Islanders In The Driver’s Seat With Game 4 Looming

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UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 19:  New York Islanders celebrate a 2-1 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 19, 2015 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In what has been described as the loudest arena in the NHL, the Islanders put on a great show in front of a raucous 16,170 fans on Sunday afternoon.

The Isles did a lot of great things on Sunday, and it paid off. But, there were also a lot of things that they did not do as well as they could have, and it almost cost them. Yes. it’s easy to play armchair QB after a game, and point out the good and the bad. Well, that’s precisely why I am doing it. Just consider me a “Keyboard Cappy.”

We will start with the good:

Shooting-Before Game 3, I wrote an article imploring the Islanders to shoot more. In the first two games, although they had seven goals, they did not get the puck on net nearly enough. That all changed in Game 3. The Islanders had 42 shots on Braden Holtby, including 33 in the first two periods combined. They really responded well to the crowd.

Penalty Kill-With the fans behind them chanting “De-fense! De-fense!,” the Isles were up to the task once again. They stopped all seven Capitals shots with the man advantage. They were shorthanded three times, and it surely wasn’t easy, but they managed to keep the Caps off the board while they were down a man.

Goaltending-If the Islanders are going to win this series, Jaroslav Halak has to be at the top of his game. He wasn’t during Game 2, and the Islanders lost because of it. He was much better in Game 3. He made 24 saves, several of which were from point blank range. The Capitals peppered him with shots from all angles, but he was up to the task. Hopefully this gives him confidence to be even better in Game 4. Also, Holtby was great, especially early. The Islanders overcame his goaltending excellence and beat him anyway.

Pressure-The Isles kept up the pressure on the Caps and didn’t allow them to set up offensively. They must keep neutralizing Washington’s offensive threats and keep the pressure on. The Isles must keep making them play a neutral zone game. We saw that when the Islanders are at home, if they keep the pressure on and shoot the puck, they will get the crowd going. That is absolutely something they can feed off of, and have.

Defense & Johnny Boychuk-The defense did a 180 Sunday. They were all over the Capitals offensive players, much like in Game 1. They did not allow them room to breathe. This was especially prevalent in the Boychuk/Alex Ovechkin matchup. The Islanders top defensman did not allow the Capitals’ superstar any room to shoot. With the Isles getting last change at home, they must keep Boychuk on Ovechkin at all times. The defense itself was better, because the offense was better. The Islanders were in the offensive zone way more in Game 3, and it took the pressure off the defense. Without Travis Hamonic, who is one of the Islanders’ top three defensemen, the team did a good job in keeping the play out of their own end.

Hitting-As mentioned before Game 3, the Islanders were being dominated physically by a big Capitals team. The Isles have the top two hit-men in the league in Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. They needed to make their presence felt in a building that absolutely explodes on every big hit. They really stepped it up in Game 3. The Isles were hitting everything in site. For the first time in the series, the Islanders outhit the Caps.

The Bad:

Letting Up-Once again, the Isles decided that they had won the game after the first two periods, and it was ok to sit back a little. They go into a defensive shell, like a prevent defense in football. You know what they say about the prevent defense in football? It prevents you from winning games. That almost happened to the Islanders on Sunday. It’s pretty clear if you look at the shots on goal in the third. The Islanders slipped back into Game 2 mode, and were outshot 12-7.

Faceoffs-Although the Isles won the most important faceoff of all, in overtime, they continue to lose the faceoff battle overall. Good things happen  when you win faceoffs and the Islanders have to get better in that department (44.9% in the series). They did do better, losing by just one in Game 3, but the goal in Game 4 should be to win that matchup.

Power Play-When you have one more man on the ice, it’s a golden opportunity to get some offense. The Isles continue to struggle with the man advantage. Yes, the Caps are 1 for 6 in the series, but the Islanders have rarely looked good with the extra man. These two teams are so closely matched that one power play goal could make a huge difference.

Keys To Victory:

Consistency-We saw what the Islanders did in Games 1 & 3. They were very similar. They were physical, they didn’t take stupid penalties, and they kept the shots coming at Holtby. Even when a goalie is on, like Holtby was, the more shots you pepper at him, the more a chance there is that something goes in. The defense should keep playing the same as they did in Game 3 as well. No lineup changes should be expected unless Travis Hamonic or Mikhail Grabovski are ready.

Goaltending-Halak has to continue to be strong in net. He has been good so far, but not exactly a showstopper. The Isles are counting on him to keep up his end of the bargain, while the offense does its job.

Home Ice Advantage-The Barn is an incredible place during the playoffs. It has never been louder, and everyone has noticed.

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 19:  Fans enjoy the atmosphere during the game between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 19, 2015 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

UNIONDALE, NY – APRIL 19: Fans enjoy the atmosphere during the game between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 19, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“It was huge,” Kyle Okposo said of the Nassau Coliseum crowd after the game. “You know, it’s a little bit louder than the Verizon Center, I think, so we’ll take the atmosphere and try to use it to our advantage.”

“It was unreal,” Captain John Tavares added. “I mean, It’s unreal. There’s no place like this place. There’s no building that can challenge this.”

Honestly, no one cares what Ovechkin says. It doesn’t matter. The Coliseum was going to be incredibly loud no matter what was said by anyone. Long Islanders are having their team yanked away from them due to political ineptitude. This is the last playoff season on Long Island (at least for a few years if rumors are to be believed), the place is going to be nuts, and the Isles need to keep using it to their advantage.

Discipline-The Islanders should watch some game tape of the Penguins/Rangers series. I have never seen a more undisciplined hockey team than the Penguins. No matter what happens, the Isles should not fall into the frustration trap whee they take a stupid penalty. They have Holtby’s number. He has not beaten them in regulation this season. You don’t want to make it easier for him.

Can the Islanders play an even better game in Game 4? Absolutely. If they can keep up their solid, disciplined play, and not let up, they have an excellent chance to put a stranglehold on the series.

We will find out in a matter of hours.

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