January 31, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) celebrates his 3rd period game winning goal with teammates right wing Kyle Okposo (21) and left wing Matt Moulson (26) against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC center. The Islanders defeated the Hurricanes 5-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Joining The Eastern Conference Battle-New York Islanders

This week’s team under the microscope is the New York Islanders. A team many expect to challenge in this newly, and somewhat poorly named Metropolitan Division, and no longer a group that can simply fly under the radar, picking up wins here and there while secretly sitting in a playoff position. Like the Blue Jackets, they had a breakout season last year, and look to build on previous success.

Led by stars John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo, the Islanders win games by scoring early, and in succession. The Islanders past success has been found through winning key games against opponents facing more pressure (i.e. Pittsburgh, New York Rangers) from fans and media. While the giants, weary and tired, stumble into Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders quietly dispatch them and pick up 2 points in the standings.

As I said before, the Islanders are very similar to Columbus. Often the butt of lame, stale jokes, and looked down upon by the rest of the hockey world, the Islanders and Jackets have patiently waited for their chance to prove they belong in the NHL.

Well, to do that now, they must go through each other. Two of the “Davids”, if you will, must defeat each other for the chance to face a Goliath for the holy grail of hockey. Okay I promise not to use the David and Goliath reference anymore, that was rough. But the point still stands. These teams, though similar in their ways, must find a way to get around one another, and from the CBJ point of view, here’s how it’s done.

May 11, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) shake hands after the overtime period of game six of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Pittsburgh won the game 4-3 and the series 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Islanders, the first thing you see probably scares you to death. The looming name of 2013 Hart Trophy Candidate John Tavares. Speedy, smart, and deadly accurate, Tavares is a rare treasure who is difficult to match…with one player. The Blue Jackets may not have a singular match (yes, I know Marian Gaborik is a good player too, but be reasonable people), but when he is on the ice, have two guys watch him.

January 23, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; New York Islanders forward John Tavares (91) gets hit by Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Steckel (20) during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New York 3-0. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t mean they both need to be in his back pocket. Leave the player matching his position in his pocket, and have a winger prepared to help out when Tavares is under attack from the man defending him. Take away his time and space, and suddenly he’s not looming over you anymore. Throw him a few hits, and suddenly, he seems human. The same can be said to work against players like Crosby and Ovechkin. Players like that thrive on opponents backing off, too scared to attack and be fooled.

So now that Tavares is out of the picture, let’s have a look at the rest of the roster. You see Moulson and Okposo again, but they can easily be matched by Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. The rest of the forwards can be matched by the remaining Blue Jacket players, IF they play to their potential.

And if the forwards fail to alleviate pressure put on by attacking Islanders, then without doubt Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski, or Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin can face down the onslaught. My point is, John Tavaresis the only Islander that should really incite worry. And even he isn’t too fearsome.

Jan 31, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) avoids the check of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski (21) during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The defense of the Isles is significantly weaker without ex-captain Mark Streit, and the goaltending situation is less than stellar. They have the rights to Tim Thomas, but with the way the offseason has gone, it appears Thomas is testing the water and will likely sign with another team.

Rick DiPietro is an FA, not to mention any money from his contract goes to medical bills, and Evgeni Nabokov isn’t the most reliable of goalies. In my opinion, his prime has past him. He will be somewhat solid most of the time, but I don’t believe he can shoulder a team as the #1 goaltender. But hey, people said the same of Bobrovsky, so we’ll see.

At the end of it all, each game played between these two will be tightly contested. The Blue Jackets must remember that Tavares is human, and once you’re past him, attack attack attack. Use speed to the outside and look to the middle, and if you have a shot, TAKE IT. Shoot, and crowd the slot. Rebounds count the same as every other goal. The Isles may be an upstart team like CBJ, but its easy to shut them down.

I’m interested to hear you guys’ thoughts on the similarities between these teams, and how you think the Jackets can be successful. Leave a comment, tweet at me, do what you have to do, second opinions are helpful.


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