Our New York Islanders are still 1 point out of a playoff spot in the east at 27-24-6 with 60 points after 57 games, despite a turnover ladened, defensively challenged style of play. Their goaltenders are struggling and even when they are on, they face 40+ shots per game behind a mostly lethargic defensive effort. Per Eric Hornick, “Since December 1st, Halak has faced 915 shots. This is 85 more than any other goaltender (Lundqvist 830) in that span.” Any mistake they make seems to have a good chance to blow a lead, a game and possibly, the season. Thomas Greiss (10-7-0-2, 4.03gaa & .885Sv%) has had his own challenges keeping the puck out of the net.
Yet, at times, I still see the flashes of dominance they showed in the first part of the season. They have so much skill and heart. Their top offensive players are so dangerous and at times, no opponent’s lead seems too great for them to overcome. I love all the positives to their game, but I can never relax because they have seemingly become an inconsistent, ineffectual mess at the worst possible point in the playoff race. Eric Hornick mentioned a few stats that should be a concern to everyone who follows the team. The Isles are 12-17-4 in their last 33 games and allowed 210 goals (highest since 1995-96, when they allowed 220). The Islanders have allowed at least 35 shots in thirteen straight home games and have allowed at least five goals eight times at home (1-5-2) and sixteen times overall (1-13-2).
I know they have had injury problems, especially on D and their offensive first system has finally begin to challenge the team’s ability to win games. I heralded Doug Weight since he took over last season, but he is obviously having trouble righting the game plan with his coaching staff. According to Eric Hornick, “Doug Weight is now 51-36-10 as an NHL coach. On February 3rd vs. the Blue Jackets, he reached 50 wins faster than any coach in Islander history.” But since their win against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Isles have gone 3 & 4. They have looked horrible, blown leads and lost to some of the worst teams in the league, playing to the level of their opponent. They have also managed to come up big, pulling off huge comebacks like the dramatic finish against Detroit. But as great as that 4 ppg performance was late in the third to set the stage for a Brock Nelson hat-trick to win the game in O.T., the team needed a miracle to pull it off. And to their credit, they got one. That time. The 3-0 lead surrendered to the last place Buffalo Sabres though, cost them a 4-3 loss a day earlier.
Per Chris Botta, “It’s difficult to build a contending NHL team. People far smarter than Garth Snow have failed at it. But Snow has been around since 2006. No matter what Snow’s contract is, how can #Isles ownership continue to pat him on the back and accept this?” I know the knock on Garth Snow’s yearly refusal to make big trades and act the way other, more successful GM’s have to actually make significant gains for their clubs at the deadline. In my opinion, the drop off hastened after the Isles lost the services of Calvin de Haan and Nikolay Kulemin. Two players that were relied upon to play key defensive rolls on the blueline and on the once galvanized penalty kill. But they are hardly the reason for the Isles latest downward season spiral.
Snow said he won’t use the Isles high picks in next year’s draft for rentals and I don’t blame him. Plus, most cache’ players are commanding a 1st, top prospect and additional player thrown in for consideration per NHL sources. Isles have their own picks in 1st and 2nd round along with Calgary’s (Hamonic Deal), so those are prime assets. I would, however trade them for impact players with at least a year remaining. And it’s OK to trade a few key and 2nd tier rostered players or prospects to make this year’s team better, especially on defense or in goal. Anything to help a team led by John Tavares make more noise is fine with me. Especially with the numbers guys like Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle have been putting up. With Tavares on the cusp of his UFA summer, the Islanders need a real reason for JT to commit to them. We know he likes it here and we know he’s loyal, but the team needs to break free of the 12-year rebuild and truly take the next step for a player like John Tavares to re-sign.
The NHL trade deadline is 2 weeks away. I thought for sure Snow would have tried to woo D, Mark Streit out of retirement to finish the season ala F, Mike Fisher with Nashville. The Islanders could use a boost on defense or in net at this point. Any of the trade-block blueliners are pending UFA’s. That means Garth Snow isn’t likely to get an Erik Gundbranson, Darnel Nurse, Jack Johnson or even an older, but capable Mike Green. He would have to search for an expendable, affordable younger, top tier defender with term remaining. Because those are available (dripping sarcasm). Winnipeg’s UFA, Jacob Trouba would be a worthwhile gamble in my book, but would likely be too expensive. Nashville’s 25-year-old prospect, Dante Fabro is appealing, but he might not be ready for the role that the Isles are looking for in a deadline acquisition. And probably far too expensive anyway. To me, G, Robin Lehner is the only goalie I’d take a shot with at this point. Lehner has a 2.90gaa and a .910Sv% on the last place Sabers, but it’s still a gamble and at what price. FYI: Bridgeport goaltender, Christopher Gibson is 17-11-2 with 2 shutouts. And for those of you asking, the Isles on spirited enforcer Matt Martin has got to be no. I love what he did for the organization while an Islander, but much like popular players like Matt Moulson or Frans Nielsen, Martin is too expensive and on the decline. The Isles can utilize Ross Johnston in the meantime to fill similar role.
The Islanders had another early lead against Calgary on Sunday, but succumbed to some miscues and defensive blunders, losing yet another game they should have won. Mathew Barzal was singled out and benched by Doug Weight late in the game for Jordan Eberle. Per @bheymann99, “Here's what Mathew Barzal told me re Doug Weight sitting him with the goalie pulled & #Isles down 3-2 last night: ‘I’ll own up to it. I didn’t have a great game. I didn’t deserve to be out there late in the game. He made a good coaching move. I’ve got to hold myself accountable." Weight on Eberle over Barzal: "Ebs arguably to me in the last month has been our absolute best player, smart, reliable, makes plays but gets it in when he knows (he should), makes the right play. He’s cerebral. ... And he’s battling. That’s what my choice is.”
The Islanders need to find a way to refocus their game and get back to the way they played earlier in the year. They need accountability, especially on the defensive side of things. Everyone from the coaches down to the 4th line needs to contribute. And if they aren’t, its Garth Snow’s job to make the moves to get the guys who will. The Islanders have divisional games against Columbus on Tuesday, Rangers on Thursday and Carolina of Friday.
Enough excuses. If that doesn’t fire you up, I’m not sure what will.
Per Eric Hornick on Mathew Barzal, “Ridiculous-- only centers in #NHL history w more 5-assist gms in any season wore 99 and 66.”
“Mathew Barzal now needs only 1 point to become the third highest-scoring rookie in Islander history.”
Per NHL PR, “Mathew Barzal of the @NYIslanders collected five assists to record his third five-point game of the season (0-5—5 on Nov. 5 vs. COL and 2-3—5 on Jan. 13 at NYR).”
Per Elias: “Barzy became the first rookie since the 1917-18 season to record three 5-point nights in a single season.” Only 2nd ever (Joe Malone, MTL, 1917-18) to do so.
John Tavares, “It’s going to be exciting with the long term development of Belmont. In the short term basis being able to come back somewhere where really the heart of the franchise is.”
Per Jim Baumbach, “Yormark says Isles will take back business operations control after the upcoming season, as per their original license agreement.”
Per Brian Compton, “Jon Ledecky tells me future retired numbers and #Isles HOF inductions will be decided by the alumni. "I think it's much better if it comes from the group itself. It's much more meaningful to the guy if it's coming from his peers."
Per @islesblogger, An Open Letter to Jon Ledecky.
Per Brian Compton, “Hamonic: "I'll be an old guy one day and I'll back on my time as an Islander and be extremely proud of wearing that jersey because of what it means and how passionate people are here."