New York Hockey: Michael Grabner

Rapid Reaction: Islanders 4, Devils 3 (SO)

October, 4, 2013
What it means: John Tavares' tenure as the 14th captain in New York Islanders history began with a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils, after his good friend and linemate Matt Moulson notched the game winner in the sixth round of the shootout. Both teams received ample secondary scoring, with the Islanders getting two goals and three points from Austrian winger Michael Grabner, and Swiss forward Damien Brunner tallying a pair of goals for the Devils.

Breakout night: Grabner's combination of blazing speed and skill but puzzling ineptitude on the breakaway has been a perennial frustration for Islanders fans over the years. He showed improvement Friday, however, when he split two Devils defenders and slipped the puck under Martin Brodeur's pads for his first goal of the season. He scored again in the second period, on a rush down the right wing. He didn't completely shake the perceived weakness, though. His bid for a hat trick was spoiled midway through the third period when he was all alone against Brodeur and got stuffed.

Stocking some skill: The loss of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in consecutive offseasons was a massive blow to the Devils' offensive attack. Though the team boasts depth with guys like Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus, there is a dearth of top-shelf talent to ease the load from veteran Patrik Elias and centers Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. That’s why the pickup of Brunner may prove to be a savvy one. The former Red Wing has speed and skill, and showed his nose for the net when he batted in a puck for the team's first goal of the season at 2:59 in the first period. He notched his second goal of the night by lifting a loose puck over Evgeni Nabokov's pads to knot the score at 3-3 midway through the third period.

Czech-ing line: Future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr started the game on a line with fellow Czech Elias and the ex-Ranger Clowe. Although loaded with skill and veteran experience, the line didn't exactly boast youthful exuberance. They were on the ice for Grabner's first-period marker at 8:07, and Jagr was on the ice for Grabner's second as well, which came at 13:43 of the second period.

Confusing behavior: It is still customary for fans to cheer after a goal is scored, no? A contingent of Devils fans went against convention and actually booed the team's first two goals, an indication they were not happy with the change in goal song. The Devils used to play Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2," before changing it to a Bon Jovi tune this season. Tough crowd.
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- What a fitting end to the Islanders' 2013 season, that they left the ice with the Nassau Coliseum crowd on its feet -- even after a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6 -- saluting the team’s stellar effort in its first playoff appearance since 2007.

That should be the lasting image -- not Brooks Orpik’s game winner -- that each player conjures up when looking back on the team’s first-round series against the top-seeded Penguins.

[+] EnlargeNew York Islanders
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Islanders should be proud of all they accomplished against the No. 1 seed Penguins.
Making it to the postseason was not enough for the Islanders, who surprised some doubters and captivated the league’s attention with their plucky play, but it should be regarded as a monumental step forward for the organization.

The Islanders couldn’t match Pittsburgh’s depth or experience, but they had the grit, heart and desire in ample supply to push the Penguins in a six-game set.

For so many years, the Islanders have suffered the indignities of the down-trodden and the ridicule that comes with annual bottom-five finishes.

But that perception of the Islanders is bound to change after this.

"We’ve taken a lot of heat in the past three years since I’ve been here, a lot of criticism from the media, people looked at us as a laughingstock," said heart-and-soul grinder Matt Martin, who finished with a game-high 11 hits Saturday night. "Throughout this series, we showed we can play with anyone. We’re excited about the future. We think we have something special here."

The Penguins acknowledged that, too.

After wrapping up their fourth win of the series -- a game that required them to erase three separate one-goal Islanders leads before Orpik’s deciding goal 7:49 into overtime -- they had plenty of respect for the Islanders as they convened at center ice for the customary handshake line.

[+] EnlargeJohn Tavares, Sidney Crosby
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsJohn Tavares said this experience will just serve to motivate the Islanders next season.
"Just walking through the line, they said so many good things, just that you guys have a really good team here. You know, I don’t think this team has heard that in a long time," said rugged forward Colin McDonald, who gave the Isles a 2-1 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the first period. "That’s one of the few positives you can talk about right now. I think as an organization, as players, maybe we gained some respect back, and I’m really glad the fans supported us the way they do. I hope this is just the start, a stepping stone looking ahead to next year."

The Islanders received the requisite secondary scoring Saturday from the likes of McDonald and Michael Grabner to build off John Tavares’ wrist shot from the slot that gave the Isles a 1-0 lead 5:36 into play.

