Getting his first playing time of this young season, Kevin Poulin played well in net for the New York Islanders on Friday night. The Chicago Blackhawks are always a tough opponent, even more so at home at the United Center. The Islanders hung in there with the champs but fell just short, losing 3-2.
Poulin played well in net, stopping 25 of 28 Hawks shots, but its the three that he let in that have me a little worried. It’s nothing at all that Pulin did, but rather the Islanders’ defensive coverage.
The last two goals scored by the Hawks, one by Jonathan Towes and the game-winner scored by Michael Handzus, showed how limited the Islanders’ defensive coverage is. In both cases, the Chicago forwards were left alone with too much time in front of the net to hack at the loose pucks.
With the Towes goal, the puck took a strange bounce off the boards and came right out to Towes, who was alone at the side of the net. The bounce of the puck just happened, but I was left scratching my head trying to figure out where the Islanders’ defense was in picking up Towes. A guy with his skills can’t be left alone with that much time and room to shoot the puck as he is going to score every time.
The same thing can be said for the Handzus goal, which turned out to be the game-winner in the third period.
Poulin played well in net for his first start of the year. Playing your first game of the season in Chicago is a tough thing to do. The Madhouse on Madison is one of the toughest buildings to play in. Poulin played well positionally, making 25 saves. It’s just the team didn’t have the defensive positioning to help him out.
Head coach Jack Capuano put it best when describing the Islanders defensive play in his post-game presser. “We didn’t close quick enough and gave them some extended zone time,” Capuano said. “We turned the puck over way too much tonight. When you mismanage the puck against this hockey club, you’re in for a very long night.”
So as you can tell, it wasn’t a very good night defensively for the Islanders. There were, however, a few bright spots offensively for the Islanders. First was the season debut of Cal Clutterbuck. The coaching staff used him sparingly as he played only 8:39, the lowest ice time total of anybody on the team. With the ice time he did get, Clutterbuck registered two hits, a good sign of things to come.
Another positive was the quick responses from the Islanders late in the first period. Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo scored 50 seconds apart to tie the game at the end of the first. That right there shows me that the Islanders don’t have to rely on their top line every night to score goals. Its an encouraging sign for sure.
If the Islanders are to get a win tonight when they face off against the Nashville Predators in Nashville, they are going to have to be smarter in their defensive end. If they play better in their own end tonight, they will come away with the points they need. If not, then its going to be a long trip back to Long Island after the game.