An independent blog on the New York Islanders and the NHL by a guy from New York.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Three Keys To An Islanders' Playoff

The Islanders lost at home against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. They fell 3-2 in O.T., but secured a valuable play-off push point. Currently, the Isles sit 1 point out (33-26-12 in 71 games) of a post season spot, just behind Toronto with 78 points and 1 less game to play. They are set to play a nationally televised game against the Rangers for the last time this season, Wednesday on NBCSN followed by a game against the ever dangerous Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday. These match-ups will most likely indicate if the Islanders will reach the playoffs and certainly give an idea of how they might expect to perform against the better teams in the east. They are currently 19-18-8 against eastern opponents and only 10-9-5 in key division games. Not exactly a promising indicator, but that’s why they play the game, right?

The Islanders ended their franchise-record (Hornick) 9-game road trip with a 5-3-1 record, but Doug Weight had a few things to say on the schedule. “I don’t feel like getting fined but to have five days off and then to fly to Dallas, and then to fly to Chicago, and then you have a 2 o’clock game in Calgary when their building was empty for the next four days . . . and then you come home and you play one home game and go back, it’s ludicrous for me,” he said. “I yelled and screamed (at the team after the loss Monday) anyway because they deserved it. Weight said. “You have to be better this time of year, but fatigue is a factor.”

To add to the uncertainty, the Isles have just one win (O.T. vs Carolina) in their 4 games following that road trip.

I’ve settled on three keys the Islanders need to address if they have any hope of making and getting through the playoffs:

1: Call up Ryan Pulock

The Isles PP is ranked 26th in the league at 15.2%. Erick Hornick mentions that the Isles are 14-7-6 when they score at least one power play goal and 19-19-6 when they do not. How could they finally pin down a consistent PP recipe that has eluded them for so long? A possible answer or at least a treatment to the disease could prove to be a two-part advantage for the guys in orange and blue.

Islanders defensive struggles, turn-overs and mistakes like the ones committed by Bailey, Clutterbuck, Ho-Sang and de Haan against Columbus have cost the Islanders in recent games. Overall, these shortcomings have brought back the surrendering of late goals in random periods and even worse, in the final minutes of close games. At this point of the season, each-and-every game is important. First, the points are necessary to even make the playoffs. Secondly, more points can help the Isles make a possible push higher up the playoff ladder, which could mean the difference between home ice or being a visitor should they advance to the second round and beyond.

So how can they address their problems on the PP and give their defensive game a shot in the arm it so desperately needs? I would say to try what they did at the trade deadline after a trade couldn’t be had at a fair price. Call up a promising prospect that may help change the face of the team.

Josh Ho-Sang has made a huge impact for New York. Yes, there are a few rookie type mistakes, but still he has sparked some offense and brought some grit and threat to the special teams. He made some noise in the AHL and has gone 3 and 3 for 6 pts in 10 games with New York that includes a tally on the PP. Ho-Sang may never be sent down again, making it harder for a guy like LW, Michael Dal Colle to show what he can do or even delay the talents of Matthew Barzal, (79 pts in 41 games so far this season at a +32) now playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but that’s a good problem to have. And there is no reason either of those guys shouldn’t eventually be able to push an underachieving rostered player to the scratch list.

Let’s say Garth Snow gives Ryan Pulock a shot. Let him have the opportunity that Ho-Sang has gotten. Let him lend his talents on the PP and on the blue line to a defense that has been struggling as of late. Who knows, maybe he can add at least a temporary boost to their game. Possibly more. Maybe, just maybe, he can contribute even more than Pelech and Mayfield have. As an NHL pro that gains experience, he can start to contribute in a manner that the team expects after selecting him 15th over-all in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Bridgeport sits in the eastern conferences’ 5th spot with a few weeks to go. Pulock has 12 and 23 for 35 points in 42 games at a +9. That leads BST defensemen and even after missing time with a foot injury, the offensive value of Pulock gets more apparent with each season playing in the Islanders system. Pulock left the ice on Saturday against Utica after being hit by ex-BST, Pedan, but is on tonight’s game roster for Bridgeport against Hershey.

2: Recall Jaroslav Halak

Eric Hornick sums it up well, “Thomas Greiss has played in 13 straight games (6-5-2), 32 of the last 36 games (16-11-5 with three shutouts) and 34 of the last 40 games (18-11-5 with three shutouts). Greiss has already appeared in a career high 44 games, and set career highs for both wins (23) and shutouts (3).” Greiss has been good when the team has played accountably in front of him. He has even given them a chance to win at times when they haven’t, but he can’t do it alone. Especially when he needs some time off. We have heard rumors of Isles wanting to speak with Halak about recall, especially after the latest outing at home vs Carolina went much worse than expected for Berube. 

Jaroslav Halak leads the BST in wins (16-6-3) and has cooperated with the team’s request to play in Bridgeport. The Islanders need some NHL level depth in goal and they need the confidence to join the rush when both goalies are in the net. "We never lost faith in Jaro. We think he needed to reboot his career, get some things solved, and it looks like he’s done it." – Weight

3: Keep things going offensively

The Isles’ top line has 28 goals (and 42 assists) in 29 games under Weight and per Eric Hornick, and a few others have also thrived under the new coach. Nick Leddy (18), Ryan Strome (16), Brock Nelson (15), Andrew Ladd (15) and Jason Chimera (13) have scored some serious points and have helped the Isles get back in the playoff hunt. We are well aware that they win when they score first (22-8-8) and dominate (32-7-3) when they score at least three goals and have only won once (1-19-9) when they do not. 

