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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Christopher Gibson: A Minor Threat, Isles Goalie Prospects

Our New York Islanders are in serious trouble. They are 11th in the eastern conference with 70 points, 8 behind the Devils for the final wild card spot. They managed to creep over an NHL .500 (30-29-10 in 69 games) with their win against Calgary on Sunday. Since December 1st, the Isles are 15-22-8 and are an abysmal -23 in goal differential. Andy Grazziano Tweeted a few more details, “45 games, 9 regulation wins, 42% of possible points (full season pace of 69 points) - 17 games allowing over 40 shots, 6 of which were over 50. - 27 games allowing 4 goals or more (60%) - Losing streaks of 3, 5 and 8 games.” We can all see that the problem has been behind the blue line and most recently, a wavering offense which was once one of the best in the NHL, now down to 8th (3.17/game) in the league. But the glaring weakness has been between the pipes. The Isles have battled for reliability in net with Jaroslav Halak (18-22-6 with a 3.23gaa and .908Sv% in 47 games) and Thomas Greiss (11-7-2 with a 3.84gaa and .891Sv% in 24 games) struggling to find consistency in their games. Greiss was injured (lower body) on 2/16 and placed on IR. That meant there was an opportunity for a goaltending prospect to get a chance in net with the Islanders.

BST goaltender, Christopher Gibson (a component of the Michael Grabner trade) was recalled on 2/19 and has given fans a small sample size to this point, but has done well. In the AHL, the 25-year-old Fin has an 18-11-3, with a 2.31gaa and .909Sv% with 4 shut outs in 33 games. Last season, Gibson was riding a 6-0-0 record before suffering a season ending injury during a drill, causing him to miss the rest of the 2016-17 campaign. "Mentally it was really tough," Gibson said. "The first few months to cope with the fact that I'm not playing anymore last year, but once I got the chance to work out my mind went right to coming back and I wanted to come back right away. I had a lot of time to think about things and prepare for this year." Per Cory Wright, this season Gibson had “a dominant stretch where he won eight of nine starts from late October to early December. He was named to the AHL All-Star Classic and at the time of his call-up, he had recorded back-to-back shutouts for the Sound Tigers.”

While Christopher Gibson now has 7 career NHL games to his credit, he is 1-0-2 in starts so far this season with a 1.90gaa and a .957Sv% in 3 games. Gibson lost a 2-1 decision to the Penguins in OT on 3/3 and to the Canucks by a 4-3 score in OT just 2 days later. On 3/8, Gibson lost in a 2-1 shoot out to the Oilers before finally got rewarded against Calgary, where he made 50 saves and helped his squad to a 5-2 win. Per Eric Hornick, “Gibson has established #NHL records for shots faced and saves by a rookie goalie from #Finland.” Pekke Rinne was the other. How does that sound Isles fans? NHL Public Relations added, “Christopher Gibson is the second rookie goaltender in @NYIslanders history to make 50+ saves in a game, joining Billy Smith on Nov. 22, 1972 at PHI (55).” See what goal support and defense can do for a hungry goalie and his team? Prior to that, the Islanders had dropped eight straight games. If they had gone at least .500 during that span, they would be in the hunt at the 7th or 8th spot in the east. In the plus column, Eric Hornick points out the Isles have killed 22/24 (91.7%) in their last 11 games.

To me, Christopher Gibson has earned the starters job for the rest of the season until he shows he isn’t giving New York enough to help them win. So far, he has made big saves, sees the puck well, been good with rebounds and looked calm and cool in the cage for the Isles. Stan Fischler agrees with new Isles Newsday beat writer, Andrew Gross, “play Gibson in goal plenty. Kid has got the goods.” Fischler added, “The Gibson agility and calm under fire are assets that stand out so far. He will only get better.” Eric Hornick points out unless he is signed by 7/1, Gibson will become a (group 6) Unrestricted FA. "I think it's the mental preparation that I've gone through over the years and wanting to be in this spot," Gibson said. "You can't get too overwhelmed. Yes, of course, before games I'm a little more nervous, but once I get in there my nerves seem to calm down and I feel a lot more comfortable." He continued, "I've wanted to play in the NHL for my entire life and now knowing that I can do that even after the year I had last year, I'm grateful for every moment that I'm here."

No one can know who will be retained, re-signed and who won’t be, but I would think the Islanders have hope for their current prospect pool to make a difference when called upon. BST G, Kristers Gudlevskis has gotten an even bigger shot since Gibson has been called up to the NHL. Over 29 AHL games, the 25-year-old Latvian has a 11-11-7 record with a 2.59gaa, a .901Sv% and 3 shut outs, but the 2016 AHL All-Star (SYR) has been hot lately. Gudlevskis had his 4-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the LV Phantoms. The Sound Tigers have won 6 of their last 7 before this Thursday's game against Rochester and are pushing for the final playoff spot for the Calder Cup chase. Gudļevskis is the only player to have played in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Olympic Games, and IIHF World Championships in the same season. Eamon McAdam (1-1-0) is now backing up in Bridgeport.

