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Fixing the Isles' power play problems
COLUMBUS -- We don’t need another 1200-word breakdown of what’s doing with your Islanders today. But we can dive into some of the bad and some of the good coming out of Thursday’s 1-0 loss to the Hurricanes:
-- Atop the list of bad things is the power play, now at 0-for-21 and sliding. It is also 0-for-18 since Thomas Vanek arrived, though John Tavares’ goal in DC was essentially a PPG, since the Caps player was just out of the box. Assistant coach and PP leader Doug Weight has been working on ways to adapt the first unit to Vanek’s skill set -- he’s unpredictable with his plays and doesn’t just park himself in front of the net the way Matt Moulson did.
So the other first-unit guys have to adapt as well, and they all look like they’re waiting for someone to do something. It’s certainly a talented enough group to adapt and I think they’ll get it with the same five, but it also may be time to consider shifting someone off that unit for a teammate who’s more willing to get pucks toward the net.
Frans Nielsen might be a good one to switch. He’s seemingly trying too hard to feed Tavares and Vanek of late rather than getting into a shooting position near the point, where he normally is stationed. Swapping him for a second-unit guy such as Josh Bailey might shake things up enough.
-- Tavares’ line had its first rough night since Vanek arrived, and that’s with a ton of possession time. Tavares looked a little wiped, to be honest; his 3-on-1 move in the second, where he held it a beat too long and then slid a backhand wide, was a very un-Tavares-like move. You usually see him snap one off once he looks the goaltender out of position. This is definitely something temporary. No one out there needs to beat up the captain. He’ll do that fine all by himself and come back stronger on Friday.
-- And now for the good, led by Kevin Poulin. As Jack Capuano noted after the Bruins game, Poulin is always confident. Now, he’s backing it up with confident movements in the crease. His first two games, he seemed to lose track of the play when the puck or opponents went behind the net, causing him to scramble and flail when it came back in front. He looks very, very in control these last two games, and he certainly deserves another shot here against the Blue Jackets. Of course, the Isles go to Poulin’s hometown on Sunday, so that may factor into who plays on Saturday.
If it’s Evgeni Nabokov, I want everyone out there to have a paper bag nearby so there’s no hyperventilation issues. The way the Islanders played in their own zone on Thursday, they would have won with either goaltender had they finished off a few chances.
-- And that D-zone play is the other positive. Capuano mixed up his top pair a lot to get Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic out with the other four D; that and the unconventional Smurf pairing of Thomas Hickey and Aaron Ness seemed to keep the defensemen playing a straightforward game. They let Poulin see shots, get to rebounds and moved the transition game well. The Isles need a ton more of that to settle down their goals against.
So, it was half a good game -- just the opposite half from what they’ve had in the majority of the first 16. If the Isles can get D-zone play like that and goaltending like that, they’ll get back to scoring goals. And maybe even winning games against teams they should beat, another one of whom is on the horizon on Saturday.