The only important factor was two points. Not the thinner air out in Denver. Although how many times were we reminded of that during the broadcast? It wasn’t the trade rumors coming out of Colorado. Just get two points.
And the Islanders couldn’t do that. Against the worst team in the league. And a team that hadn’t won at home in their last ten attempts.
With back to back games against the 30th and 29th ranked teams in the NHL, these two games were must wins. Four points in the bank as they try to make ground on the Flyers and the rest of the Eastern conference in an attempt, all the more unlikely now, to reach the playoffs.
Say what you will about the mandated five-day break, but it certainly did the Islanders in on this game.
Jan 6, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) defends a shot on goal attempt by New York Islanders left wing Josh Bailey (12) in the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Rust Never Rests, But It Sets With Rest
I know that title isn’t exactly the name of Niel Young’s famous 1979 album, but it’s close enough to sound convincing. You wouldn’t have known otherwise without me saying anything.
The Islanders looked sluggish, out of sync, and exactly how you think a team would look if they’d just come off a mandated five-day break without any practice. This game was a tough watch.
For the entirety of the first period alone, the Islanders struggled to get the puck out of the neutral zone and into the Avalanche’s end.
Passes didn’t go to their intended targets, or players were routinely out of position. It was a hot mess. Count yourself lucky if you missed the first period.
And as if the Isles struggling to remember how to play professional hockey right in front of our eyes wasn’t enough, the Avalanche scored in that first frame.
Starting the week-long break on the road in Winnipeg on New Years and then having to go back out on the road reduced anytime the team had to get a good practice in, even if they voted to usurp the CBA to do so.
Not like it helped at all. Although maybe it could have been worse. God.
Jan 6, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk (55) attempts a shot on goal in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Power Play Went 1/4
That’s right the New York Islanders powerplay looked good. Albeit it was on a 5-on-3, but a power play’s a power play and the Islanders capitalized on it.
Considering that the power play has been floundering at 15.2% this year, good enough for 24th in the league, a 25% efficiency is fantastic.
Rather than rely on the now common practice of using four forwards and a single defenceman on the powerplay, the Islanders put two defencemen on the ice. And not just any defencemen. They paired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.
They paired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, and it paid off immediately with a wonderfully worked team goal finished off by Boychuk.
The GiF doesn’t show the entire movement, but that puck was cycled around enough times to get the Colorado defenders to collapse inwards enough to give Boychuk enough space to get that shot off.
As an Isles fan, it’s great to be able to utter the words: “well-worked power play” this season. To bad none of that magic was able to sprinkle itself onto the other three man-advantages the Islanders had throughout the game.
Jan 6, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; New York Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube (30) during the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Another Solid Performance for Thomas Greiss
Thomas Greiss stopped 37 of 39 shots on goal by the Colorado Avalanche. Giving him a nice .949 SV% on the night. I hate counting 3v3 overtime goals against a goaltenders average, without that McKinnon winner Greiss finishes with an outstanding .973 SV% (37 saves on 38 shots).
But of course they do count. Regardless, his 38 saves on the night gives him a .932 SV% in his last five starts. That’s reaching Devan Dubnyk type numbers. He keeps this pace up and the Isles might actually have a shot at a playoff spot.
His performance on the night was further confirmation to what we already know at this point. Greiss is the undisputed number one goaltender in the New York Islanders system.
It’s just a shame that it took the Isles management three months to convince themselves that Greiss was the man to take this team forward. But money talks and $4.5 million on the cap talks loud enough for management to give Halak a try.
Now to Arizona as the Isles confront the second worst team in the league in what is going to be a better oxygen level situation, but a similar must win situation if the Isles have any hope at turning this into a respectable season.