The Islanders have made some strides forward, but were also subject to a few bad breakdowns, especially in recent games. That could be a symptom of fatigue and a result of playing a lot of games on the road. But it all means nothing in the grand scheme of the season. The Islanders must find a way to win and not focus on the things that may have made it a little more challenging to compete. They are now 16-9-4 (.621) for 36 points under Doug Weight, but have slowed in their last 14 games, going 7-5-2 in that stretch. Their consistency has suffered and they have lost games as a result.

The stats show that the Isles are among the top teams in points since weight took over as head coach, but unfortunately the “Isles are 11-9-12 in one-goal games, winning only 11 of the 32 games (.344).  That .344 percentage of 1-goal games won is the lowest in the NHL. (The Isles were 21-6-10 in one-goal games last season.) - Hornick”

That means they need to score early and often, maintain a strong checking game, clean house in their own zone and refocus on special teams. It needs to start against the Rangers and Penguins. A win against one of them is a must. If they can’t win both, it’s necessary to be in the thick of both games and at least make themselves hard to play against, having a shot of getting at least a point moving to finish the season.

This is a good formula to ply for the remainder of the season, but unless the Islanders can start by recapturing some of the consistency gained as a result of Weight taking over, we may just be watching another campaign fall short of being able to compete for the ultimate goal.

11 games to go. How bad do they want it?

Isles Notes:

The Isles PK is ranked 15th at 80.7%.

Casey Cizikas missed 11 games (Upper Body) and was removed from the team's IR list on 3/17, playing over 16 minutes against Columbus on Saturday and looked good.

Per Arthur Staple, “Spied Pat Brisson at Barclays Center last night. #Isles owners keeping lines of comm open w/ Tavares' agent ahead of 7/1 negotiating period.”

Rangers and Sabres selected for 2018 Winter Classic, not Islanders.

Sound Tigers Notes:

3/15: The #SoundTigers have added @SHUHockey standout Justin Danforth to an ATO.

The BST are 38-22-2-1 on the season.

Hockey Notes:

U.S. women boycott IIHF tournament weeks before its hosted in U.S.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang: The 66th Parallel

When Josh Ho-Sang was called up on March 2nd, many fans were excited as to what he might bring to the Islanders. Under Doug Weight, the Isles are now 14-6-3 after last night’s 4-1 win in Edmonton against the Oilers and sit in the final playoff spot, 8th in the east with 73 points. Ho-Sang scored his first NHL goal (Hickey and Prince) on a blast from the point, beating Cam Talbot to open the scoring for New York. Per Eric Hornick, it was the first win (0-5-1) for the isles in Edmonton since 2003. It was also a goal that the 21-year-old has been waiting for since he started playing hockey as a young kid in Toronto. "There are no words to describe it," Ho-Sang said sporting the vintage leather jacket given to the player of the game. "It's such a relief to score and makes you feel like you belong and that things are possible. All of your dreams are coming true in front of your eyes, which is cool. It was a very special moment." – Per Cory Wright. Growing up, Ho-Sang watched his heroes and found an appreciation for the game Mario Lemieux brought as a legendary player for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rivalry aside, you have to speak of Lemieux in a similar breath to that of Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky was inducted into the hall of fame immediately after his retirement in 1999 and his number 99 was retired by the NHL league wide, the only player who has been bestowed such an honor. Even the likes of Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau or the Islanders’ Mike Bossy have not been so honored.

It is customary for teams to retire numbers or jerseys of their most revered players. The Islanders have given that honor to six players from their dynasty era. Denis Potvin’s number 5, Clark Gillies number 9, Bryan Trottier’s 19, the afore mentioned Mike Bossy’s number 22, Bob Nystrom’s 23 and the great Billy Smith’s number 31, can never be worn by another Islanders player. A fitting tribute to some of the great players that brought 4 consecutive Stanley Cups to Long Island, New York. While Mario Lemieux’s well-known number 66 has been similarly retired by the Penguins, another player on any other NHL team could select 66 if they chose to do so much like the number 5, 9, 19, 22, 23 or 31 of any of the Islanders’ greats.

One could argue that Mario Lemieux could have eclipsed the accomplishments of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky if he had not missed so much time battling a type of cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The Pens had won 2 consecutive cups before falling to the Islanders in the 93 playoffs. Lemieux missed a lot of time in his career due to nagging back injuries and health problems. He played 915 of a possible 1,428 regular season games. He retired two different times over his career due to health issues, including a forfeiture of the entire 1994-95 season due to cancer. Mario Lemieux maintained a high level of play throughout his career, even after his return from his battle with cancer. “I’ve faced a lot of battles since I was really young, and I’ve always come out on top,” Lemieux said.” I expect that will be the case with this disease.” What am I trying to say? Basically, I feel that Lemieux could have arguably been known as “the greatest” if he hadn’t had to overcome a terrible disease as well as playing at a level few could even hope to attain. He is well respected as a man and a player, and justifiably so. It’s also important to remember for the purpose of this article that his number was not retired league wide by the NHL like Gretzky’s 99.