22-year-old Islanders prospect, Ilya Sorokin had a 25-8-4 record with CSKA this season with a 1.59gaa and a .931 Sv% with 8 shutouts. Sorokin has played 4 playoff games (4-0, 0.25gaa and a .998Sv%) in the KHL with CSKA Moscow, allowed 1 goal and recorded 3 shutouts (games 1,3 and 4) stopping 81 of 82 shots so far. Per Cory Wright, “CSKA, the second seed in the KHL's Western Conference will play third-seeded Jokerit in the semifinals starting on Friday. Jokerit beat HC Sochi 4-1 in the quarterfinals. CSKA went 1-1-0 against Jokerit during the regular season.” There are a few rumors making the rounds on the KHL playoffs this season. Twitter’s official Russian sports writer, Slava Malamud wrote a 21-part tweet on the Russian scandal with the KHL this season. “So, here is what's happening in the KHL, for those who still can't quite grasp the banality of evil, Russian style... The entire league has been set up this year to allow SKA to win. It's Putin's team, this is Putin's election year, it's chock full of OAR Olympians … For those of you who wonder how the SKA-Severstal story ends, SKA has just swept its opponent, winning 2-0 in Game 4. The PIM count was SKA 31, Severstal 57. This is Russia, folks.” Sorokin is a strong prospect, but may not be too anxious to come to the NHL and play in North America after signing a 2-year extension with an additional year remaining on his KHL contract. If the above information is true, I wonder why. <Sarcasm> To reiterate, Sorokin won a gold medal with OAR (Russia) at 2018 Winter Olympics.

Isles 21-year-old Swedish goal-tending prospect, Linus Soderstrom missed most of the season recovering from abdominal surgery, but returned last week for HV71. It was his first game since 11/17, going 1-1-0. I asked “Swedish Islander,” Magnus Larsson if he heard any specific details on Soderstrom’s injury. “All I really know is he had multiple surgeries back in December due to problems in the abdomen area. The surgeries were made in the US and were supervised by the Islanders. After his comeback the other week he is unfortunately sidelined again. "Old problems" is the only comment about it. SHL playoffs is starting in a few days and he could miss the rest of the season. But his team, HV71, are very quiet about the details.” Larsson mentioned he found some additional information on Soderstrom from The abdominal surgery Soderstrom had hernia surgery. He (Soderstrom) says it was uncertain for two or three weeks whether the season was over or not, but he feels he will make a comeback. In addition, Soderstrom has a specially designed skate to help with a heel problem he is battling. 

On that, Larsson added, “He did follow the Islanders on their trip to Montreal, mainly because Bauer's head office is located there and there he tested different skates to prevent him having further heel problems. He says he has only great things to say about the way the Islanders have helped him and it's up to the organization where he will play next season." Soderstrom has an 8-6-0 record with a 2.79gaa and .894Sv% with 2 shutouts this season with HV71, currently playing against Linkoping in a best-of-three game playoff series. Linkoping leads the series 1-0 and Soderstrom’s future for this season could be in doubt at this time. Let’s hope next season is better for him in a lot of ways.

The Islanders have thirteen games remaining, six out of their next seven games at home including a home-at-home series against Washington on Thursday and Friday. The playoffs look like an impossibility and the summer will be interesting. Here’s hoping the present and future finally pays off. Here’s to Christopher Gibson and his will to win. "That's why I'm excited to come to the rink every day and I have a smile on my face sometimes even when I shouldn't when we're having a tough stretch, but I'm really excited and grateful to be here."

Isles Notes:

“For all the #Isles fans turning on JT because he’s had slump at worst possible time of a career year, coming towards his biggest UFA summer of his career while trying to plan wedding and decide on long-term future tempered by his loyalty to our team need to chill the F out.”

On 3/11 per Arthur Staple, “Two points tonight gives Nick Leddy three consecutive seasons of 40+ points. Only two other #Isles D-men to do that: Denis Potvin and Tomas Jonsson. Mark Streit had three straight seasons of 40+ points but missed 2010-11 season in between.”

Sound Tigers Notes:

Per Alan Fuehring, “#Isles Wotherspoon has 4G in last 4GP & now sits 5th among #AHL rookie d-men (7). Aho is 2nd.”

@RiverHawkHockey product Tyler Mueller (D) has agreed to terms on an ATO.

Mike Cornell (D) has been loaned to the @RailersHC.

The #SoundTigers have signed Yale's Ryan Hitchcock to an ATO.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Islanders 2018 Trade Deadline: Safe or Sorry & Yormark Alienates Isles Organization, Fans

As the 3 pm trade deadline came and went today, Isles fans everywhere watched as their struggling team and UFA Captain waited to see what changes, if any, would come. Around noon, Greg Joyce tweeted, “Doug Weight said it seems as though the #Isles will have the group they have now after 3pm, but expressed confidence that management would do what’s best for the team.” So without adding a "necessary" piece by the close of the trading deadline, what might that be?

