Three Out Of Four Ain't Bad- Islanders/Blackhawks Pregame
John Madonia on Wed, 2011-12-07 20:56
The New York Islanders haven’t had many important December games recently.
That changes tonight against the Central Division leading Chicago Blackhawks.
The Islanders come into tonight’s game winners of four of their past five and off their most complete win of the season, a 5-1 drubbing of the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning. Five different players scored, including Milan Jurcina’s first of the season and David Ullstrom’s first career tally. Matt Moulson had his team leading 14th goal and John Tavares and Matt Martin each scored in a three goal first period.
Al Montoya had 23 saves in another solid start. For the time being, he will be the starting goaltender going forward as Rick DiPietro joins Evgeni Nabokov on injured reserve. He has provided the Islanders steady goaltending all season and now has the opportunity to cement himself as ‘the guy’ going forward.
The Isles’ only blemish in the past five games was a 5-4 shootout loss to the same Blackhawks six days ago. Jonathan Toews netted the only goal in the shootout, after posting a short-handed goal and assist in regulation. The game was a tale of two periods. After a even first period, the ‘Hawks dominated the middle period outshooting the Isles’ 15 to 2, scoring twice and turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. The third period was all Islanders. They had a commanding 23 to 7 shot advantage and were able to come back from two 1 goal deficit to force overtime and get a point on the road. Corey Crawford had 37 saves for the Blackhawks and was the difference maker when the Isles’ threatened in the third.
Veteran Ray Emery will be in goal for Chicago. He was the winning goaltender against St. Louis Saturday night and was brought in Monday after Corey Crawford had another subpar outing. Emery had 11 saves in relief of Crawford. With Emery in goal, the Hawks rallied to force overtime before losing in a shootout, 4-3. Emery is 4-1 this season with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage. Crawford continues to struggle this season and currently doesn’t seem to have confidence from fans and team alike. Teams sometimes play their backups against the Islanders as their offensive output has been anemic at best. This move is two-fold. Chicago is in one of the toughest divisions in hockey and need to win hockey games. At this time, Ray Emery gives them the best opportunity to win. It will also serve as a wake up call to Crawford, who has shown he can be a franchise goaltender, that his performance needs to be better and winning above everything else matters.
The Islanders are playing their best hockey of the season. Moulson is scoring at will it seems and Montoya gives them a chance to win on a nightly basis. Josh Bailey had his best game of the season, he created numerous scoring opportunities including setting up Ullstrom’s first career goal in the third period. He was also used on the revamped penalty kill with Matt Martin. Playing against the likes of Martin St. Louis and perennial 50 goal scorer Steven Stamkos, they didn’t yield a power play goal and created numerous shorthanded chances. Bailey’s game has steadily increased since the release of Blake Comeau. He looks to have great chemistry with Ullstrom and Brian Rolston and a player that was in constant trade talks earlier in the year, has found his niche and more importantly, the game he and Islanders fans expect.
Coming off a four game road trip it was a distinct possibility that the Islanders could have come out flat Tuesday night. Five straight shots against Matthieu Garon later, it was apparently this wasn’t your Mid-November New York Islanders. Tonight’s game is the most important game at the Nassau Coliseum since 2007. Chicago is only two years removed from being the Stanley Cup Champions and are on pace for over 100 points this season. For the Isles’ to continue to play meaningful games this season they have to take advantage of games in their home rink. Chicago is only two games over .500 on the road and doesn’t play with the same edge as they do at the United Center. Edmonton scored nine goals against Chicago earlier this season and could have had 12 or 13 if they continued to press on the accelerator. Their will not be a shortage of opportunities for either team. The ‘Hawks have a prolific offense but give up a lot of chances in their defensive end. A win against the Hawks will give the Islanders a chance to get to NHL .500 Saturday night against the once again Crosby-lite Pittsburgh Penguins.
After a tremendous team win Tuesday, the Islanders will continue their winning ways Thursday. Expect a wide-open game with a lot of action throughout. Final Score Islanders 6 Blackhawks 4.
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*Photo used with permission, Credit: Cassie Madonia