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 hockeysverige.se. 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."
“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.”
Mike Cornell (D) has been loaned to the @RailersHC.