Looking back to Sunday, our New York Islanders acquired D Brandon Davidson from EDM for a 2019 3rd round pick. According to Arthur Staple, “Davidson makes $1.425M this year. Even with arb, won't go up much next season. Could be a lower-cost replacement for Hickey next year.” The Islanders need NHL-ready depth on defense, especially the stay-at-home type. Davidson is a bottom pair NHL D that comes to the Isles with the chance to prove himself. While it’s not a name fans wanted to hear as an Isles trade acquisition, it’s probably a decent pick up for Garth Snow. Per Brennan Klak, “Brandon Davidson is the perfect low maintenance 3rd pairing D. All of his metrics are solid, great team guy, solid defensively.” Brian Compton adds, “Guys, Jordan Eberle and Brandon Davidson for Ryan Strome and a 3rd-round pick. Feel better?”

Brandon Davidson has been traded twice and picked up by EDM on waivers on December 3rd. While a member of the Candiens organization, Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2012 and is now in a 6-year remission. So the guy is clearly a fighter and deserves a lot of credit for his courage off the ice. As far as his on-ice credentials, Davidson has 20 points (8 &12) in 137 NHL games with Edmonton and Montreal. He’s a shot blocker and isn’t afraid to play a physical, defensive first style. So far this season, Davidson has 5 points (3 & 2) and should help the Isles make up some ground defensively.

Per Cory Wright, “Davidson and Jordan Eberle were teammates in Regina during the 2009-10 season, in Oklahoma City for the early part of the 2012-13 season and in Edmonton from 2014-15 to 2016-17. The Islanders will be their fourth stop together.” I’m assuming Eberle was asked about Davidson and got the nod. Eberle,"Brandon is big & strong & I think he'll help us with some net-front presence as far as keeping guys away from our goalies & helping them see pucks. He does a mix of everything well. He can put the puck in the net & he can defend so he should add an element back there." Whatever the case, he will get his shot. Davidson will wear #88 for the Islanders.

Today, the Islanders acquire C, Chris Wagner from Anaheim for Jason Chimera. Wagner (6 & 9 for 15 pts) is a pending UFA that can bring some more shut-down to Isles, add to PK, bring more snarl (2nd in NHL with 212 hits) and be an addition by subtraction, replacing the slumping Chimera.  Per Islanders PR, “Wagner has already established NHL career highs in games, assists and points, while tying his career-best six goal output from last season.” Arthur Staple, “Chimera had been a healthy scratch the past several games after a lost season. Had 20 goals in 16-17 after signing a two-year, $4.5-million deal.” Chimera has been a scratch for the Isles since 2/13. Eric Hornick tweeted, “Wagner is 26 yrs old— 122nd pick in 2010- played collegiately at Colgate. Regular for Ducks this ssn— only F to play every gm. 6-9-15 in 64 gms.” Now that the Isles have Johnston and veteran, Wagner, they may have a nice physical presence to go along with the grit of Cizikas and Clutterbuck’s (185 hits) game. Wagner has 28 points (16 and 12) in 159 career NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche.

The Islanders were rumored to have kicked tires on trades involving other notable players, but nothing was within the range that GM, Garth Snow was interested in. Like others, I understand the costs involved for impactful defenders is high, but wanted a little more from the organization as time runs out. Especially in a crucial season for a team that, based on the last couple of months, has lost any real threat of doing anything in the post season if they could even make it. I understand the current ideology of most teams is to build through the draft and hold on to assets, but teams also add when the right player comes along. Its all speculation anyway, but I see teams in the division and around the league make moves and improve today while the Isles add bottom pair D and swap under-performing grit with younger, UFA grit.

The Isles addressed D, PK and team toughness. Barring a bigger deal, I would have still liked to see them take a Johnny Oduya off waivers from Ottawa to add some experience and depth to help offset the major struggles of the team’s defensive scheme. The Flyers claimed Odyua. This is epecifically true in the twilight of John Tavares’ final contract year.

Like many fans, I appreciate John Tavares. He’s an elite player and a necessary component for the Isles to continue providing credibility to their locker room and as a destination for future free agents. Belmont and probable Calder winner, Mathew Barzal aside, Tavares has been a major reason for the team’s successes this year and on pace for a career year. Even with a slump at the worst possible time, Tavares is, and should be, a priority to bring back. Heading into the summer without a deal is a stress er I’m sure many in and out of the organization are not happy with. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be a factor for JT, perhaps not having a new deal has made an impact. Maybe the pressure of what happens if a deal can’t be done, has worn on him a little. If Tavares doesn’t sign, Snow has lost a little cache for a franchise player that would need to be moved before July 1.

I don’t even want to speculate, but the time may have come to start considering the worst-case scenario, especially if this borderline team falls short off playoffs or doesn’t make it a few rounds deep once again.