But the Pens showed resilience in a tough road test during which they were outshot 38-21 and superstar Sidney Crosby was held to one point. Each time the Isles gained momentum, the Penguins found a way to even the score. Less than six minutes from the Islanders forcing a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Pittsburgh, Pens defenseman Paul Martin unleashed a one-timer that deflected off Frans Nielsen to knot the score at 3 and send the game into overtime.

"I think we outshot them again today and created a lot of opportunities, but times that we could’ve gone up and taken a bigger lead, we just couldn’t do it," said Tavares, who on Friday was named one of three Hart Memorial Trophy finalists for the league’s annual MVP. "They stayed with it, and maybe that’s why they’re moving on."

"It was every bit of a battle in those six games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after his team punched its ticket to a second-round matchup against the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators.

Special teams hurt the Islanders and veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov failed to steal a game, but the Penguins were the team to come up with the big plays when it counted.

For that reason, the Islanders will pack up for the offseason, with the hunger to win even more intense now that they know what it takes and how it’s done.

"It’s what I’ll be thinking about all summer," said Tavares, who finished the series with three goals and five points. "It’s what pushes you every day, and you finally get to experience it. We got here and we weren’t satisfied with getting here. I thought we competed real well, we played with them most of the series and dictated the play a lot of the series, too. They just took advantage of most of their opportunities."

The Penguins remained composed throughout the series, keeping doubt at bay even when the Islanders' Cinderella story seemed to be gaining traction. Bylsma made a bold but necessary goaltending change in replacing starter Marc-Andre Fleury with veteran backup Tomas Vokoun after a bafflingly bad performance in Game 4. That move paid dividends as the latter turned away 66 of 69 shots faced in his two starts to close out the series.

And in moving on, Pittsburgh managed to exorcise some demons from last spring’s implosion when the team was upset in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I think we fought it a little bit, that history, and we fought it in different ways," Bylsma said. "But again, we had to be excited to win and not thinking about the past."

The Islanders don’t have that luxury, however. With their first taste of the playoffs also comes their first devastating sense of disappointment.

That won’t abate any time soon.

"Right now, it’s just tough, but in a couple of weeks when we look back at the season, I think we’ll realize we took a big step in the right direction," Nielsen said. "But, we’re definitely not satisfied with that. It’s still a long way to go. It’s not a success until we’ve got that Cup, but I think it’s a step in the right direction."

Rapid Reaction: Isles 4, Flyers 1

April, 9, 2013
What it means: With a 4-1 win over the Flyers on Tuesday night, the Islanders passed the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings to tighten their hold on a playoff spot. The Islanders, poised to earn their first playoff berth since 2007, have gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games, the last of which ended with the crowd at Nassau Coliseum chanting, "We want playoffs!"

Tuesday's win was a crucial way for the team to start a tough week. The Islanders now travel to Boston for a game against the Bruins on Thursday before returning home to host the Rangers in a bitter divisional clash on Saturday. With a 2-1 lead to preserve late in the third, the Islanders got an insurance goal -- credited to John Tavares -- when a puck bounced in off Philadelphia's Erik Gustafsson with 1:37 to play. Casey Cizikas piled on with an empty-netter 28 seconds later to seal the win.

Leading after two: Snapping a 1-1 draw, Michael Grabner beat Flyers goaltender Steve Mason with a sharp snapshot for his 13th goal of the season. Colin McDonald picked up an assist on the play, which gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead with 2:18 remaining in the second period.

Good goal: Sprung by a crisp stretch pass from linemate Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek opened scoring Tuesday with a breakaway goal at 6:28 of the first period. Although the play was reviewed, the call on the ice -- good goal -- was upheld for a 1-0 Flyers lead.

Back in action: Returning from a bad bout of the flu that halted his iron-man streak at 284 consecutive games played on Saturday, Matt Moulson knotted the score at 1 with a snapshot that beat Steve Mason with 4:24 to play in the first. Brad Boyes picked up an assist with a nice little dish to Moulson on the 2-on-2 rush.

Rough stuff: Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn took exception to Matt Martin running into Mason in the crease and challenged the rugged forward to a fight during the second period. Both players dropped the gloves for a quick bout that ended with a takedown by Martin.

Up next: Islanders vs. Bruins, Thursday at 7 p.m.

Ullstrom out 3-4 weeks

March, 15, 2013
Islanders forward David Ullstrom is expected to miss three to four weeks with a groin injury, the team announced Friday afternoon.

Ullstrom sustained the injury in Thursday's 2-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning; the 23-year-old Swedish winger exited the game during the third period and did not return.

