TAMPA -- A few notes of interest off Tuesday night’s game, the latest in a long line of “Oh, hey, that happened” nights for the Islanders this season
In talking with Colin McDonald and Matt Martin, the Trottier and Bossy of the 5-4 win (each had two goals and McDonald had an assist), they spoke about the adjustments of moving from mostly playing with Casey Cizikas to playing with Ryan Strome, who had perhaps his best offensive game out of the 27 he’s played. “He’s playing the style he needs to play,” McDonald said. “We’re starting to play within the framework we need as a team and as a line.”
Now, I can hear the gears turning in your minds, Isles fans. I can sense the smoke beginning to build in your ears. Colin McDonald, 29-year-old journeyman, is telling my guy Strome how to play?
Yep. This is the deal. Strome is still a slightly built 20-year-old. For him to have any impact at all as a center -- and it seems that’s where he’s destined to play -- he has to be good in the middle of his own zone and good along the walls and below the goal line.
Witness the play he tried to make to get past Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey in the first period Tuesday night. On his off wing, he tried to head-fake and slide past Hainsey, who just turned 33 and has a decade in the league. Hainsey stayed right on Strome, didn’t fall for the fake and rubbed Strome out. Play over.
Skill will get you to the NHL, but two-way play is what keeps you there as a center. That goes whomever the coach is next season -- Jack Capuano, Doug Weight, Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake, Reg Dunlop... You name the coach and this is how you have to be in this day and age.
Strome knows it too. There’s no conflict, no comparison to the Nino Niederreiter situation except perhaps in the way that, as with all NHL teams, rookies have to earn their minutes.
Second-year players too. Nino’s minutes have gone down of late for the Wild.
Anders Nilsson used the phrase “on my [butt]” an awful lot after the game, which was appropriate, since he was on his rear an awful lot during the game. He said he wanted all but Alex Semin’s power-play ripper back. “I’m not satisfied at all,” Nilsson said. “I have to do a better job of not ending up on my [butt] so easy.”
It’s been noticeable to everyone around the team that Nilsson, who plays on his knees most often like the majority of NHL goaltenders, has seemed to lose balance a lot once down there, which renders his 6-foot-5 frame useless in blocking the upper reaches of the net.
He was snow-angeled on Jeff Skinner’s goal, out for a swim on Andrei Loktionov’s breakaway score and teetering like a certain Italian landmark on Nathan Gerbe’s impossible-angle goal. Capuano said goaltending coach Mike Dunham has been working with Nilsson constantly on such issues.
For Nilsson, the solution appears simple. “I just have to relax,” he said. “When I’m in my zone, I find I’m leaning a little forward rather than back on my heels. So maybe I’m trying too hard to get forward, I’m so excited to make a save that I’m losing my balance and ending up on my ass. I have to let the play come to me.”
Johan Sundstrom gave me his assessment of his old Swedish League teammate Sebastian Collberg, whose SHL season appears to be over after suffering a separated shoulder a couple weeks back. The Isles will likely fly Collberg over for an evaluation from their medical staff in the coming weeks to see if Collberg needs surgery and go from there.
Sundstrom said the usual good things about his friend. “Good shot, good skater. He has a lot of skill,” Sundstrom said. I was more interested in the transition from the SHL to North American. Collberg’s numbers have been weak, with three goals and six assists in 40 games for Frolunda.
Sundstrom played 90 games over two seasons for Frolunda, recording seven total goals. In his first season with Bridgeport, 2012-13, he had 11.
“It takes a little while from the bigger ice, but only maybe a week or two,” he said. “The offense comes much quicker here.”
As we all saw in Sochi last month, bigger ice does not mean more offense -- it just means more work, more skating and maneuvering, to create it. That goes double for teenagers playing against men, which is what Collberg and Sundstrom were doing.
So we will wait and see what Collberg, who just turned 20, can do in the AHL next season before he’s declared a bust.