# # #

Neil best wrote an article for Newsday based on an interview with Barclay’s CEO, Brett Yormark had with Sports Xtra. Yormark’s comments in the article made fans of the New York Islanders hate the Barclays Center even more. Yormark said the Islanders were a “a rent-a-team’ that never fully embraced Brooklyn — and vice versa — while also casting doubt on the team’s planned move to a new arena near belmont park.” Yormark commented how the move to Brooklyn didn’t work and never lived up to the hopes of Barclays management. “Their fan base resides in Long Island. They have a great, avid fan base in Long Island. Brooklyn just didn’t gravitate to the team as I had hoped they would. But I think the move next year, where they’re playing 12 games back in Long Island — and after next year we’ll probably play half the schedule, if not more [there] — is a step in the right direction.” Yormark continued the blood boiling when he decided to comment on the future of the organization at Belmont park site. If it ever happens.

“Obviously, they’re looking to build their own venue. Not sure that ever happens, but if it does, I wish them well. But in the interim our goal was to bring them back to Long Island, have them play as many games as they can at NYCB Live, and that’s happening, so I’m excited about it.”

It’s well known that the Belmont arena project will take three years or so to complete, making the inaugural opener somewhere around the start of the 2021-22 season. Until then, we can look forward to more uncomfortable attendance numbers and lowering expectations in Brooklyn. The #SnowMustGo Billboards should be up this week. Don’t be surprised if fan crowdfunding doesn’t become a thing to express rage and disappointment by the Isles loyal fan base. The remaining time for the Islanders and their fans in Brooklyn should be interesting.

Isles fan and Brooklyn resident, Stephen Helldorfer tweeted this to Randi Marshall on the Yormark news. “I’ve lived within walking distance of the @barclayscenter for the entire time the #Isles have been there. I know firsthand that @brettyormark did zero to market the team here (or, and possibly more plausibly, he’s terrible at his job.)”

Yormark has burned the last bridge in Brooklyn and showed the fans for this season and next, they have been and always will be considered second class at the Barclays Center.

Isles Notes:

Per Michael Fornabaio, “Aho, Fritz and Gibson are on AHL transactions, making them eligible to come down any time rest of the year. No Ross Johnston, though.” Johnston is now an NHL’er for the Islanders.

Per Brendan Burke, “Isles would have to send Aho, Gibson, Fritz and/or Johnston down (at least on paper) for 3pm tomorrow in order to make them eligible to return to the AHL at any point this season.”

Per Eric Hornick, “Complete list of players with more #NHL goals than #JT91 over last 6 seasons: 1. Ovechkin (257) 2. P Kane (182) Tavares has 181.”

2/23     Transaction: Alan Quine has been placed on IR (lower body).

Per Cory Wright, “Bailey now has the potential to pass Bryan Trottier and be the franchise leader in games played by the end of his next contract. 16 seasons would be second in franchise history trailing only Billy Smith (17).”

Olympics/Mens Hockey:

Isles prospect, Illya Sorokin wins gold medal with OAR (Russia) at 2018 Winter Olympics. OAR defeated an inspired Team Germany by a 4-3, O.T. score. Germany's Silver finish is highest in history of their Olympic hockey program. Canada wins Bronze over Czechs.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Islanders Extend Josh Bailey

Bob McKenzie mentioned the Isles and Josh Bailey were close to an extension. Today, the 6 year, $5M AAV deal was made official. Prior to that, McKenzie added, “This obviously, assuming it’s concluded and made official, could be a potentially critical positive element in the efforts to re-sign pending UFA C John Tavares once the season is over and Tavares turns his attention towards his long-term future.” Say that Josh Bailey’s performance is indicative of playing on a line with John Tavares. Say that Tavares makes everyone around him better. OK. Anders Lee has also become a much better player, but all of it makes the Islanders a better team heading into next season. IMO, a $5M AAV for Bailey would probably be a discount as to what he might expect if he entered free agency this summer. Per Matt Larkin, “Bailey contract, Barzal breakout, Belmont…three B's that I believe will lead to John Tavares re-signing with Isles.”

The fact is that the Islander’s 2008, 9th overall pick has come into his own and has been a solid player for them over the last two years, making his first All-Star game this season along with his veteran All-Star line mate, Tavares. Bailey’s desire to remain in New York has been evident for some time. Per Brian Compton, Bailey: “I thought right from the beginning, I wanted to give it every opportunity to stay. It was something that going into the year was kind of my focus. I said that from the beginning and meant it … There’s lots of things that go into make those decisions, now especially having a family. It’s a great place to raise your kids, it’s a great place to live, so that side of it was easy. The hockey side was easy too; this is obviously all I know."

So the 28 year-old forward will remain an Islander until the 2013-24 season. Per Isles PR, “Now, in his 10th season with the Islanders, Bailey has totaled 368 points (121 goals, 247 assists) in 697 career regular-season games. He's added 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games.”

Josh Bailey has career highs in points (62) & assists (47) in 58 games this season, good enough for 3rd on the team in points. His 47 assists puts him 2nd on the Isles and tied for 7th in the NHL for assists this season. Per Isles PR, “Josh has become one of the core members of the New York Islanders," Islanders President and General Manager Garth Snow said. "He has developed within our system for several years and it's exciting to see him mature into the player we always had confidence he would become. To come into the past few seasons and see Josh set new career highs each year, has been impressive and we're excited to see him continue to do that with the organization as we move forward." 
Per Tony Stabile, “The fact that Josh Bailey signed this extension in the mist of his best offensive season is a tribute to the kind of Islander he is. We saw favorites like Martin, Nielsen and Okposo leave for bigger $$ and term, Bailey took less to stay. Respect.”

