So in the past few days, I’ve had 2 articles partially written to analyze the Isles and their play a little more than half way into the season and heading into the All-Star break. I’ve had to change them around and do some re-writes to bring you the current version of this article. I had to do so in hopes of not retelling much of what many of my colleagues or those in the local media have written about the team. Sometimes, not a very easy thing to do at all. But know that my delays in writing have come at expense of caring for my Dad, a trade I happily make without hesitation.
It all comes down to accountability. I need to take care of business in my own life and still manage the immense burden of caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Sometimes, it seems like a losing battle, but it doesn’t deter me one bit. If I am not there to care for him, no one else will. I am OK with that obligation. What I am trying to do here is draw attention to the different responsibilities and accountability. While the example is my own, its merits can be applied to many other examples, even a hockey organization like the New York Islanders.
Recently, your New York Islanders defeated the Vancouver Canucks, 4-2 in O.T at home, the Senators 5-2 in Ottawa, had their home game against the Flyers snowed out (no make-up date announced yet) and lost a 4-2 game at home to the Detroit Redwings, since we talked last. It was an up and down, back and forth 9 days of hockey. They seem to dominate each period with a physical edge or were forced to play catch-up for much of the game after a slow start during that time. They now find themselves 3 points behind the 2nd place Rangers (25-16-6 with 56pts in 47 games) and 7th in the eastern conference. They have gone just 7-8-1 in their last 16 games, but have been outscored 29-9 in those 9 loses. All season long, lines have been changed, guys called up and injuries endured for what still amounts to a successful 2015-16 campaign for New York so far. Adjustments must be made in the best way that the GM, coaching staff and players are able to accomplish. But you have to wonder how good the team would be if their shortcomings were properly addressed and they found a way to evolve even more than they have managed so far this season.
I am acquainted with a professional coach in a major sporting league. This coach has managed to have a very successful career in his chosen sport and has even won a title at the pro level. When I asked about his opinion on Jack Capuano, he basically said he wasn’t the biggest fan and feels that under his guidance, the Isles fail to consistently play with energy. He also sighted that the staff doesn’t hold guys accountable and although he is a fan of Doug Weight, like most of us, he doesn’t feel the PP (now 19th in the NHL at 17.5%) unit is a legitimate threat game in and game out at this time. He feels that some more moves need to be done by Garth Snow and the first should be finding a legitimate winger for star center, John Tavares. Greg Cronin has been good for most of the season with the PK, now 2nd at 87.2% (including a consecutive 22 game kill streak) and has helped the team win close games for much of the campaign.
It seems the consistency is still missing and it must start taking a toll on every level of the organization. Accountability that includes, but goes beyond the players on the ice while this talented squad in burning their limited time as one of the better, but underachieving units in the league. Capuano has the respect of his players per reports and he has non-specifically called out his team on more than one occasion. He has also made it a point to mention that personnel decisions are something Garth Snow will need to think on because he feels certain players are just not getting it done. I have questioned Capuano on decisions, but no one is getting fired or moved with the success that the team is having now - unless the shortcomings continue as the trade deadline approaches. But I think they are continuing and will continue without the proper adjustments. This will be especially true when you look into next season with new ownership taking majority control of the team. Charles Wang will remain as a minority owner and advisor, but Garth Snow will need to continue to take strides in team depth and try and find a way to help the Islanders reach the consistency they so desperately need. Not an easy thing to do and I am far from an NHL level GM or Coach for that matter, but I am confused by the same shortfalls that we take exception to as fans. I do have 5 keys that could help the Islanders in the 2nd half of the season and into what should be a playoff push.
5. More balanced scoring. The Isles need it in bunches and need to score first. Per Eric Hornick, “The Isles are 21-2-0 when they score at least three goals (including shootout winners) and are 4-14-6 when they do not. The Isles were 40-8-4 when they scored at least three goals (including SO winners) last season and the Isles are 17-3-2 when they score first and are 8-13-4 when they allow the opening goal.” The Isles need their stars (Okposo 35, Tavares 34 & Nielsen 30 pts) to continue to lead by example and offensive contributions need to come from everywhere. Like how Brock Nelson’s 11 goals in his last 19 games have him 1st on the team in goals (19) scored and one off his 20 goal high from last season. Mikhail Grabovski has managed 21 points in 47 games and is looking better as of late. They need even more from Anders Lee (20), Ryan Strome (17), Josh Bailey (20).
4. Get even more defensive and gritty. The defense needs to continue to jump in on the rush and help change momentum, but a priority on defense must be kept from within their own zone. The Isles must keep finishing checks, agitating opponents and neutralizing scoring chances by the opposition to result in more odd man rushes the other way and SHGs (4). The 4th line of Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck are infectious with their physical play and need to continue to frustrate the competition along with their team mates on both sides of the ice.
3. Goaltending needs to stay sharp. The Isles are 10-5-6 in games decided by a single goal. They have stayed in the playoff hunt by their depth in net. Jaroslav Halak (ranked 24th) is 12-9-4 with a 2.14gaa & .923Sv% while back-up, Thomas Greiss (ranked 22nd) is 13-6-2 with a 2.32gaa & .927Sv%. The goal tending the Isles get has given the team confidence in most games and is sometimes the only reason the team stays in the games in which they are struggling. The net minders need to improve even more, especially Jaroslav Halak who must emerge as the clear #1 going into the post season.
2. Power Play must improve. It has been up and down all season long as is currently in the bottom half of the league at 19th. The Isles need their extra man to take advantage of close game and turn momentum when it is needed most. It is necessary to add points within a game and by default, in the standing of a close eastern conference race to the post season. If changes need to be made to direction or tweaks to their PP units, then it needs to be done.
1. They must stay healthy as a team. This is a huge need for any team and it’s a credit to the depth built by Garth Snow that time lost to Jaro Halak, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Thomas Hickey wasn’t too much to overcome for the Islanders so far. The depth and improved play provided by Thomas Greiss, Calvin de Haan & Adam Pelech have helped New York stay in the hunt, but key players need to stay healthy so they can focus on the task at hand. Competing at a high level for a better chance of winning games.
Let’s hope that the injuries, fatigue and focus can improve over the All-Star break and some rest and film work can be done to sharpen the team for the conclusion of the season. I still feel they have the talent and players to make a splash, but without the accountability necessary to keep their edge, the team may not have what it takes for that next step towards Stanley. That accountability must be owned at every level.
Consistency is sure to follow.
The All-Star game is this weekend and John Tavares (4 goals in the game last year) has been named Captain of the Metro Division squad to represent New York again. The game will feature a 3 on 3 format style of play. Tavares credited his team mates when he spoke about attending the weekend for the Isles. “There are a few guys from our team who could be going instead of me,” Tavares said. “Kyle [Okposo], Frans [Nielsen], Nick Leddy and our goalies have had some outstanding seasons. I’m really the beneficiary of many guys.
The Isles return to action on 2/2 at home against the Minnesota Wild at 7pm before a two game road trip against Washington (2/4) and Detroit (2/6) before coming back to face the Oilers on 2/7.