A few notes after another two-goal rally by the Islanders to beat the Rangers:
-- I noted it a bit on Twitter throughout the game and even Jack Capuano didn’t let it go uncommented upon afterwards: The bad start Tuesday night had a lot to do with the John Tavares line. True, both Rick Nash goals came off near-misses at the other end -- the puck hopping on Tavares off a two- on-one and Thomas Vanek unable to corral a possible breakaway -- but the coverage lapses started with that group of forwards being either careless on the back check or careless with the puck in the offensive zone.
Obviously, given the plays all three of the top-line guys made to bring the Islanders back, you have to live with the defensive lapses. You just have to. Capuano said he considered breaking that line up after Nash’s second goal, but he didn’t. Smart move.
Tavares and Kyle Okposo (and Vanek, to a lesser degree) aren’t irresponsible. It’s easy to get caught up in the “Sweet Georgia Brown” way they move the puck around the offensive zone and it’s tough to hustle back when all three guys are generating chances down low. That places a huge burden on the defense, and two guys can’t cover 150 feet of ice.
So, I think what you see is this: The Islanders are going to be successful by scoring more than the other team. Forget 2-1 or 1-0 games, unless the goaltender is playing an unreal game; frankly, Kevin Poulin was the reason they came back Tuesday night, even allowing three.
This is who the Islanders are right now. If Capuano can live with the mistakes, I hope you all can too.
-- Vanek had a real hoo-boy moment right before Matt Martin got the Isles on the board. He just stopped skating in a tight space, letting Chris Kreider walk out, get the puck and make about 15 moves before Poulin stopped him with the right pad.
What you see is what you get with Vanek: An all-world talent who doesn’t always lead by example. Is that worth $7-8 million per year for seven years? It’s a question I’m sure Garth Snow has been asking himself since he traded for the guy.
Steve Bartlett, Vanek’s agent, had some candid comments to ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun the other day. Vanek himself is a candid guy. I think both sides are waiting to see where this pre-Olympic stretch takes the team. My personal feeling is that Snow doesn’t want to trade Vanek even if the Islanders are falling out of it. If they are, would Vanek be willing to say he doesn’t want to stay long-term so Snow can get a return for him?
My personal feeling there is no, and that’s not a knock at Vanek or his agent. He wants the most potential suitors, the most money and the most term on his new deal. Telling a team he doesn’t want to be there shortens that list, even now.
There’s still eight games left before the Olympic break, then four more after the break and before the March 5 trade deadline. Perhaps things will become clearer before then. But don’t bet on it.
-- I’d say that goes for Andrew MacDonald as well. Lubomir Visnovsky appears to be 10-14 days away from returning. Travis Hamonic is still in concussion limbo. Those two factors don’t appear to make trading MacDonald for a draft pick or two much more palatable, especially if the Islanders are still winning games.
Calvin de Haan was the Isles’ even-strength ice time leader Tuesday night. He and Matt Donovan weren’t bad, though Donovan has to recognize Kreider’s speed and hustle back to make a play on the first Nash goal. Again, you have to live with the mistakes, especially when those two are on with the Tavares line.
But with Hamonic and Visnovsky, two of the most reliable defensemen on the team, still up in the air, I don’t see how Snow deals MacDonald yet.
-- Capuano had high praise for his fourth line, which sort of produced two goals -- Martin and Colin McDonald both scored off great plays by Tavares -- and threw itself around to preserve the 4-3 lead during a wild 90-second stretch in the final two minutes.
With apologies to the Corsi/Fenwick crowd, this is where the advanced stats get a little murky for me. You can certainly say that fourth line is a bad possession line, but when they’re out there, five on six, blocking shots and trying to keep a pressing team from tying the game... Well, that’s hard to quantify. You can’t just toss those numbers in with the rest of the CF% stew and tell me what happened, or that other guys should have been out there.
Casey Cizikas has a broken jaw and he blocked a couple shots face-first. I doubt he was scolded after the game for having a lousy Fenwick.
-- Thomas Hickey also deserves high praise. With Capuano preferring de Haan’s steadiness to pair with Donovan and MacDonald-Brian Strait the “veteran” pair, Hickey is relegated to third-pair duty and playing with either Matt Carkner or Radek Martinek, who each has his limitations.
But Hickey approaches each game the same way: He’s going to get the puck, get it to a forward and get moving into the play. He has seemed to figure out that, without a big shot, getting into the slot with speed is his best chance to score. You need to be smart and strong positionally to play defense at his size, and he’s certainly got both of those qualities.
-- A day off Wednesday and the Islanders host the Penguins in a nationally televised game on Thursday. A big game, of course. They’re all big over the next 2 1/2 weeks, and every opponent is a difficult one.
The Islanders are 8-1-0 in their last nine games against teams currently in playoff positions. So maybe difficult is what they need right now.