The New York Islanders hosted the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night as they seemed to be getting back to their level of play from last year. Since Evgeni Nabokov returned from an injury on December 14, the Islanders are 5-2-2. They had also won their last three, with the last two coming against the past two Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.
While Nabokov was out, it had become clear that Kevin Poulin is still a little bit away from being an NHL-ready goaltender. Plus, this team greatly benefits from Nabokov’s experience. On Saturday, the team let Nabokov down in a 3-2 loss to Carolina. All three goals were scored due to defensive mistakes that left him on an island.
The first came when defenseman Andrew McDonald committed a turnover behind his own net, and Patrick Dwyer found Manny Maholtra for a one-timer to open up the scoring. Nabokov had no chance at stopping this shot, and it all started with McDonald’s turnover. Not too long after, Dwyer found Jordan Staal all by himself in the slot and again, a blown play by the defense left Nabokov with an impossible save.
Less than a minute later, Brett Sutter found a rebound opportunity when the Islanders’ defense was once again nowhere to be found, and he hit the back of the net. A nice play by John Tavares that resulted in the Islander captain netting a goal, and a Thomas Vanek goal at the end when the Islanders had an empty net made this game look closer than it was.
These are the same problems that plagued the Islanders when Rick DiPietro was in net, Nabokov was left to make the plays, and a goaltender can only be counted on to do that so much. The team has to begin to make plays at some point.
The offensive effort this year has not been there, Vanek has been a disappointment since he came over from Buffalo. Most importantly though, the entire team has to pick it up on the defensive end and give Nabokov some help. If they don’t, this team will continue to struggle just like they have all year long.