Enter Josh Ho-Sang. A Canadian ice hockey player who like so many other kids around the world, saw Lemieux as an idol. The Islanders’ 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Ho-Sang was seen as an elite hockey talent who suffered from what some called a bad-attitude. This reputation is probably what prevented him from being selected in the top 10 in his draft year. The Islanders saw Ho-Sang as a risk worth taking. He had his problems over the last few years, including missing day 1 of their 2015 training camp and got a one way demotion back to juniors. But that was then and recently, he has shown that the rumors of his elite pedigree may have been well founded. With his play in the minors, for the Islanders major affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Ho-Sang was recently named AHL rookie of the month after an impressive 10 assists and 15 points while registering a plus-9 rating in 12 games last month. That was enough to get the attention of the Garth Snow and the Islanders again, who recalled Ho-Sang with intentions of giving him a shot on the big club. Ho-Sang wanted to wear number 66. A number he has worn since his time in juniors with OHL Windsor, and has continued to wear it as a pro with the Sound Tigers. Apparently, it pissed some people off. They saw it as disrespectful to Mario Lemieux.

It’s not a common number in the NHL. The Caps, Milan Novy was the first NHL player to wear No. 66. The Flyers, Yanick Dupre and Canucks’, Gino Odjick also wore it while Lemieux was an active player, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Calgary’s T.J. Brodie wore it for 3 games in 2010-11, but later changed his number 7 the following season. After Ho-Sang came up, some of the NHL media and fans seemed to take offense that he would dare to wear Lemieux’s 66 as an NHL player. SI & TSN's Michael Farber tweeted, “Josh Ho-Sang can wear any number he likes, but 4 and 9 are regular hockey numbers. No. 66 is a vanity license plate.” A vanity license plate? I call it a show of respect. In my stellar roller-hockey goal-tending career, I wore 31 in honor of my idol, Billy Smith. Watching Smith made me an Isles fan. He impacted me in such a way as a kid, that I immediately became a passionate fan of the Islanders and have remained so ever since. To Josh Ho-Sang, Mario Lemieux made a similar impression. "Just wearing the number because I looked up to the man," Ho-Sang said. "I think he's an unbelievable, unbelievable player, and just the way he's managed the game and everything. He had his ups, his downs in his career and he came back better. That's just a tribute to the person that he is. That's something that inspires me. And, on a regular basis, he had probably more hardship than most great players and he dealt with it, came back better. And that's something that no one can ever take away from him, and for me, honestly, it's something to look up to."

I, like many, can’t believe this is a thing. Especially since Ho-Sang explained that it was meant as a show of respect to one of his boyhood heroes. He even said if Lemieux asked him not to wear it, he would consider his heroes request. Well that pissed some people off even more. Consider?!? How insulting.


"It's just interesting, even people who just take the time to say stuff about it, I mean, I think I made it pretty clear that, for me, it's no disrespect. If anything, it's the ultimate respect, I think." – Ho-Sang.

I agree Josh. Just keep doing your best and we will keep cheering for you.

The Fans.


Isles Notes:

Anders Lee matched a career-high in goals last night, now at 25; good enough for the lead for the Islanders.

With the win against the Oil, Eric Hornick points out, “hat's 22 wins for Thomas Greiss -- joins @HDumpty39 as only #isles goalie in Post-Cup era with consecutive ssns with 22+ wins. (DP: 4 yrs).” Thomas Greiss is now 22-13-0-4 in 40 games with a 2.53 gaa and a .918Sv%.

Shane Prince left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Per Cory Wright, “Ilya Sorokin with 20 saves today in CSKA's 4-2 win over Lokomotiv. Sorokin now 5-0 in KHL playoffs.”

I posted earlier today on Twitter: “Think #Isles fans should get #Free66 trending to show how ridiculous hate for Ho-Sang wearing a # Mario apparently has eternal rights for.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New York Islanders: Not Quite Dead At Deadline

The Islanders were blown out by a 7-0 score in front of a sellout crowd in Columbus by the Blue Jackets on Sunday. It was a horrible effort and not consistent with the level of play the Isles have shown under interim head coach, Doug Weight thus far. Weight (12-5-2) responded by having a couple of grueling practices and reminded the team of their accountability to themselves and each other. The Isles are 2-1 on the road trip so far and are in Dallas tomorrow and in Chicago on Friday before heading into Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and St. Louis next week. While against western conference opponents, the points available are no less important and the team needs to respond well or risk slipping away from contention. They are without the services of Harmonic, Cizikas, Prince and now Quine, so call-ups are and have been necessary to keep pace as players move in and out of the lineup. The Isles have 120 man games lost to injury so far this season.

Josh Ho-Sang will get his chance. Ho-Sang had a strange start to his first career NHL call up this week. He was called up to the Islanders on an emergency basis, then immediately sent down while still under emergency conditions. Then, he was called back again to practice with the big club and all around the trading deadline. To make it worse, rumors surfaced that he was on trade block according to Joe McDonald of ESPN, but Arthur Staple quelled those rumors as “Not True,” per source. Staple then added, “Isles will "send" Ho-Sang, Mayfield, Pelech to BPT later today for AHL playoff eligibility. That's a paper move. Expect JHS to play tomorrow.”

