The Islanders Stand at a record of 7-9-1 at this point in the shortened season, we’ve seen the highs (the convincing wins against the Penguins and Devils, on the Road) and the lows (7-0 shellacking from Claude Giroux’s merry men of misery), and the just plain frustrating (far too many to list here), but through them all the Islanders still have 15 points and are somehow still in the playoff picture trailing the 8th seed Rangers by 3 measly points (2 if the Isles had found a way to cement their comeback last week into a regulation win, but who’s counting). To be honest I didn’t expect much of this shortened season: we weren’t going to see guys like Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson unless injuries decimated the Forward Corps; we started the year with four waiver wire pickups who have now adjusted to life, and one is injured with an unfortunate ankle fracture; our defense is suspect and our tandem of Nabokov and DiPietro is about as NHL average as you can get. We’ve had some things go right, but a lot more go wrong. On Twitter every bad shift is exclaimed with the term “sell Wang sell” or lamenting ownership for decisions that are out of fans control, but the masses need appeasing and every 20 minutes of mediocre hockey, which comes more often then great or effort filled, sends the masses into a sputtering rage that only the sale of the team to a made up owner the only satiable outcome to the insatiable masses.
The Islanders have this weird habit of beating teams at the top of respective divisions, they tangle and stay with the likes of the Canadiens or Pittsburgh or the Devils, but teams that are struggling like Philadelphia or Carolina or Buffalo make the Islanders look like a minor league team. It’s said that top teams don’t show up against the Islanders, but do they have the same mentality when they look at the conference and division standings, if so, someone needs to block all the sports websites from their computers and phones, because every game is amplified and if they’re legitimately thinking about playoffs, every game weighs so much more in a shortened season. It’s great to see come from behind efforts like last week and last night, but those have been the exception to the rule, not the expectation. The wins need to come against all competition and no excuses on any given night.
On the flip side, as I said our highest highs are met with our lowest lows; when the Islanders lose: it’s either in heart-breaking third period bevy of goals, or in OT on questionable to bad calls, or they just flat out forgot to mark the game in their iPhone calendars. This team has been Jekyll and Hyde for years, and frankly, you never know who’s showing up at any given time. It’s annoying after wins but generally accepted after losses, especially sleepwalk losses like Monday’s blitzing from the Flyers. Good losses used to be easy to define, play a full 60 and just come up short, they’re hard luck, but all the little things happen….with the Islanders, a good loss just feels like “oh we only lost by 1 when we should’ve lost by 3 or 4.” It’s never a simple “we’re going to hang on against this team,” with the Islanders, which leads directly to my next point.
The Islanders have to be the least prepared team night in and night out in the NHL. The games the Isles look dazed and confused often come with the mention of optional or no skating that morning, especially in the middle of a losing streak, it happened during Scott Gordon’s time as a coach and happening again under Jack Capuano. That’s only one facet of things, this team also seemingly has no advance of whats going on, who’s hurt or who’s hot, or anything about rookie skaters as the Isles have seemingly given up more 1st career NHL goals in the last 6 or 7 seasons than anyone else it’s felt like. Video feels like it’s behind the curb, at sometimes it shows the Isles seemingly aren’t aware that the team they’re facing has struggled all year (Flyers, Buffalo…) and they get eaten alive. Other preparedness issues I find myself questioning are the Goaltenders: Nabokov’s allowed on average 3 goals a game (not counting the 7 goal shenanigan’s on Monday) and DiPietro is no better, has Mike Dunham’s system changed drastically or was Sudsy more valuable than we all thought; and it’s not just our NHL netminder, Kevin Poulin’s having an off year at Bridgeport where he’s seemingly good for 3 Goals allowed a game as well. Then there’s the issue with guys seemingly being “passenger’s” night in and out, the big names that come to mind in this regard right now are Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. KO’s decision not to play in Europe, while good in avoiding injury, seriously has hampered him this short season by throwing everything out of whack for him, he’s been bounced around lines and isn’t sticking with any of them, and he has 5 points and a -8 rating to his name this season, he needs to be scratched a game or two to either slow himself down mentally or spark some anger in him to get him going, but the fact this is a yearly problem is a fault of the coaching staff. Travis and A-Mac have worked so great together for so long, but this year there’s very definitely something wrong as they’ve been overworked as the top 5 on 5 pair, 2nd PP pair and a PK pair...they aren’t meshing the way they have in years past, both have seemed hesitant to shoot, especially MacDonald, and they need to be split some how with one getting time with Thomas Hickey (only because of Brian Strait’s injury and the Finley/Streit Combo actually working) and the other working with Lobular Visnovsky 5 on 5. Alternatively, both could use a breather and rotate in Radek Martinek once he’s finally over his mystery Radeky ailments.
Long term the observations are pretty much the same as everyone else thinks, Jack Capuano’s become a square peg in a round hole, however, his firing should take place after the season for the team to go out and find an experienced NHL coach and for him to institute his system (re-assign Doug Weight and Brent Thompson if need be, but hire an NHL coach). The Islanders defense is suspect sat best next season with Careener, Strait, MacDonald and Hamonic set to return, we need two defensemen to help out, whether they come from the system or outside, they need to be the sort to play big minutes at either end of the ice. Finally the Islanders need to see what they have in either Mikko Koskinen and Kevin Poulin, winner get’s the starting gig. As for Free Agents, trades, waiver pick ups, I’ll leave that to Garth, he’s done right so far...in those respects.