It's been a frustrating year for Ullstrom, who has two goals and three assists in 20 games for the Isles. He's made some promising strides but also struggled to seal his spot in the lineup.

Just last week Ullstrom was scratched against the Rangers. He was then sent down to Bridgeport, where he scored the overtime game-winner before being recalled to replace an injured Michael Grabner.

Grabner sidelined with shoulder injury

March, 12, 2013
Islanders forward Michael Grabner is out with a shoulder injury that will keep him on the shelf for at least seven to 10 days, the team announced Tuesday morning.

He will be re-evaluated sometime next week, the team said.

That'll be a blow to the Islanders, who suffered an embarrassing 6-1 rout to the Penguins on Sunday night.

Grabner has 10 goals and three assists in 26 games for the Isles this season.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 2, Isles 1 (OT)

March, 7, 2013
What it means: Michael Grabner was whistled for a hooking penalty 21 seconds into overtime and the Rangers capitalized for a 2-1 OT win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. Marian Gaborik unleashed a slapshot that beat a screened Evgeni Nabokov at the 42-second mark of the overtime period to give the Rangers their season-high fourth straight win. The Islanders were not a happy bunch as they exited the ice and directed their ire at the officiating crew that sent Grabner to the box. The team staff was slapped with a game misconduct for their outburst.

Tie game: Snapping Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's shutout bid and knotting the game at one, Rick Nash extended his goal-scoring streak to four games. Nash tipped in Derek Stepan's slapshot at 14:37 of the third, scoring his team-leading eighth goal of the season. Coincidentally, all eight of Nash's goals this season have come in the third period. Nash now has eight points (five goals, three assists) in four games since returning from an undisclosed injury (believed to be a concussion) on February 28.

Top shelf: A pretty no-look feed from Colin McDonald set up Michael Grabner in the slot for his tenth of the season. Grabner roofed the puck for a 1-0 Islanders lead at 11:51 of the first period. Matt Martin, who leads the league in hits, almost extended the Islanders' lead to two goals with a short-handed breakaway in the second, but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stoned him to keep his team within a goal.

New guy: Roman Hamrlik made his Rangers debut after being claimed off waivers by New York on Wednesday. The 38-year-old veteran, who played only four games with the Capitals this season, was used on the third pair with Steve Eminger. Before the game, he said he felt his new club is a “Stanley Cup Contender.”

Richards, Staal out: Both Brad Richards (soreness) and Marc Staal (eye) sat out Thursday’s game. Richards said he is “feeling better” since sustaining a vicious hit from Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta on Sunday but does not want to rush his return. Staal is out indefinitely after taking a puck to the eye on Tuesday, but doctors expect him to make a full recovery. Arron Asham missed his seventh straight game with a back injury.

Up Next: Rangers vs. Senators, Friday at 7 p.m.

Grabner named Calder finalist

April, 19, 2011
New York Islanders rookie Michael Grabner was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy Tuesday, the award given annually to the NHL's rookie of the year.

Grabner, who led all NHL rookies with 34 goals in 2010-11, is joined on the short list by Carolina Hurricanes young gun Jeff Skinner and the San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture. The hype surrounding the latter two has been fairly substantial on the national scale, so you would assume Grabner is the underdog, though his 52-point campaign certainly makes him no less deserving. Perhaps most impressive is his plus-13 rating on a team that was outscored by 35 goals this season.

The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, which may further hurt Grabner's chances. Members of the New York and New Jersey chapters of the PWHA, those who should be most familiar with Grabner's solid season, boycotted the voting in protest of the revocation of blogger Chris Botta's press credential by the Islanders this season.

The winner will be announced at the NHL award show, June 22, in Las Vegas.

Here's how the three rookies stack up statistically:

Grabner, who made just under $850K this past season, should be in line for a hefty raise as he hits restricted free agency on July 1. With speedy scorers in high demand in today's NHL, look for the Islanders to try to lock him up before he gets exposed to potential offer sheets from other teams.

W2W4: Penguins vs. Islanders

April, 8, 2011
Perhaps a little overlooked while their local rival's desperately battle for the playoffs, the New York Islanders will tangle with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since the brawl-filled, 9-3 Isles win at the Coliseum in February, a game that was only a trident away from a gladiator fight. So, what's on tap for the encore? Here are three things to watch for when the Pens skate at the Coliseum tonight.