Despite all that, Doug Weight maintains Ho-Sang (#66) will be in the lineup against Dallas tomorrow night. He will lineup with Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson per Arthur Staple. I’ve been waiting for Ho-Sang (2014,1st round, 28th overall selection) to get his shot. Yes, I know he can be a defensive liability and yes, I know he has a litany of disciplinary problems, but he also has great hands and a strong ability to open the ice in the attack zone and help the offense score goals. He leads Bridgeport with 35 points and 25 assists and was just named AHL rookie of the month by tallying 10 assists and 15 points while registering a plus-9 rating in 12 games with the BST in February. “The 21-year-old Ho-Sang has recorded 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points in 48 games for Bridgeport this season, tied for sixth among all AHL rookies in scoring.”

Going into the trading deadline, rumors surfaced that the Islanders were in the market to acquire the likes of a Matt Duchene (COL) or Jordan Eberle (EDM) to play with John Tavares. Even mentions of trading for Thomas Vanek (DET- now FLA) were circulating. Isles Twitter was even tracking the team’s flight and when it would land in Dallas after hearing that no trade news would be announced while the team was in air. I have always admired the passion of our fan base and am right there with them in wanting the team to improve sooner, rather than later. It’s a fan base that has been waiting for the future plans to bear fruit for quite some time. A trade splash with the likes of the Boychuck and Leddy acquisitions were on the wish list of Isles fans who felt that things were changing as they watched their team go from last in the east to a wild card spot in a little over a month. Everyone feels the momentum and several insiders have noticed the team’s turn around and have started talking about it. The playoffs are a real possibility, but the team needs to find a way to finally reach that frustrating and elusive next step I have been writing about them taking for years.

The nature of the trade deadline has evolved over the 100 seasons of the NHL. The specifics and way of business has changed. Brad Kurtzberg had this to say on the evolving deadline ritual, “The salary cap & the way the loser point keeps the standings artificially close means fewer sellers and not much action.” Shortly after the 3 p.m. deadline today, Bob McKenzie said the Islanders were officially done. Done without a single move for the fans to cheer about. Reports of Hamonic “not being available,” big or advantageous deals being struck by conference and division rivals and rumors of top players being targeted by the Islanders only fueled the fan frustration when the day turned out devoid of a single trade acquisition for New York. General Manager, Garth Snow was even reported to have at least 2 offers on table for acquiring Duchene with the Colorado Avalanche and GM, Joe Sakic, without any measure of success.

Sakic kept any trades from happening today. We know that the Isles won’t be forced into what they perceive as a non-advantageous deal. Apparently, the Islanders or any other team for that matter, weren't offering “enough” for Duchene or Landeskog according to a league source. It may have been that Sakic never had intentions of trading Duchene (or Landeskog) unless an offer blew the him away. Instead, it seems Colorado was using todays dealings as a barometer to inflate the price of his players heading into the NHL entry draft, expansion draft and free agency period coming this summer.

I don’t feel it’s realistic to “blame” Snow for not landing Matt Duchene, especially knowing what we now know about what Colorado’s true motivations might have been. @RumorBreak even had yet another last minute offer from the Islanders to acquire Duchene, but mentioned Sakic would “not bring price down.” Per B.D. Gallof, “NHL source cites that Sakic decided that he would get more if others teams were involved at draft than accept current offers.” Trading and dealing is an involved process. We all want a big move, but it won’t be made if too much has to be given up in the process. I'm well aware that we as fans, may differ on what too much is and I know how sick and tired everyone is about watching teams around the Islanders get “better” on paper while the Islanders seem able to do nothing at each deadline. I often feel the same way. It’s infuriating as a fan and I’d love to see some A-list progress more often. I’d even welcome some solid, on-the-fly additions when all seems lost and they miss out on their primary target.

While I understand not being able to make a deal for Duchene, especially knowing more details of the position that Colorado took on the day, I do think General Manager, Garth Snow and the organization should have had at least 1 back up acquisition factored in that would have been a more affordable and very serviceable addition to the team. To me, that role could have been filled by Radim Vrbata. Vrbata will be a UFA this summer and I know the isles aren’t really interested in a soon to be 36-year-old rental, but here is my point. The skilled forward has 15 & 32 for 47 points this season in 62 games. That would have put him tied for 4th on the team (Chimera) in goals, 1st on the team in assists and 2nd only to John Tavares (52) in points. The asking price was said to be a 2nd round pick. Craig Custance had Flames, Bruins, Panthers, Penguins and Islanders in the mix for Vrbata, but he stayed around to finish the season in Phoenix because Coyotes GM, John Chayka said there is a chance they will try to re-sign him this summer and didn’t want to lose him for anything less than a 2nd round pick. IMO, he may have been a good bridge player and even a sign-able short-term addition by New York this summer. Although I understand the value of a 2nd round pick, I think would have been a good, low risk acquisition for the Isles to take a chance on Vrbata to try and help add even more skill and scoring punch for the playoff push. He would have added veteran depth and offense to a team that can already score (tied for 10th with EDM at 179 points) a lot of goals.

