (detailed below, but if you've been following along, this'll sound really familiar). Whether they play reasonably well like they did tonight or play like dog doo as they did the previous six games, these warts will always stick out until they're solved. Ultimately, I'm OK with it. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the team will still have growing pains and things of that nature.

Positives

The Islanders resembled an actual NHL team tonight. Against one of the NHL's top squads, they had prolonged possessions in the offensive zone (missing lately), good positioning on D (woefully absent), and consistent forechecking pressure (ditto). They hung right in there until the end, when a combination of a bad break and a missed assignment sunk the ship. Either way, this was an encouraging performance, all things considered.

The power play looked good again. It sagged a little bit recently, but Bobrovsky had to be borderline superhuman to keep the Isles out of the net all but one time. Good puck movement, good vision, good net front presence nearly every time. The PP had been keeping them afloat in the beginning, so it's good to see the beginnings of a resurgence in that area.

Negatives

The play at even strength wasn't much better. The stats don't lie here: the Isles are the worst even-strength team in hockey, and it's mainly because none of the players can really skate. The number of times a fast, skilled player totally burns an Islander defenseman is piling up by the game. My least favorite player (taking over for P.A. Parenteau), Mike Mottau, has been particularly guilty of this. Roasted by Claude Giroux to set up a gimme two-on-one that Jeff Carter shanked, Mottau was seen with smoke coming out of his ass after the game. His lapses are getting really, really old.

It's official, and I'll stop posting it unless it becomes particularly horrible: the Isles have nobody to clear the crease at all. The two Flyers goals came because nobody had the sense to knock anyone off the front of the net. Radek Martinek had to get physical on one shift to knock his man out of the danger zone, an uncharacteristic reaction we'll probably never see from him again. Mike Richards scored on a deflection by hanging out unmolested in front of Dwayne Roloson. On the second goal, Nodl had all day to knock the puck past a dazed Roloson when he skated into the low slot and nobody covered him.

The Isles' transition passing has been abominable. With Streit and MacDonald out, no one's able to start a rush out of the defensive zone anymore. Jack Hillen has tried his best, but he can't make up for the woes of the other five guys playing with him. Nobody can place a pass tape-to-tape, and it's been a nightmare. So many potential breakouts are stymied by a fumble or overshoot from the passer.

On the Flyers

Big, nasty, and skilled-- in other words, pretty much as advertised. As much as I like Carter, Richards, Giroux, and Timonen as players, though, the entire team's success is predicated on Pronger. Sure, Duncan Keith won the Norris last year. Sure, until he got hurt, Drew Doughty was on the rise and seemed poised to take the throne. I'm not buying either of them just yet; I'll go with the thoroughbred until he shows me that he's not the best defenseman alive and arguably the prototype for every defenseman to come after him.

In my young hockey-viewing career, Pronger is the best defenseman I've ever seen, hands down. He's materially changed the fates of four teams after they've acquired him, propelling once-underachieving squads to the Cup Finals three times (capturing jewelry once). If they genetically engineered a defenseman from scratch, Pronger would be the result.

As long as the Flyers keep trotting him out, they'll have a shot at taking the whole thing. The supporting players are definitely important, no question; but Pronger is the keystone as far as I see it. Bobrovsky also seems to be OK. If the goaltending comes through, they'll be the favorite to take the East again.

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