# # #

Our New York Islanders followed up a horrible 4-1 loss to Columbus with an impressive pair of shutouts against the Rangers & Hurricanes. It was the first time the Isles had back-to-back shutouts on consecutive nights in franchise history per Erick Hornick. Halak had a 50 save performance against NYR (2nd best in team history-Healy 51) and Greiss stopped 45 shots against Carolina. It also marks the first time in NHL history a team had consecutive 45+ shot shut outs. Greiss was injured and placed on IR after the game, necessitating a call up for BST goaltender, Christopher Gibson on 2/19 to back up pending UFA G, Jaroslav Halak for the immediate future.

Following the win vs CAR Stan Fischler commented, “For the second straight game #TannerFritz replaced #JasonChimera and proved that he belongs. Smart, solid game for TF.” Chimera’s (2 & 9 for 11pts, -11 rating in 58 GP) apparent decline, along with Seidenberg’s (0 & 5 for 5 pts, -6 rating in 22 GP) have shown the Isles play better without them in the line-up. The Isles had another disappointing let down against the Minnesota Wild, losing 5-3 and followed it up with a hard fought, but 4-3 O.T. losing effort in Toronto. As previously stated, they are still more than just a few call-ups away from being a serious threat IMO. Their defensive scheme has been better, but has also been compromised in recent games. That’s still a product of having young D-Men on a veteran team pushing to make the jump into playoff legitimacy. I think a trade needs to happen, just don’t know if it’s a realistic expectation with the way Garth Snow does things. Isles have just 1 game remaining until the trading deadline.

The Isles face forward, Michael Grabner with his New Jersey Devils tomorrow.

Isles Notes:

Per Mark Hermann, “Despite the recent drought (no 5-on-5 goals in 7 games, no assists in 6 games), JT still is `the best leader in the NHL,' says Mathew Barzal.”

Per Cory Wright, “Barzal now tied with Tavares for #Isles scoring lead with 64 points. Pulock in sole possession of second in goals for rookie defensemen (6) in the NHL.”

Per Arthur Staple, “Barzal's 60th point on that goal, third-most for an #Isles rookie. Might have trouble catching the top two: Bossy (91) in 1977-78 and Trottier (95) in 1975-76.”

"John Tavares joined a select group of #isles who have scored 30 goals in a season at least 4 times: 1Bryan Trottier*11 2Mike Bossy*10 3Clark Gillies*6 4Pat LaFontaine* 6 5John Tavares4 The other four are all in the HHOF, as their @hockey_ref "*" denote."

2/15 KoC Poll:

Who's at fault for the current state of the #Isles in your opinion?

Garth Snow: 65%
Ownership: 17%
Doug Weight: 11%
Players: 7%

Per @BrodskyRobert, “Exclusive: deal to move @NYIslanders temporarily back to Coliseum dependent on county lease amendment removing clauses penalizing operator $1 million for lack of games … myself and @jimbaumbach.”    

Per Arthur Staple, “Weight clarified his comment postgame about the atmosphere was directed at his team, not the fans. “There was no atmosphere in the building and there didn’t deserve to be. We didn’t create any.”

“Doug Weight: "It wasn't a good atmosphere, but we didn't deserve it to be a good atmosphere. That's not calling the fans out, that's calling our team out. We didn't play well enough to create an atmosphere. Our fans are great. That's my fault for wording it improperly." This was following the 4-1 loss to CBJ.

@TwoTurtleDuffs started a #SnowMustGo campaign to fund two billboards in Brooklyn. The goal was met and any additional funds were meant to go to Anders lee’s Kancer Jam.

“Our goal is to submit our design tomorrow, and the board will be up starting on Feb 26. We exceeded every expectation I had. Stay tuned for more, friends.”

Anders Lee denounced the movement, but the extra money would be well spent.

"Major notes include that in light of Anders Lee's decision, we will be donating overflow to the American Cancer Society. We encourage any fans with leftover money to donate to Anders' foundation, or a similar charitable cause.

Sound Tigers Notes:

First-year ECHL team, Sound Tigers affiliate, succeeding in Worcester.

2/13 TRANSACTION: Two-time Calder Cup Champion Andre Benoit (D) has been loaned to Bridgeport by @BlueJacketsNHL.

Team USA:

Women’s squad wins the 2018 gold medal against Canada. Men’s team lost 3-2 to Czech’s in quarter finals. Yannic Seidenberg, brother of Isles Dennis Seidenberg of Team Germany will play Team Russia in the gold medal game. Germany was awarded a bronze in 1932 and (West Germany) 1976, but even a silver medal would be the nation’s strongest finish in their nation’s hockey program history.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Islanders Have Much to Prove

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.