In the net, we know that J.F. Berube was named the #2 goaltender for the Islanders when Jaro Halak was sent down to Bridgeport at the end of December. Berube is now 3-2-0-2 with a 3.38 gaa and an .894Sv%. At times, he has played very well in net. While I think Berube might be good enough to contribute to the Islanders goal-keeping duties soon, I don’t think he will serve the best interest of the team right now. But what I think hardly matters to editing the roster. What I do know is that Jaroslav Halak has done what has been asked of him in his demotion to Bridgeport. He has compiled a 14-2-2 record with 2 shut outs on the farm and has helped the AHL BSTs climb in the standings. I also know he probably should not remain there for long. There were speculations around impending trades for Halak leading into the deadline. Even Darren Dreger and Matt Larkin tweeted about him as a hot commodity in the thinned goalie market. It was rumored that a few teams were in the hunt for his services, including the Boston Bruins. That and all the other rumors lost steam as the day went on, so Halak remains as an Isles property, making an NHL $4.5M for the rest of the season and into next year, possibly spending the whole time in the AHL. Especially after not being moved at the deadline. Salary was slated as the primary reason. Per David Pagnotta, “Sounds like, per league exec, Islanders were not able to finalize move involving Jaroslav Halak. Salary was main issue.” I believe Halak should be called back up to give the team a more stable presence in net to back up Thomas Greiss (20-12-0-3, 3 shut outs and allowed 2 goals or less in 17 of last 24 starts-Hornick) and aid the team as they fight for playoff position.

The Islanders need to be healthy, play together and realize they are in a position to control their own destiny if they can minimize games like one against Columbus last Sunday. Especially while on the road for a majority (17) of their final 24 games, “including nine consecutive road games for the first time in their history.” They will be playing a lot of games without much of a break in-between. Eric Hornick also mentions, “The Isles are 4-6-1 on the front-end of back-to-backs and 4-3-4 on the back-end. The Isles will play 16 sets of back-to-backs this season. The next back-to-back set is March 2nd in Dallas and March 3rd in Chicago.” The continued contributions of guys like Mayfield, Pelech and even a recently added Ho-Sang may determine the future success of the squad. The prospects are the best “guarantee” the team has when you take today’s trade picture as an example of the changing NHL landscape. The Isles went from last in the east to the 2nd wild card slot within a months’ time and although they have slipped a point out after being idle for 4 days, they were able to do more positive things over that stretch than those that were negative.
Sometimes the odd paper work, the ins and outs by the organization on managing the rules and regulations, eligibility of player movement and navigating the procedures on NHL policy may make it seem like the moves made are complete madness, even to the seasoned fan. This may explain some of the moves made or not made by the team. In a way, it may be better that a player like Matt Duchene wasn’t added to the roster just yet. He has a reputation of being selfish and just maybe, the chemistry that’s building in that locker room would have been upset. Maybe, just maybe we can see some positives by riding it out with the current team. The 1st line is clicking, the prospects solid and the appearance of a Barzal, Dal Colle, Pulock, Toews in another call up situation might just be the final pieces to the puzzle. Ho-Sang is on the clock and I am excited to see what he can do.

Isles Notes:

Alan Quine won't be traveling with the team (day-to-day upper body).

Starting 2/22, Casey Cizikas slated to miss four weeks with an upper-body injury, per Staple.

2/27:  Isles goaltending prospect, “Ilya Sorokin advanced to the second round of the KHL playoffs. CSKA swept Jokerit 4-0. Sorokin had a 25-save shutout in the clincher,” per Cory Wright.

“Mathew Barzal recorded back-to-back four-point games over the weekend, netting eight points (1G, 7A) in a pair of wins for the Seattle Thunderbirds,” helping the T-Birds make the WHL playoffs.

James Dolan Among Investors Behind Islanders Arena Proposal.

Per NHLhistorygirl, “On this date in 1980, Ken Morrow of the 1980 US Olympic team joined the #Isles.”

NHL Notes:

Las Vegas Golden Knights are officially in business.  As of today, they can start acquiring picks/unsigned prospects (college free agents, non NHL pros including those in Europe and KHL) in agreement not to take players in expansion draft.

Sound Tigers Notes:

Connor Jones has agreed to terms on a one-year (remainder of the 16-17 season) two-way deal (NHL/AHL).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Islanders Start A Wild Ride

Our New York Islanders have played 13 games under the direction of Doug Weight and have clawed their way back into the hunt for a wild card spot with an 8-3-2 record. And they have definitely improved as a team in all zones and managed to mount a more complete effort on the ice. Now we can certainly ignore the 7-1 (Chimera, penalty shot goal) drumming in Toronto last night, but overall, we all have to be happier with the snarl they have played with recently, currently 3 points out of the 2nd wildcard spot. With the news of Claude Julien being fired, many fans had the team asking for permission to talk with him like they had done with Gerald Gallant, but Montreal had rehired Julien a short time later at about $5M per for 5 years according to Pierre LeBrun. To me, you don’t change the chemistry that Weight has been able to cultivate after the toxic inconsistency that swirled around the team behind Jack Capuano. At times, they played well, improved in areas, but never found a way to rise up and take the next step under his leadership. Weight will most likely be given an opportunity to see what he can do this season, especially with the team in the thick of the fight for a playoff spot. 

