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What We Learned: Many lessons from an Islanders win

Tonight's Capitals preview will be up later, but -- at the risk of over-milking a win -- a few things came out of Wednesday's game that might tell us something about the direction of things. Chickendirt's FanPost addressed this idea yesterday (and those are always encouraged; I'm just the DJ, you're the rapper); I wanted to bring up a few more specifics:

Faceoffs: Yet another big game -- the Islanders won 64%. I'm starting to believe this is real. Scott Gordon credited Scott Allen for his work with the centers. If that's legit, then hooray for being able to hire your own coaches.

Physical Initiative:

"We’re too easy a team to play against in these types of games," Tortorella said. "We didn’t answer, as far as hitting back."

And he rued the team’s lack of scoring in Gaborik’s absence: "We cannot depend on having Gabby back in and have him carry this team offensively," he said. "You’re not going to win many games scoring one goal."

That may be more about the opponent's style and inability to deal with their superstar's first absence, but it told me something about the Islanders' capacity to get teams off their game. The Islanders came out physically dominating the Rangers -- Henrik Lundqvist remarked how, "They were really hungry ... you could feel it." And while the Rangers tried to answer back at the beginning of the 2nd, that only went so far.

Penalty Kill: Speaking of which, the Rangers' physical response drew a few 2nd-period powerplays, which allowed the Isles PK (now 9th at 82.5%) to shine...

"The coaches told us in our meeting that they were going to press us, but we didn't seem to be ready for it," said Callahan. "Gabby is obviously a huge part of the PP but we can't rely on him to do it all."

Special teams in this league are a matter of constant adjustment. When you get on a roll, teams see what you're doing and try to adjust. So you need a backup plan for the teams who adjust successfully. But for one night, with the Rangers missing Gaborik, the Islanders were able to unsettle the opponent's powerplay perfectly.

Powerplay: That unit is ranked 15th, at 21.4%. Doug Weight's return made a visible difference -- not only allowing Okposo to move down low, adding Weight's passing to the point, but also freeing Mark Streit to be more of a threat. This is good. With Weight healthy, a PP with Streit plus Okposo and Tavares can do some damage.

Matt Moulson: He's for real. Smart hockey player. His role may change in the future, but he has a good shot, a nose for the net, and the courage to get there.

Scott Gordon Will Always Be Both Weird and Insightful about His Goalies:

I've said multiple times: I like Gordon's former goalie pedigree, because he uses terminology and description about his goalies' play that your average non-goalie coach cannot conjure. (Contrast this with Joel Quenneville, a good coach who is honest yet seems to view goalies with bemused curiosity befitting their crazy nature.) So from Gordon we get this:

"Dwayne was excellent tonight," Gordon said. " He tracked the puck well and had good rebound control. I sensed since that Buffalo game that he was coming around and it was good to see."

... yet we also get this:

My decision on who is going to play will factor in more than what happened the previous game. It could be who we are playing against, whether it’s back-to-back games, what the upcoming schedule is."

So, will it be Roloson or Martin Biron?  Gordon said the next game's starter is informed "after the media leaves."

Why is he so coy about who he's starting in goal every night? Because he's a former goalie, that's why. And all goalies have a bit of the crazy in them.

Defensive Alignment: For the second consecutive game, Brendan Witt was the least-used defenseman. I'm afraid this is necessary, particularly if Andy Sutton is going to be Good Andy. If Radek Martinek stays healthy (yes, always a big IF), he becomes the most important shut-down guy, Streit remains the most important (and slightly less overworked) two-way guy, and Witt becomes a low pairing physical guy -- which is the best he can do in this system.

The Youth: Chris Botta reported that Gordon liked what he saw out of Josh Bailey: "Small gains in little areas." I agree. Bailey was a little more assertive on offense, displayed a harder shot, and looked more active. We shouldn't forget that he's 20, and his progress will not follow some smooth curve. Whichever anonymous scout ranted that "they're turning him into a third-liner" is -- like so many anonymous scouts -- just talking barroom smack. Careers seldom develop without bumps.

The Approach:

"That was KISS hockey - keep it simple stupid. Block shots, penalty kill, clog the lanes."

Later, Roloson said, "I don’t think anyone in this locker room was lacking any confidence."  [snip]

"Sorry about the cliché, but you just try to give your guys a chance to win," Roloson said. "I wouldn’t have used a cliché if it wasn’t true."

Exactly. There are certain things Gordon is trying to instill for the long-term. And there are certain basic tenets that any coach instills to try to win hockey games night after night. Along with at least above-average goaltending, the Islanders will need those things to get their wins. Many times it won't be enough because an opponent's superior skill will be able to undo 40, or 50, or god-forbid-55 minutes of excellent Islanders work. But this is their slim margin of error: Do what Roloson mentioned, or fall. Unlike tonight's opponent, the Isles aren't talented enough to win games that "ring hollow."

No Really, You Can Talk about the Opponent:

Rangers Coach John Tortorella was getting progressively more irritated at reporters’ questions, until finally one brought up Tavares. That did it.

"I don’t care give a damn about John Tavares — I care about MY team," Tortorella said, and abruptly walked away. [quote fixed, thanks TMC]

I'm a Tortorella apologist; his honesty is refreshing. But this is where he is a bit of an ass. Newsday's Katie Strang has gone through the ritual of asking opposing coaches their impression of Tavares after seeing him (though this time it wasn't her, unless her voice dropped a few octaves). For the league's #1 pick, that's not exactly an unreasonable question. Come on, coach: Do your part to promote the league and stop taking it so personally.

*  *  *

Is this overreacting to an emotional win? I don't think so, but the points are certainly debatable -- so have at it. But for me, this is reflective of (my broken record) the Isles' thin margin of error: When healthy and in form, they should be capable of stealing wins from anyone. When any single bit breaks down, though, there is no individual franchise savior. Yet.