Isles Notes:

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."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Islanders Return to Coliseum, Vegas, Injuries & All-Stars

The latest chapter for the Isles return to the Island proper unfolded today. In a much speculated press conference to announce that the Isles will split time between the Barclays Center and refurbished Nassau Coliseum while waiting for their new diggs, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed it. Johnny Boychuck, Andrew Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck and John Tavares were all on stage as the announcement was made. Tavares called the Coliseum a “special place” and sounded like he had an opinion on returning to play at the Coliseum. “For me, it’s where I started my career, it’s where so many great things have happened,” said the captain. About playing on the Island, Tavares said, “It’s where the team was born and created its identity. It’s really who it is. If that’s the case it’s going to be a great opportunity, a great experience to go back there and relive and create some more great history.”

The Islanders won’t play their first game at their new arena in Belmont until the 2021-22 season, so that gives the Islanders an opportunity to spend some time at the Old Barn. The lead up and final announcement got a mixed reaction by fans on social media. Governor Cuomo announced that the Isles have a 12-game commitment at the Coliseum for next season and 48 more over their next two NHL campaigns and the state will help with a $6M contribution for any necessary “modifications” to the 18 month, $165B, 13,900 seat, renovation already done to the arena for final NHL compliance. According to Newsday, It is not known yet what upgrades Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment agreed to make to the arena to account for the Islanders time there. Among the issues discussed have been; ice quality, dehumidification, closed luxury boxes, locker rooms, training facilities, wiring for media broadcasts, etc.

“If the team wants to play more than half their games here, we encourage it and welcome them back,” said Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates both Barclays Center and the county-owned Nassau Coliseum. Per Jim Baumbach, “The Islanders and BSE have until Tuesday to complete the contractually obligated opt-out process from their existing 25-year arena deal, which began in 2015.” According to Yormark, any possible Playoff games haven’t been discussed as-of-yet. Islanders co-owner, John Ledecky said that would be up to the NHL. So that’s approximately 60 games, including pre-season contests as early as next September, over the three-year waiting period.
Per Newsday, “This agreement also means BSE will — for three seasons, at least — get a reprieve from paying the $1 million penalty to Nassau County for not providing the two preseason and four regular-season Islanders games they promised in their Coliseum lease agreement.” The NHL’s Bill Daily, Kris King and Dan Craig briefed an environmental sub-committee to discuss the things that need to be done to make the facility league ready.

The Islanders had a big win in front of several fans who made the trip to see their team play against the Vegas Golden Knights last Friday, just before the All-Star break. They executed a much-improved defensive scheme, especially clogging up the middle to negate the Vegas offense. Jaro Halak played a very strong game and gave the Isles the edge in a 2-1 win and tightly contested game. Eberle: “Jaro was the star of the game and made some huge saves. You take the two points. It was huge. We found a way to do it. With how tight everything is in our division, it's a big win." Per Eric Hornick, “Ross Johnston scored his 1st NHL goal and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders became the first opponent to sweep a season series from the Golden Knights, as they defeated Vegas 2-1 before a crowd of 18,184 at T-Mobile Arena.” Jordan Eberle (23rd of Ssn) added the second goal for New York. The Islanders turned the corner a bit with a win against the Blackhawks and now, Knights on the road, going 4-0-1 in their last 5 away from Brooklyn. They are 10-13-3 in their last 26 games overall.

Injuries have probably played a part in the mid-season slide for the Isles. Doug Weight is aware of it. "You can say makeshift, you can say whatever you want; the fact is we have seven, now eight guys out. Listen, no one has a violin here. I'm not looking for it. But it's tough." A few days later, Weight didn’t even want to talk about the topic of injuries with the media. “I am no longer discussing any injuries. It’s been a long time coming. I try to do the best I can to update you, I know it’s your job to ask. When they say they can play or when they’re healthy, they’re healthy. Right now we’ve got to win with whoever’s in there. I’m not going to update any more, it’s kind of tiring for me as far as stick-handling around upper body, lower body. Whoever’s in, I’ll give you the lineup and that’s that.” Ross Johnston (11pts. And 113 pins w BST) was the latest call-up (Jan. 19th) and added some much-needed physicality and a touch of scoring.

John Tavares and Josh Bailey attended the 2018 NHL All-Star game in Tampa Florida and took part in the puck relay and fastest skater competition, respectively. Tavares finished 2nd in the relay. Tavares and Bailey had an assist in the Metro’s loss to the Atlantic division. "It was fun. That's the biggest thing. Obviously would have liked to have moved on to the final game, but it was all in good fun," 1st time All-Star, Bailey said. "It was good to get to know everyone a little better and ultimately it was just a great experience."

As expected, Islanders Captain was barraged with questions about his contract status and answered the questions as he has throughout the season. "I try not to approach anything differently because of it being in last year of my contract. I haven't really gone out of my way to talk to guys and find out how they've handled it. I try to be myself and be the best I can, be the best teammate and player I can be for the Islanders." Tavares has 26 and 31 for 57 points in 50 games this season and is set for a career year. It’s clear his approach to the game hasn't changed and Tavares believes in New York’s depth and organizations potential within the talent in the Isles system. It seems he is in no hurry and hopefully, Garth Snow has things in hand. If the unmentionable were to happen, a very unpopular, but necessary Plan B scenario would likely be set in motion.