Trevor Gillies

Whenever Gillies is on the ice, he bares watching Friday night. After a suspension-worthy hit against the Pens' Eric Tangradi -- who has not played since suffering the blow to the head on Feb. 11 -- Gillies figures to be a marked man. It's doubtful he'll be caught flat-footed however, as earlier in the week offered his take on Friday night's potential powder keg: "If the bell needs to be answered, we've got the guys to answer it."

Pens' Priorities

There's no way the Penguins have forgotten about the previous game, but playoff-bound Pittsburgh has far more at stake Friday night. First is playoff position, where they're currently chasing the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia Flyers -- and the automatic top-3 seed -- by a single point. Second, is health. The Penguins have already lost Evgeni Malkin for the season. It's looking less and less likely that Sidney Crosby will return this season after suffering a concussion. Do they really want to risk losing anyone else by inciting a fight-filled affair? We'll find out.

Rookie Look

Michael Grabner leads the Islanders with eight goals and 13 points since March 1. Will that be enough to earn him the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year? It seems like San Jose Sharks rook Logan Couture is the odds-on favorite to win the award, but maybe a final flourish can sway some hearts and minds. Regardless, Grabner has been a stellar find for the Isles and joins a steadily improving core for next season.

W2W4: Panthers vs. Islanders

February, 21, 2011
While most of the “hot team” talk has been devoted to the suddenly surging New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders have made a similar push, winning five of their last six games en route to a 7-3-0 record in February. The Isles will look to continue that trend this afternoon against the visiting Florida Panthers. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops.

A New Addition?

On Friday, the Edmonton Oilers placed blueliner Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers from the AHL. At noon Monday we’ll hear if anyone has claimed him. Could the Islanders tap the waiver wire again?

Earlier this season New York unsuccessfully tried to wrangle G Evgeni Nabokov to the island, but the goalie refused to honor his contract. They would likely have more luck with Souray who is looking to escape the minors and show NHL teams he has plenty left to offer. Not to mention the Islanders could use a defenseman with a booming slap shot to help run their power play. Add in that Souray’s $4.5 million salary over the remainder of this season and the next is now halved due to the re-entry waivers process and he could make a very appealing target for GM Garth Snow. Time will tell.

Getting Offensive

Look, Isles fans. It’s the future! The offense has been red hot lately for the Islanders, with New York putting up three or more goals in all but one game this month (a 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh on Feb. 2). During those 10 games the tandem of Michael Grabner (formerly of the Panthers) and John Tavares have combined for 15 goals, 10 by Grabner. The recently re-signed Matt Moulson has chipped in with 6. Seeing the team’s young talent playing to their potential has got to be encouraging.

Who Is That Masked Man?

Al Montoya recorded just his second career NHL shutout when he blanked the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, his second strong outing for the Islanders since coming to the team. (His first was a 37-minute relief effort in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins.) Montoya now flaunts a .954 save percentage in NHL action this season and should get the nod this afternoon, though I haven’t seen a starter reported yet.

Love for Long I$land

February, 16, 2011
Piling on the Isles is a national pastime for most hockey pundits, but Wednesday a pair of ESPN Insider pieces contained some praise for the boys in blue and orange.

True, the Islanders spend the second fewest dollars in the NHL on player salaries. Yes, their payroll contains two players that no longer skate for the team in order to reach the salary cap floor. And sure, compared to boo koo-bucks spenders like the Rangers, the Islanders drop dimes. But ... when frugal Garth Snow and Co. do open the piggy bank, their cents make sense.

Matt Wuest, the "Geek" behind -- the best accumulation of “frozen” financial data this side of Bernie Madoff -- posted an article today listing the Top 10 bargains of the 2010-11 season based on player point production over cap hit. The New York Islanders have three of the top six.

That list is headed by Nashville's Sergei Kostitsyn, with Frans Nielsen (29 points, $525,000 cap hit) coming in second. Wuest writes: "Nielsen also made this list last season, checking in at No. 5. The Islanders have been reaping the rewards since locking up the Danish winger in 2008 with a four-year, $2.1-million deal."

P.A. Parenteau (No. 3) and Blake Comeau (No. 6) follow Nielsen, but will they remain Islanders? The contracts of both players expire at the end of this season. And as Wuest writes at the top of the article, the pending free agents that landed on the 2009-10 best bargains list usually received hefty raises over the summer. Will the Islanders cough up enough dough for the duo?

