Tonight was just another futile attempt at a victory, an OT loss to a weak opponent, but at least it provided several hockey topics to discuss. (Yes, that's what it's come to around here as the winless streak hits 13.) The effort was there, some improvement on D was there (despite Mike Mottau's gruesome injury), Rick DiPietro had easily his best performance of the season -- probably his best in two years -- and the lines stayed together so we have two consecutive games of looks to guess at how Jack Capuano might guide them out of this mess.
This mess, as it has been since the final four games of Scott Gordon's tenure, has to do with the team's inability to score both at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay. They've scored 12 goals in their last 11 games.
With the game tied for most of the 60 minutes, we got to see these two teams go at it without one team chasing the lead, although there were quite a few special teams opportunities. We got a slight peek into Capuano's approach.
With the score tied, Capuano kept going back to the well with his top line of Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau. They created their chances, Ondrej Pavelec made some game-savers (DiPietro arguably made more), but it seems they were handicapped by a persistent problem for this injury-damaged blueline: The healthy defensemen aren't providing much of an offensive contribution, so every bit of pressure that line can manage, they are doing it on their own.
Now Mottau's out for the forseeable future, the blueline gets ever-thinner (both Dustin Kohn and Mark Katic were hurt for Bridgeport), and Columbus and New Jersey are all that remain in this five-game stretch of chances to end the streak against "weak" opponents.
Notes and Laments
- DiPietro still showed a couple of moments of challenged lateral movement and recovery -- but importantly, far fewer than we've seen at any point this season. Almost as important in terms of their chance to win tonight, DiPietro stayed in his net. He didn't wander behind the net at every opportunity. He didn't try to do too much with the puck. He didn't cause needless turnovers. I've always seen his puckhandling as a potential asset -- but only when used wisely. Tonight it wasn't a factor at all, and that was a good thing.
- DiPietro's game savers, incidentally, included a stop of Evander Kane on a shorthanded breakaway during one of the Islanders' four anemic powerplays.
- Speaking of the powerplay...are those who called for Doug Weight's removal happy with the Weight-less results the last two games? My argument has never been that Weight wasn't struggling -- he was a big part of the PP's failures as he was part of its success early on. But players struggle, and unfortunately the Isles don't have a convincing second option, in my opinion.
- Capuano went to a more passive system (Trap?! Trap!) at several points including the closing minutes of regulation, but you can't really blame a coach for 1) Using his top line a lot and 2) Going conservative close and late -- anything to try to steal that first win.
- Just when you thought the Isles were running the clock out on the 2nd period, you see a nice play 4-on-4 by Frans Nielsen along the right-wing boards to win the puck and saucer a pass to Michael Grabner right at the goal crease, where Grabner shoved it in for an all-too-brief lead going into the third. The Thrashers tied on the PP early in the third. If The Austrian and The Dane can forge some reliable two-way chemistry together, that would actually be a great development.
Blake Comeau had a better game, but I don't agree with Butch Goring it was his best of the season. I could give him and Blake Comeau - Rob Schremp one more look together before doing a mix-up there. But one casualty of line consistency above is that some fans' Big Body Hopes Jesse Joensuu (6:26) and Matt Martin (6:51) aren't getting much ice time stuck on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka. So if those other three continue to fail to produce together, the JJ and MM provide enticing options to shake this team into more than one goal per game.
- The Game-winner: As Butch Goring pointed out on the replay, John Tavares made a good play to cover Dustin Byfuglien after James Wisniewski came out high and left his feet to block and ultimately cut off Byfuglien's shooting angle. But as JT went with Buff out to the blueline, JT fell -- possibly helped to the ice thanks to the Giant Buff's actions, and that left JT in no man's land while Buff waltzed into the high slot, accepted the pass, and buried it through DiPietro. Nothing DP could do. Something JT could do although it was a tall order.
The Incident With the Announcer Speaking What We All Say in our Sleep
Very amusing snafu between the MSG+ production and play-by-play man Howie Rose. During what should have been a commercial break, Howie could still be heard (so could Goring, but only barely), and their conversation involved "When is spring training?" and "Let me know how this game turns out...not that I particularly care." In my book, understandable gallows humor in the middle of a now-13-game winless string. Howie issued an apology during the second intermission. Videos follow (thanks to OzzyFan and others for the links):
Howie and Production Oops
Howie Apology: 'Hopefully Now We'll Just Move On'
An honestly welcome bit of levity through this all.
As so many have given up on the season for this still 30th-place club, expect WebBard's weekly prospect update along with a little bit of discussion of the draft between now and the next game Wednesday. But if it isn't already clear, I still find all this actual game stuff fodder for discussion. This team lacks offense, it needs offense -- and is their any route (coaching? trades? call-ups? shaking Blake Comeau?) to get it before some of the injured return?