Much like his GM, John Tavares doesn’t like to bring attention to team business. "I've always stated that I've really enjoyed being there," Tavares said. "I haven't thought about anything but mostly focusing on this season and taking my time and being patient. When the time is right, I'll make my decision. Anything that we've talked about, I prefer to keep it internally between me and the organization. Talks are always open and they've been great so far. I'm not going to get into specific details.

"The way I look at is anything that affects my daily life, whether it's at the rink or not at the rink, will go into my decision. Obviously, you want to play for a team that's doing everything it can to win, and the Islanders are certainly doing that. You can see a lot of the potential and the young talent we have, as well as guys who've been there for a while, like Josh, Anders [Lee], [defensemen] Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the veteran guys we have. We've got a solid foundation there." I’m sure rookie standout, Mathew Barzal will help weigh in to the decision as well. Barzal (51pts) has been a huge factor in the Isles offense and is among an elite group (Crosby, Malkin & Ovechkin) for 50 points in 50 games over last 20 years of NHL play.

The Isles get back to action tomorrow against Florida in Brooklyn and then go to Toronto on Wednesday.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Asked what his priority is in making a decision, Tavares said: “I want to stay on Long Island... I haven’t thought about being anywhere except with the Islanders.”

"Tavares on interim play at Coliseum, “Just when this place is full, there’s nothing really quite like it. It was always a big family atmosphere coming to the Coliseum. To get to have that again and in the transition into Belmont which I think is a big part of the identity of this team.”

“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.”

Tanner Fritz and Ross Johnston have been recalled from loan.

Per Eric Hornick, Pulock has tied #Isles record for points by a defensemen-- last done by Uwe Krupp. Potvin had 5 points 5 times and Persson once.

Per StatsCentre, “Isles are 2nd team in NHL history to have 3 or more 5+ point games from rookies in a single season- 1 shy of the 1980-81 Nordiques for the most (2 from Peter Stastny, 2 from his brother Anton).”

Aho and Sorokin make the list, with Bellows and Ho-Sang among the honorable mentions.

Per Eric Hornick, “Only Edmonton (1986-87) has gone longer than the #isles (1987-88) without finishing 1st in their division. (Current streaks only) #NHL

Ex-Islander, Canadian Olympic goaltender Kevin Poulin has signed with EHC Kloten for the remainder of the season. #NationalLeague

Sound Tigers Notes:

Congratulations to @CGibber37 & @mitchv_97 on being added to the #AHLAllStar playing roster!

Jeff Kubiak (F) has been loaned to the @RailersHC.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Isles Dominate Rangers. Barzal, Beau & Ho-Sang

Mathew Barzal has been and is currently on fire. Whenever he touches the puck, you stop eating popcorn or sipping your beverage to see what will happen next. Whether on a regular shift or in overtime, he has factored into some big moments for the New York Islanders this season. In last night’s 7-2 domination over their rival New York Rangers, our Isles saw Barzal put the league on notice yet again. His 2 goals and 3 assists (and +5 rating) galvanized the Isles’ attack at MSG and the Rangers could do nothing about it. Per Eric Hornick, “Barzal also regained the lead in rookie points from Brock Boeser (44-40).  It was his 4th multi-assist game and 9th multi-point game. In the last 21 years, only one Islander rookie (John Tavares -30 in 2009/10) has had more assists than Barzal.” Barzal is the first Islander, ever, to score 5 points at MSG. Is this thing on?

Mathew Barzal is the only player in the NHL, rookie or otherwise, to have 2-5 point games under his belt so far this season. Per Mike Morreale, “NYR coach Alain Vigneault: "Barzal’s line just dominated Mika’s [Mika Zibanejad] line the whole game. I had three of my top players there and they were dominated the whole game." Anthony Beauvillier (+5 in the game) had 2 goals and an assist in last night’s win. After a 3-game stint in the AHL, Beauvillier once again made a statement to stick around with the big club. And Barzal likes his friend’s game, “He's bringing his effort every night, that's the biggest thing," said Barzal. "He's playing exactly how he's supposed to play, winning battles, burying his chances which is great and doing a great job playing 200 feet. He's been really easy to adjustment there with Ladd being out." Beauvillier seems to be feeling it as well. Here’s what he had to say about the Isles first game back in action, “It’s always fun to play the Rangers, especially here, and it’s been a good game for us. Coming back from the break and just build off that last game against New Jersey. We played a great game." Line mate Jordan Eberle had a career high 4 assists (Hornick) in the game. Prince (1st goal since 12/16), Hickey (2nd of Ssn) and Clutterbuck (4 goals in last 4 games) also scored goals in the game.