Things don’t get easier with the Rangers at home on Thursday, a home-at-home with the Devils this weekend and on the road to visit Detroit, Montreal and Columbus to finish out the month. They need to continue generating PP opportunities (15-76 at 19.7%) and keeping their man-down situations (7-55 at 87.3%) to a minimum, just as they have in their last 24 games.  The differential is the best in the NHL per Eric Hornick.  How does Jason Chimera feel about the rivalry to be renewed tomorrow night? Staple quoted him as saying, “I’ve only been here six months and I hate ’em,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s not just the team, it’s the people that cheer for them. You hear your neighbors talking about the Rangers and you want to beat them even more.”

The trade deadline is 20 days away and fans have Duchene, Landeskog, Sharp or even Vanek (who is known for hating the idea of playing in Brooklyn) penciled in to join the team via trade. To get any of those guys will take a lot of assets, especially right now because the rumors of deals that have been making the rounds are clearly to the advantage of the seller. The Avalanche have Duchene under contract and although they are firmly entrenched at the bottom of the league, GM, Joe Sakic is in no hurry to move an asset like him without premium assets in return. And with the Isles so deep on defense right through the Sound Tigers roster, wouldn’t be so quick to compromise that depth without due cause. AHL All-Star, Devon Toews leads the team with 24 assists and Ryan Pulock leads the defense with 10 goals and 22 points in 27 games. Especially with Travis Hamonic injured, they would be ill advised to make a trade of a defensive commodity at this time. Jaroslav Halak (11-1-2) has been making the most of his time in Bridgeport, where he has a team record, ten game winning streak and has helped the Tigers push out to a 30-16-1-1 record. If he isn’t in the long term plan and although expensive at $4.5M cap hit per through next season, he might be just what a team like the LA Kings would need to stay in playoff position.

Some say without a major acquisition to play on the first line, John Tavares will sour on the idea of resigning. Publically, Tavares (20 and 26 for 46pts) has stated his intention is to play in New York and isn’t looking ahead to free agent at all.  Anders Lee has 20 goals (2nd to Tavares on the team with 21) and 12 assists in his last 26 games and is playing like a bonafide 1st liner, ranked 3rd in points on the team with 34. And let’s talk about Josh Bailey. Bailey has 11 and 27 for 38 points in 55 games and is playing like the high 1st round pick he was back in 2008. The isles scoring depth has helped the first line get a little less attention and that has translated in goals, and by extension, wins. Brock Nelson, Jason Chimera, Ryan Strome and Andrew Ladd have played much better as of late and the defense has made big contributions as well.

Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield are still keeping pace and Nick Leddy is an amazing player to watch under the Weight regime. 1st in D ice time at almost 23 minutes a game, Leddy has .57 pts. per game rating and 2 ppg. “As a team, we changed a few things. We’re having the puck a little more,” Leddy said. “We’re moving our feet a lot more in the offensive zone, using the D more, having a five-man attack, and it’s providing a lot of offense for us,” per Staple in Newsday.  “Thomas Greiss has started 17 of the last 20 games (9-5-3) and 19 of the last 25 games (11-5-3).  He has allowed two goals or less in 13 of his last 19 games,” per Eric Hornick.

The meter is running and their fate is in their own hands.  They play 22 of their last 34 away from the Barclays Center. Hornick mentions they “do not have a homestand longer than two games. Following this 10-game stretch the Isles will play nine straight road games for the first time in franchise history.” They need to tighten up at the start of the game, where they have started to return to the ugly habit of surrendering the first goal over the last 4 games and improve their 7-12-4 road record if they have any hopes of doing some damage in the playoffs. Additions, subtractions, whatever.

The damage should start against Michael Grabner and the New York Rangers.

Isles Notes:

Shane Prince, Cal Clutterbuck are still out due to injury. Travis Hamonic remains on the IR.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Islanders Re-Sign Thomas Greiss & JT Islanders All-Star

Thomas Greiss has agreed to terms and signed a 3-year, $10M contract (Staple) to remain with the New York Islanders. I’ve always been a fan of Greiss. I first noticed how he kept an underwhelming Team Germany in the Winter Olympic and World Championship tournaments. He finally joined the Isles organization when he signed as a free agent in 2015.

The 31-year-old net minder has worked hard and has become a cornerstone of the improving Isles defense, is well liked by his team mates and wants to be a part of the crease for the next few seasons. He endeared himself to fans and got noticed by management last season when he backstopped the Islanders to a playoff series win for the first time since 1993, slowly winning the starters jobs away from Jaroslav Halak who is now playing in Bridgeport (6-1-2 in AHL this season) with the Sound Tigers.

Despite how much the NHL media wants to create a controversy of the free agency of star-player, John Tavares and his New York Islanders, Tavares once again tried to take the focus away from the off-season and focus on the now. “I’m excited about where the Islanders are headed and hopefully we can work something out." Tavares finished the Los Angeles NHL All-Star tourney with 2 goals and 3 assists for the winning Metro Division, playing well and showcasing why he is a super star in a league of super stars. JT was beat out again for MVP honors, this time by Flyers’, Wayne Simmonds, a one-time player for the Kings. Well, I guess there is always next year.

