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Kyle Okposo's Olympic chances and a historic rally
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A few notes on the wacky 5-4 win here Sunday night:
-- As I briefly mentioned in the story off the game and on Twitter, Kyle Okposo’s case for a U.S. Olympic roster spot is quite strong, and many of his teammates, his coaches and his general manager have said the same to me the past few days.
To me, it’s not just the points -- Okposo has 37, tied for second among U.S.-born players -- but that Okposo has been playing with elite players at an elite level. He’s not banging in open shots off pretty plays by John Tavares and Thomas Vanek; Okposo has been setting those players up just as often, perhaps more so. I would assume the U.S. decision-makers would want a guy who plays well with the top talents, since there will be much top talent in Sochi.
I think Okposo makes the squad, which will be announced on Wednesday. If he doesn’t, I’d expect a guy with a monstrous chip on his shoulder for the second half of the season.
-- Other Islanders who I would expect to be named to their Olympic rosters: Tavares (Canada), Vanek and Michael Grabner (Austria), Evgeni Nabokov (Russia) and, initially, Lubo Visnovsky (Slovakia). If Visnovsky comes back to play for the Islanders at all in January, I’d think he would go to Sochi for a fourth Olympics, even if he might not play as much as he would normally.
-- No, there is no update on Visnovsky.
-- Sunday night’s rally from 3-0 down was fun, and somewhat historic, as MSG/Isles stat man Eric Hornick noted: They hadn’t won after being down at least three goals since Mar. 22, 1994. It was the 10th time this season the Islanders trailed by three or more in a game, and they were 0-9-0 coming in. Eight of those had been in the previous 15 road games.
-- However... The Islanders were once again a mess in their own zone in front of Kevin Poulin, who had 33 saves and played in bail-out mode from pretty much the opening minutes of the game. That top line had some truly awful D-zone shifts, and the defensemen didn’t win many puck battles.
Aaron Ness had a rough night back in his home state, losing position on Justin Fontaine’s 4-4 goal late in the third. Doing some tea-leaf reading, I’d expect Matt Donovan to come back up later this week -- Donovan, even with his ups and downs during his earlier stay, is a better option than Ness as a mobile sixth defenseman. As Sound Tiger beat man Mike Fornabaio pointed out, Donovan is now below the threshold of NHL games to require waivers (it’s 69; if he were called up and played the remaining 42 games, he’d be at 67), so the Islanders will have more control over him next season.
-- It was a good game from Thomas Hickey, who had three points and blocked four shots. Plenty of fans wince when they see Hickey get bounced around in his own zone, but he’s learned to be smart positionally and use his speed to escape sticky situations -- something Ness has to be better at if he wants to be a regular NHLer.
-- Good to see big Joe Finley in the XCel Center press box. Finley was sent down during training camp and suffered an aneurysm in his right wrist during a Bridgeport game in October; he had the affected artery surgically repaired and rerouted through his hand to try and prevent it happening again. Finley is maligned by the advanced-stats crowd, but he might have been a better 6/7/8 option than some of the guys the Islanders were using regularly while Visnovsky and Brian Strait were out.
-- Isles will skate at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena this morning, then fly out to Boston -- where a 3-0 deficit will not be overcome, so the Isles best be prepared.