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Islanders Matinee [+thread]: Grabner speed kills, Nielsen/KO set it up

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Michael Grabner has been overly gracious about the team that gave up on him after just one training camp and four preseason games. In multiple interviews, he's said he had a bad 2010 camp and essentially doesn't blame the Panthers. But it's still stunning to consider how Dale Tallon, whose team is 23rd in the league in offense (2.60 GF/GP), let what is now a 25-goal scorer slip to the Islanders for nothing but the NHL's shipping and handling fee.

Fla-nose_medium                Nyi-n_medium
Panthers (25-26-7, 11th/E) @ Islanders (22-30-7, 14th)
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
1 p.m. | MSG - audio - WRHU 88.7
Note:
Streamed on Yahoo! too
Not addicted to catnip; could totally quit at any time:
Litter Box Cats

Only one of Grabner's goals has come on the powerplay, so he's hardly feasting on easy Pac-Man points like some latter day Rob Brown or Doug Shedden. Playing with Frans Nielsen, perhaps the Isles' best three-zone forward right now, no doubt helps; yet that also means Grabner's not put in prime offensive situations. It's been a wildly hot February that has thrust Grabner into Calder territory (and again, Kyle Okposo's return helps), but Grabner has been creating scoring chances much of the season. This month luck has finally come 'round to his side.

Rebuilds Need Such Gifts

I've always argued that one key to a sustainable rebuild on a budget is to not only hit the big decisions, but also score a few lucky ones. You need some late-round picks to work out. You need some pro gifts to fall into your lap. The Islanders sure have a couple of the latter in Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner.

Another key might be to avoid decisions that become other teams' lucky breaks. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Dale Tallon's impatience with Grabner is one of those. Tallon has a rep of overvaluing size, and perhaps that blinded him to what Grabner's speed could do.

It may be that Grabner is the type whose speed only pays off with the right linemates. Certainly with Nielsen and Okposo, he has two linemates who mind their own end, win the puck, and have above-average vision to set Grabner up. In Nielsen, he's also paired with one of the Islanders' best skaters, too. One who says Grabner's not just cherry-picking out there:

""Every time I get the puck, he’s been open," Nielsen said. "He always finds a way to be open. He really competes very hard. He deserves this. It’s not like he’s playing one-way hockey."

Grabner's current 17% shooting percentage will surely taper back down, and the Isles can't keep putting up 4.5 goals per game the way they have since the shutout loss in Pittsburgh Feb. 2. But Grabner's emergence and chemistry with Nielsen (on the PK, too) and Okposo means this rebuild has another answer it didn't have in September.

Notes

  • If you didn't know it when you woke up, this is a President's Day matinee -- Kid's Day at the Coliseum as well. Don't know how many of you will be in the office or showing up for class, but that means this post will also serve as our in-game thread.
  • Katie Strang reported that Jeremy Colliton was back skating with the team yesterday after missing time with a rib injury, but it wasn't clear when he'd be back in the lineup.
  • Evgeni Nabokov (neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie, day to day) will be a scratch for this game.
  • Bridgeport got its first win in 12 tries yesterday, with David Ullstrom getting the hat trick. That Michael Fornabaio blog link gives you some, and his Twitter feed yesterday gave you some more.
  • Jack Capuano hadn't announced a decision in goal yesterday, but doesn't Al Montoya deserve a follow-up after his shutout Saturday night?
  • UPDATE: Montoya gets the start, Matt Martin and Ty Wishart return, Rob Schremp and Bruno Gervais are the health scratches.
  • The Panthers have won the two previous meetings, though the last one was all the way back in November in Capuano's second game as coach.
  • Panthers D Dimitri Kulikov, selected a couple slots behind Calvin de Haan at the 2009 draft, has been out of the lineup thanks to an ankle injury.
  • Lots of interesting FanPosts flowing in lately, but this one from eye on the island deserves a nod just for the legwork alone: Tabulating games played per round by selections from the 2000 - 2003 drafts.

Long road trip or not, that Kings team was on a roll. Montoya and the Islanders did several things right to stop them. Today, an equally desperate but less talented opponent awaits. Can they duplicate the effort, to the high-frequency tune of thousands of screaming kids? The positive, nostalgic memories of a thousand future fans depend on it.