The Isles huge second period rush added 3 goals to the scoresheet in the first seven minutes and broke the confidence of the Rangers, eventually getting Ondrej Pavelec pulled from the home net after goal number five. 9 different Islanders got at least a point and Scott Mayfield had 2 points (career high) on the night. It was the Isles 3rd straight win vs the Rangers at MSG and 5th straight overall. Jaroslav Halak was huge (now 16-7-0 vs Rangers) for the Islanders and stopped mounting pressure by the Rangers after they forced the tie early in the game. Halak is 13-12-0 on the season.

Injuries have affected the Isles a few times this season. Several key players have gone down and that meant prospects were given an opportunity to fill their roles. The Isles recalled Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle on an emergency basis from BPT. Along with D, Sebastian Aho to face the New York Rangers. Dal Colle looked comfortable and Aho continues to do what’s asked of him in relief on the Isles blue line. With Casey Cizikas leaving last night’s game after an un-penalized slash to the wrist, Sound Tigers’ scoring leader, Tanner Fritz (37 pts) was recalled again from Bridgeport.

On the other side of the prospect coin, Josh Ho-Sang seems to be souring on his most recent time back down with the Sound Tigers. Ho-Sang always plays hard and has all the talent in the world, but his maturity and attitude have been called into question by critics. This was the main reason the Islanders were able to get a player of his considerable talent level with the 28th overall pick in 2014. Ho-Sang is now getting scratched in the AHL. A place where he has been sent down to learn a lesson, re-ignite his fire and ply his play-making craft like so many who came before him.

“When you start the year in the NHL and then get scratched in the AHL in the same year, it’s kind of … it’s kind of mentally tough,” Ho-Sang told The New York PostHo-Sang may not be meshing with Sound Tigers coach, Brent Thompson. “I don’t think anybody can break my confidence,” he said. “But it’s definitely put in a place where it’s not very good. There’s certain things I can do on the ice to remind myself of what I am and who I am. But it’s just tough when you have people getting on you and sometimes when everyone’s talking to you about the negative, you may look at yourself negatively.”

On Ho-Sang, Thompson had this to say, “He’s a baby, he’s immature and he’s got a lot of growing to do. I’m excited. The upside of him is outstanding. He worked hard today, he’s been working really hard. We all make mistakes, we all have bad games. It’s how do we respond from those and what do we learn from them? Every piece of this season for Josh, with us, is a development piece. It’s just going to be a longer process with some people.” In this writer’s opinion, “He’s a baby” may not be the best quote or sound bite to put out there with a major NY paper. Isles fans certainly remember the rift that started to form between the Islanders organization and Nino Neidereitter. It engineered the talented prospect to be traded to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck. No one knows what will happen with Ho-Sang and when his next NHL call-up will be, but the work will need to be there along with the message sent by the organization.

Per Josh Ho-Sang, “Yeah, I’m only young, but I’m burning years off my NHL career. It sucks,” he said. “You want to be up top. For me, I didn’t look at it this way until this year. I was looking forward to hopefully my first [full] NHL season.”

He added, “I enjoy playing up there and I find that when I’m up there, I’ve had quite a bit of success,” Ho-Sang said. “I think I’ve had more success up there than hardship. But they want what they want.”

I love the prospect of Ho-Sang rejoining the Islanders but dues have to be paid when asked by management and the quickest way back up is to prove your doubters wrong without speaking out or losing your cool to a reporter.

For nothing else but an attempt to draw a parallel, please indulge me.

Coach, Doug Weight on Beau’s attitude and game, "Anthony has been a different person," Weight said of Beauvillier since his return. "Just his face, his confidence and just in hindsight, speaking with him this morning he said you were right, this was the greatest thing for me."

Here’s what Anthony Beauvillier himself had to say on being sent down to the AHL, "It happened to Bails [Josh Bailey] and a lot of Hall of Famers played in the American League as well," Beauvillier said. "It's helped me a lot just finding my game a little bit more, how to have success. No one wants to hear that, but it was good for me to go down there."

Back to the main point of all of this.

The Metro remains super tight. The Isles have a shootout win vs NJ and a big, tight defensive and road scoring win vs the NYR in their last 2 opportunities. A point separates 5 teams (Rangers through Carolina) with little relief in sight. It’s all about the coming head-to-head match-ups and which team will rise above the others as the playoff push into spring approaches. It’s going to take a full team effort without any nights off. And that includes everyone on and off the ice.

Challenge accepted.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Isles announce Tanner Fritz has been recalled and Andrew Ladd (upper) is on IR.”

Josh Bailey and Johnny Boychuk still out. No update on Casey Cizikas after being slashed on the wrist in last names game vs. the Rangers. Per Andy Graziano, “Weight not optimistic at all about Cizikas, said doesn't look good and won't make trip Monday, opportunity there for guys to step up.”

Per NHL PR, “THIS DATE IN 1988: Denis Potvin of the @NYIslanders became the first defenseman in NHL history to score 300 career goals.”

Sound Tigers Notes:

The #SoundTigers have recalled Kellen Jones (F) & Mike Cornell (D) from the @RailersHC.

Christopher Gibson is now 14-7-2 on the season with 2 shutouts.

Toews Undergoes Successful Surgery.