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Smash and Grab

Michael Grabner's physical play is helping him put points on the board.

Thursday, 12.26.2013 / 2:10 PM / News
By Cory Wright
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Smash and Grab
Michael Grabner\'s physical play is helping him put points on the board.

Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Michael Grabner did what comes naturally. He picked off a defenseman on an Islanders penalty kill, sprinted up the ice, deked backhand-to-forehand and did a fist pump after burying on Henrik Lundqvist. The goal was huge for the Islanders, putting them up 2-0 on the archrival Rangers, but even bigger for Grabner, who busted out of the longest scoring drought of his career.

“I forgot what it felt like to score goals,” Grabner said after the game. “It was nice to get the first one there. Obviously if you’re getting chances you’re doing something right, just the last little bit wasn’t there.”

He added an empty netter, effectively sealing the 5-3 win. Afterward the two- goal performance, Grabner talked about taking the offensive pressure off the top line, but he’s also taken the pressure off himself.

“It’s been the longest drought I’ve had in my career so it’s nice that it’s finally over,” he said. “I have to keep it up.”

Grabner found the back of the net again three days later against Detroit, as a Josh Bailey pass caromed off of Red Wings defenseman Brenden Smith and landed on Grabner’s stick; without hesitation, he fired the puck top corner from the slot.

With three goals in his last three games, the former 34-goal scorer looks poised and confident with the puck, but his turnaround may be credited to his play without it.

Head coach Jack Capuano asked his team to play with intensity and Grabner responded, adding a physical element to his game.Towards the end of his funk, Grabner used his speed to throw his body, separate opponents from the puck and take out frustrations on the other team. He threw a team-high seven hits in the Islanders 1-0 OT loss to Montreal on Dec. 14, on the same roster as the two reigning NHL hits leaders, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.

“We’ve all noticed that he’s playing physical and he’s playing hard on pucks,” Capuano said. “Your work ethic dictates the scoreboard, but as an individual, the harder you work and stay with it, good things are going to happen.”

We know how fast he is and how tough he is to handle when he is using his feet and finishing his hits. You can see his confidence.Frans Nielsen

Grabner isn’t taking over the league lead in hits, but he has registered 23 body checks in his last seven games, compared to 16 hits in 45 games in 2012-13. His style isn’t changing, but rather is evolving. Against the Rangers on Friday night, Grabner had five hits in addition to his two goals.

“Through this stretch he was on, it’s easy to look at his stats and easy to say he hasn’t been producing, but he has,” Capuano said. “He’s been doing a lot of good things and I’m pleased he finally got rewarded for that.”

Grabner’s hard work is also reigniting the second line and providing the Islanders with scoring depth. Frans Nielsen broke out of a scoring slump on a two-on-one dish from Grabner against Tampa Bay on Dec. 17, which kicked off a four-game point streak (two goals and two assists) for the Dane.

“We know how fast he is and how tough he is to handle when he is using his feet and finishing his hits,” Neilsen said. “You can see his confidence.”

Bailey, his opposite winger, also has assists in three straight games, while Grabner has points in three of four. The Islanders have scored three goals or more in their last three games, winning two of them.

As the stats catch up to Grabner's play, Capuano wants the winger to continue translating his speed into hard, physical play.

So for the suddenly hot, lightning-quick goal scorer - keep throwing the body.

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 63 41 17 5 171 139 87
2 NYR 62 39 17 6 196 153 84
3 NYI 64 41 21 2 205 179 84
4 TBL 64 38 20 6 210 171 82
5 DET 61 35 15 11 180 159 81
6 PIT 62 36 17 9 181 155 81
7 WSH 64 34 20 10 188 159 78
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 63 28 22 13 154 178 69
10 PHI 63 27 25 11 168 183 65
11 OTT 60 27 23 10 171 163 64
12 NJD 63 26 27 10 141 164 62
13 CBJ 62 26 32 4 160 196 56
14 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
15 TOR 63 25 33 5 170 193 55
16 BUF 63 19 39 5 123 212 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 64 30 35 4 65
K. Okposo 46 14 30 -2 44
R. Strome 64 14 27 22 41
B. Nelson 64 17 19 7 36
F. Nielsen 64 11 25 12 36
A. Lee 58 20 13 13 33
J. Bailey 52 12 19 10 31
J. Boychuk 54 7 23 16 30
N. Leddy 64 8 18 15 26
T. Hamonic 54 4 21 15 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 33 13 0 .911 2.46
C. Johnson 8 8 1 .889 3.08

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