Complicating the decisions around Parenteau and Comeau is the recent outburst of Calder Trophy candidate -- and waiver pickup -- Michael Grabner. Although it's a rather pleasant complication. There aren’t a ton of 23-year-olds posting 25-plus goals a season, so you can expect a significant raise off the rookie's $843,333 salary for 2011-12.

In case you’ve been in a coma since mid-January ... or more likely you just don’t follow the Islanders ... Grabner is one of the hottest players in the league, netting 10 goals in his last six games. Not surprisingly he was named the NHL’s player of the week for Feb. 7 - 13.

In his weekly Calder Watch post, ESPN Insider E.J. Hradek breaks down the sensational Austrian. If you don’t know much about Grabner, it’s a great place to start learning.

One of the best nuggets is the recounting of how he came to end up on the Island. From the post:
At training camp, however, Grabner didn't impress Tallon or head coach Peter DeBoer. On cut-down day, they decided to send him to the minors, but he'd have to pass through waivers to get there. That's when the Islanders, in the midst of their own rebuilding plan, claimed him.

"I'd seen him play in Manitoba during the time he was there and, like everybody else, our scouts had filed reports on him dating back to his time in junior," says Islanders Director of Pro Scouting Ken Morrow. "His speed was obvious and we knew he could score, so it made sense for Garth [Isles GM Garth Snow] to claim him."

Florida’s loss is Long Island’s gain. Likely for many seasons to come.

W2W4: Islanders vs. Canadiens

February, 10, 2011
The Islanders travel to face the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night. Here are three factors to watch for when the puck drops.

Who Is That Masked Man?

The Islanders have been going through goalies like Liz Taylor goes through husbands lately. With Rick DiPietro sidelined after his brief stint as a prize fighter (record 0-1) and Kevin Poulin out with a dislocated knee cap suffered in warmups this past Sunday, the Islanders will again turn to Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen is the fifth goalie the Islanders have played this season. On Tuesday the 22-year-old made his NHL debut in a 5-3 loss to Toronto.

The Islanders also acquired G Al Montoya from the Phoenix Coyotes for a sixth-round pick. The ill-fated No. 6 overall pick of the New York Rangers in 2004, Montoya could soon see his first NHL action since the 2008-09 season, but Koskinen is expected to get the nod tonight.

Getting Offensive

At the other end of the ice, expect to see Canadiens backup goalie Alex Auld between the pipes. While that hasn’t been confirmed, All-Star starter Carey Price gave up a season-high eight goals in a fight-filled loss to the Bruins Wednesday, a game in which Price dropped his gloves as well. (Just for fun you should scroll through the box score of that game. And set aside a few minutes to get to the bottom.)

Since getting shutout by the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 2, the Isles have scored a combined eight goals over their past two games. Expect them to apply a lot of early pressure against a team that couldn’t stop the Bruins at all Wednesday night.

Uneven Strength

The Islanders need to improve their play when skating five-on-five. Their .66 even-strength ratio is the worst in the league. Considering most of the game is played with five-a-side and the Isles power play is nothing to write home about either (a middling 17.7 percent) the only real way for New York to compensate is to simply play better at even strength. Sage advice, I know.

Michael Grabner could be a key cog on that front though. Fifteen of his 17 goals have been scored at even strength and, remarkably, he carries a plus-4 rating into tonight’s contest. He’s one of only two Islanders in the plus column for the season, with Frans Nielsen (plus-1) the other.

Player Poll: Isles are unliked

January, 31, 2011
Just prior to Sunday's All-Star game CBC released the results of an NHL player poll conducted in conjunction with the NHL Players Association, producing a load of debate fodder for the next few days.

As I shared on Twitter Sunday, the results were often interesting, but hard to weight as you wonder how much thought the players put in to their responses and many of the answers are certain to change from year to year. For example, the New York Islanders -- a team that hasn't advanced beyond the conference quarterfinals since 1993 and plays in the NHL's worst arena -- earned the dubious distinction of being the franchise with which players would least like to join. Hardly shocking considering the other teams on that list -- Edmonton, Atlanta, Toronto and Florida -- are all in rebuilding modes as well, even though Atlanta is in the thick of the playoff race this season.

On the flip side, the Rangers were among the top five teams players would most like to play for.

But it wasn't all bad news for the Islanders. Frans Nielsen was singled out as the league's second most underrated player, behind the Stars' Loui Eriksson. The Devils' Travis Zajac joined tied for third on that list as well.

A few Rangers were also held in high regard, with Marian Gaborik named the league's best and fastest skater by his peers. The Islanders' Michael Grabner, winner of All-Star weekend's fastest skater competition, was fifth on the fastest skater list.