"I got a text from Mr. Gretzky saying this guy is a machine" - Doug Weight on @91Tavares at the All-Star Game. #Isles

Isles Notes:

Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Pat LaFontaine were honored and selected to the NHL 100 greatest Players List. I think they missed a few legendary Islanders myself, but what can I say.

Per Arthur Staple, “So what now? Just speculating -- if #Isles make a deal at Citi Field or Belmont, that still requires a place to play next 3-5 years. Here's one scenario that's a whopper: #Isles make an arena deal, hire MSG events to run the building and play at MSG while arena is built. Just from talking to people the last few years, lots on the table if and when #Isles and Barclays part ways. So, that's not exactly reassuring, but it's pretty clear from NHL and #Isles side that moving out of the NY area is an absolute last resort.”

Mangano says Isles return possible.

Bloomberg reporting Barclays want Isles out.

Per Chris Botta, “A story we all hope ends happily soon. Bettman makes clear Ledecky/Malkin are reviewing all arena options. As they should. Good luck.”

Sound Tigers Notes:

BST Defensemen, @devontoews6 with the second fastest time ever recorded (13.5 seconds) in #AHLAllStar Classic fastest skater competition with a time of 13.478.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Islanders Accountability: Worth The Weight

 A day after a 4-0 win in Boston, Jack Capuano was relieved of his coaching duties by the New York Islanders. Assistant to the GM and assistant coach, Doug Weight was named interim coach. Weight is a storied American player who has respect throughout the NHL as as a competitor and a person by many. But all of that doesn’t mean he would be able to pull the nose up on an Isles season that has, at times, looked like a rudderless plane trying to make an emergency landing.

Sometimes, things click, guys fill their roles and the team rallies to overcome adversity. At other times, complaints of passengers, roster changes, uninspired or erratic play adds to the frustrations of slow starts or blown leads late in the game - resulting in ugly losses and looking up from the bottom of the league standings. When speaking to the press, Weight promised to make some changes. Changes with the current team that would add a much needed accountability, and eventually, result in some consistency. Especially in their transition and checking game. Those would be the things the team could rally behind, rekindle their confidence in themselves, each other, and their purpose. Earlier this season, that must have been an uphill battle, even to the most relentless competitor on the roster.

Five games into Doug Weight’s revised program, The Islanders have gone 4-0-1 and been climbing in the power rankings. The teams best start ever following a mid-season coaching change according to team statistician, Eric Hornick. The Islanders have even started to climb the eastern conference and currently sit just 5 points out (21-17-9 with 51pts.) of a playoff spot behind the 8th place Boston Bruins heading into the All-Star break. Their 6-2-2 run in their last 10 games has enabled them to capitalize on some of the slumping teams in front of them. It’s also important to note they still have up to 3 games at hand on the teams (except Ottawa & Toronto) they are chasing. The Islanders have been able to shutout Boston and Dallas behind the play of Thomas Greiss (14-7-3, 2.25gaa, .928Sv%), beat league leading Columbus (2nd in NHL) Sergei Bobrovsky and Montreal (4th in NHL) Carey Price with sustained offensive pressure and an impressive balanced scoring attack.

New York is now even at 136 goals for and against and are climbing the offensive charts and now have 5-10+ goal scorers. John Tavares (13 points [8-5-13] in the last 8 games) and Anders Lee lead the team with 19 & 17, while an improving Brock Nelson, Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd (2 goals last night vs. Montreal) have 10. Josh Bailey (PP goal vs Montreal) has risen to his critics this season with 32 points, second only to John Tavares with 40. D, Nick Leddy is third on the team with 27 points.  The squads game has quickened and their transition game has improved. While defensively, they have been joining the rush all season, their checking game has improved in both ends and has really helped steal the puck away from the opposition and help with neutral zone turn overs and add to their scoring potential. The isles are now 9th in the league in goals per game (2.87) and 5th best on the PP at 14.6%. They have also started games well offensively and are 16-4-7 when they score the first goal (Hornick).

Defensively, the Islanders have been steady and are improving with the rest of the team. Having fought through injury this season, the call-ups of Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield have helped the team not miss a beat when guys like Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk have been injured. Calvin deHaan continues to play big minutes for the Isles and “is tied with Erik Karlsson (127 blocks) for 2nd place in the NHL, two behind Kris Russell.” On Thomas Greiss, “In the last 11 games that he started he has allowed only 22 goals, and 7 of those came in one game.  He has allowed two goals or less in 11 of his last 13 games” Per Eric Hornick. Greiss has risen to the challenge and gives New York a chance to win every night. The Isles are 6-9-4 away from the Barclays and that will have to change, especially in the 2nd half of the season with 22 out of the last 35 games on the road. This will be the next challenge for Weight’s Islanders and determine the chances for a post season run.

"We looked like a confident team that has something to prove and somewhere to go." 

Lead on Coach.

Isles Notes:

Team Captain, John Tavares will represent the New York Islanders in the NHL All-Star Game this weekend.

Montreal had won 7 straight against the Islanders with Carey Price winning 5 straight against them on the road prior to last night’s 3-1 Isles win. 42 shots against the Canadiens by New York was the 2nd most allowed this season.

Thomas Hickey is out with a lower body injury.

Cal Clutterbuck left the game against Montreal in the 2nd period and did not return.

