Good weekend gets Islanders back on track


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John Tavares continues to be the leader of an Islanders team that got back on track this weekend. AP Photo via Getty Images by CoyoteDucks54.

Following a tough one-goal loss to the Sharks, the Islanders needed to respond. They won only one of their first four games entering the weekend. Able to take care of business by beating the Coyotes 3-2 and doubling up the Wild 6-3 both on home ice at Barclays Center, they’re back to 3-3-0.

In the one-goal win over the Coyotes, the supporting cast provided the offense. Goals were scored by vet defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, Ryan Strome and Johnny Boychuk, whose shorthanded tally in the third period from Brock Nelson provided the difference. Jaroslav Halak picked up the win with 23 saves.

Following the game, Cal Clutterbuck spoke at length about how bad the ice was. The ice surface at Barclays has been a hot topic. The building uses PVC piping which is an issue because it can’t keep the ice temperature at 21 degrees. Something metal pipes can.

“From about the 5-6 minute mark of the second, you knew it was one of those nights,” Clutterbuck explained to Newsday beat writer Arthur Staple. “You basically couldn’t string three passes together, the ice was unplayable. But we found a way.”

First and foremost, it is a basketball arena and home to the Brooklyn Nets. When the Islanders relocated, the hope was they would do everything to accommodate them. With obstructed views and poor ice conditions, the club has explored the possibility of a new arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens. It remains a dicey situation. The team has an opt out clause after three seasons.

In their second year at Brooklyn since leaving Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders have managed to make the slushy home ice an advantage. They are used to playing on the surface which can create odd bounces and slow the game down. The fan support has helped.  It was instrumental in the franchise finally advancing out of the first round last Spring for the first time since 1993.

Captain John Tavares was the hometown hero providing the game-tying and emotional series clincher in overtime. The Islanders’ franchise star center is in his eighth season. He broke out with a three-point effort (2-1-3) in the team’s second straight victory last night over the Wild. Prior to that performance, he only had a goal and assist.

The 26-year old from Mississauga, Ontario remains without a sidekick. With the organization going in a different direction by letting Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen go, Tavares is left to find chemistry with other players. Free agent pick up Andrew Ladd finally picked up his first point getting a primary assist on Tavares’ empty netter with 1:43 remaining on Sunday night. Signed for five years with an average cap hit of $5.5 million, the former Jets captain should be producing better. The 30-year old vet is a proven scorer capable of 25 goals and between 50 to 60 points. Give it some time.

While Ladd adjusts to life in Brooklyn, Islander brass has to be pleased with Anthony Beauvillier. The 19-year old 2015 first round pick (28th overall) continues to impress notching two assists in helping the team even their record. He’s tied with Tavares for the team lead in scoring with five points (1-4-5). While Mathew Barzal looks ticketed for Seattle of the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Isles signing Steve Bernier, Beauvillier looks like he’s here to stay.

If they’re to be successful, it’s all about the depth up front. They know what they’ll get from Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. So far, Nelson is off to a quick start with two goals and three assists. Josh Bailey also has started well picking up two helpers to give him a goal and four assists. Strome also is out better with two goals and two assists.

It has to be scoring by committee. In last night’s win, the Isles got three goals from their back end with Boychuk, Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey all scoring. With anchor Nick Leddy able to return from injury, it was perfect timing with the club losing Ryan Pulock for an extended period with a broken foot. He sustained it in the first period on Friday after being recalled from Bridgeport after five shifts. Unfortunate.

The Isles will need more from Ladd and Anders Lee. Both of whom have a point. Lee with a goal so far. With Shane Prince on the injured reserve and the future of Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) uncertain, the lineup they ice is probably gonna be the same. Alan Quine scored his first yesterday.

Coach Jack Capuano knows he has two reliable goalies in Halak and Thomas Greiss with the 30-year old German getting his first win with 26 saves against Minnesota. The question is what will they do with Jean-Francois Berube. Most teams don’t keep three goalies. Especially in a cap era where carrying extra forwards and D are vital. At the moment, the Isles are going with six defensemen.

They’ll get a good test when the improved Canadiens (4-0-1) visit Barclays Center Wednesday. With mostly home games aside from a visit to the Penguins, who should have Sidney Crosby back this week, they look to continue their success at home.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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