Henrik Lundqvist ranked fourth behind Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas as the goalie skaters see as toughest to beat. Derek Boogaard meanwhile was the runaway winner for the NHL's toughest player.

On the coaching front, players picked the Devils' Adam Oates as one of the top five current NHL assistants who should get a shot at head coach. With Jacques Lemaire saying he'll step aside at the end of this season, Oates will certainly have his name thrown around, but I wonder if GM Lou Lamoriello will consider another first-time head coach after the team's struggles under rookie bench boss John MacLean.

John Tortorella, known for his tough-love reputation, was dubbed the league's most demanding coach, earning 28 percent of the vote. Unsurprisingly, that helped land him at the No. 2 spot when players were asked which coach they'd least like to play for.

MSG was a winner and a loser in the poll, named as the second favorite arena to play in, but also knocked as having the second worst ice in the NHL.

W2W4: Capitals vs. Islanders

January, 20, 2011
The Washington Capitals travel to the Island Thursday night. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops.

Rookie Revelation

The Caps’ Marcus Johansson has had a quiet rookie season, but with Alexander Semin out and Alex Ovechkin still not scoring at his accustomed rate, the Swedish center has been shouldering the offensive load lately, with three goals and an assist in the past five games. Similarly, Isles rookie Michael Grabner, the team’s lone representative at All-Star weekend, has notched a pair of goals and an assist over his past three contests. There will be a spotlight on some young-bloods tonight.

Fire At Will

The Islanders still don’t seem to have a fix for preventing shots on goal in bunches. That’s a flaw that could prove costly against Ovechkin, the NHL’s leader in shots with 211 this season. You simply can’t give the Great 8 that many chances to score. Even if he’s struggling, as he has this season, if you play with fire the red lights and sirens are going to start flashing. It’s better to take away his space and keep a close watch on him to make sure he doesn’t heat up in the first place. Make his teammates beat you.


The Islanders haven’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since Dec. 13 and have been playing their best hockey of the year. If they want to keep that streak alive against the Caps they’ll need to get a strong forecheck going. Washington’s blueliners are terrific with the puck … in the offensive zone. Clearing their own end? Muchas problemas. Apply some pressure, force some turnovers and deposit them in the goal. Easier said than done, but that’s precisely what should be said in the New York locker room prior to this game.

Staal, Lundqvist are All-Stars; Isles snubbed?

January, 11, 2011
The NHL released the full rosters for the upcoming All-Star game in Raleigh, N.C. on Jan. 30, with the New York Rangers' Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist both included on the list.

It's the first selection for Staal, the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2005 entry draft. The blueliner has truly blossomed this season, contributing six goals and 11 assists while tasked with shutting down the opposition's top offensive threat night in and night out. Lundqvist (.923 save percentage and tied for the league high with five shutouts this season) returns to the game for the second time after being selected in 2009.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias will make his third appearance in the game and first since 2002. The Czech winger has scored nine goals to go with 21 assists, leading the foundering Devils in points.

Isles fans will be less happy to see their team is one of just four franchises that won't be represented in the All-Star game -- though they will have a player participating in all-star weekend events. The Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers will only send rookie representatives, with New York's Michael Grabner (nine goals, four assists) competing in the Honda SuperSkills challenge only.

There's plenty to debate with these crowded, talent-rich rosters, but the selection of Elias over John Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer with 28 points in 37 games, is a little curious. Yes, Elias has more points and no, Tavares isn't setting the league on fire. But you could argue, as I'm about to, that Tavares makes a better selection if only for marketing reasons.

One of the game's top young players and the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009, isn't it better to help Tavares's star rise rather than give another nod to Elias, whose status as his team's leading scorer is largely due to an injury to Zach Parise and the ineptitude of Ilya Kovalchuk? And would it really be so bad to throw a bone to a team looking to secure public approval for a new arena and remain in one of North America's largest TV markets?

In the grand scheme of things, the decision is probably meaningless, but I think it would have been in the league's best interest to pump up the young Islanders center a little bit.

I'm not saying Elias doesn't deserve the selection. He's a great player and it's nice that the Devils get some good news amid this dismal season, but to me, there's more to gain if Tavares gets the nod.

Setting the season's stage

October, 6, 2010
The rosters for the 2010-11 opener will be finalized at 3 p.m. today. That means quite a few borderline players will be holding their breath until the final roster announcements are made.

Here are some morning links to whet your appetite to what should be a busy day in the hockey world.