Sound Tigers Notes:

The BST are 23-15-1-1 so far this season. Jaroslav Halak (4-1-2 in AHL so far this season) had a shutout against Providence on Wednesday. They face the Rangers AHL affiliate, Hartford Wolfpack tonight.

Josh Ho-Sang has 5 & 3 for 18 pts and a -9 ratring in 34 games this season.

“Bracken Kearns leads the Sound Tigers in both goals and points (16-19-35).  Rookie Devon Toews leads the team with 21 assists and is tied for second on the team in points (4-21-25).  Ryan Pulock leads the defense with 6 goals (6-9-15 in only 19 games).” - Hornick

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Islanders Fire Jack Capuano

The New York Islanders fired Head Coach, Jack Capuano today. President and General Manager Garth Snow made the announcement that Jack Capuano had been relieved of his duties as Head Coach and that Assistant GM Doug Weight has been named Interim Head Coach. Andy Graziano quoted Snow as saying, “Bob Corkum will come down from his position in the press box to run the bench with Weight and current assistant coach Greg Cronin for the remainder of the regular season, as it doesn't sound like anything more will be happening from now until then.

Last year, the Isles entered the playoffs for the third time in the last 4 seasons under Capuano. They finished with more than 100 points in the 2nd consecutive campaign and won their first playoff round since 1993. This summer, Capuano was selected by John Tortorella as an Assistant Coach for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Jack Capuano joined the Islanders organization in 05-06 as an assistant under Steve Stirling (then Brad Shaw) and became the Isles interim head Coach in 2010 replacing Scott Gordon, then full branded Coach in 2011. Capuano had served as Head Coach of the Islanders minor league affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he finished with a 133-100-8-14 record in 4 AHL seasons.

According to Eric Hornick, Jack Capuano was the 2nd winningest coach in Islander’s history. He had a record of 227-192-64 behind the Islander’s bench.  “Among the 9 New York area teams, only the Yankees' Joe Girardi has led his team longer than Capuano.”

Most games coached (Islanders):
1.      Al Arbour 1,500
2.      Jack Capuano 483
3.      Mike Milbury 191
4.      Terry Simpson 187
5.      Scott Gordon 181

Most wins by Islander coaches:
1.      Al Arbour 740
2.      Jack Capuano 227
3.      Terry Simpson 81
4.      Peter Laviolette 77
5.      Ted Nolan 74

Garth Snow spoke to the media on the move, "The New York Islanders would like to thank Jack for his tireless work throughout his seven seasons with the organization as Head Coach," Snow said. "His leadership guided the team to the playoffs in three of the past four years, which included two straight 100-point seasons. He is a great coach and an even better person. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward." Shannon Hogan mentioned Snow had consulted key members of the organization, “captains and inside staff,” on the decision and mentioned Snow wouldn’t comment on who possible candidates are or when the team would meet with them. “It’s not a dictatorship,” Snow said on how much influence Ledecky and Malkin had on the decision. I’m sure the ownership was ready for the change and let Snow know what they wanted.

Tom Gulitti mentioned, “Snow said his responsibility is, ‘100 percent ...Obviously, I'm not hiding from the fact it starts with me."  The organization has been in the hunt for a team President, and if they find one, Snow may be in jeopardy as well if that President thinks the team needs a culture change, especially based on the second half of this season. Presidents usually want their own management structure in place to be sure of a like mind set. And hiring a new coach would usually be done by the GM who the President and ownership feels will give All-Star, John Tavares the best chance to lead the team to a deep playoff run and a chance at a Stanley Cup final. After losing homegrown character guys like Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, Capuano couldn’t seem to recapture a team identity with the additions of Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. It’s not just on the coach. While he needs to keep the team rolling, the GM has a big role in putting those building blocks in place. Snow has acknowledged team shortcomings based on the roster starts with him. “I take full responsibility."

To be fired after a well-played 4-0 win against the Bruins was a little strange, but it must have just been another affirmation to ownership that the guys already here can make things happen when they work hard and play within a system. It could have illustrated at just the right time that things still weren't working with Jack Capuano in place. Team consistency under his watch has always been a problem. Many of us thought it might happen after the 7-4 breakdown against Carolina, so although the writing was everywhere for a lot of people, it seemed to be a strange time to do it. Perhaps with a couple of days off before facing Dallas on Thursday, the organization thought it was a good time to make the transition. "It's an honor to have served this historic franchise and its passionate fans," Capuano said. "I'd like to thank Garth and our ownership group for the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Islanders. I'd also like to recognize our coaching staff, training staff and players for all of their hard work."

The Islanders currently sit last in the Metro (17-17-8) at the half way point of the season and last in the east with 42 points, one of the worst point totals in the league. They still have games at hand and are only 7 points behind the Hurricanes for 8th in the east. Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport and now Jack Capuano was relieved of his duties. Whether it’s another move in management or on the roster, the next change will come when it comes.

Let’s continue to support the guys.

Per Elliott Friedman, “Hearing NYI have permission to talk to former Florida coach Gerard Gallant. He was an Islanders' assistant from 2007-09.” Arthur Staple is reporting the permission was granted before Capuano firing.

Isles Notes:

Thomas Greiss got his 2nd shutout as an Islander yesterday in a 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins.

Josh Bailey has 12 points (1 & 11) in his last 12 games.