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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Accountability Equals Consistency: My Five Keys

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.

Isles Notes:

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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Islanders Latest Gut-Check

Your New York Islanders dropped a pair of ugly games against the Capitals & Flyers last week to raise more flags about their consistency and legitimacy on being a top team in the east.  The streaky play and shaky resolve has become an issue for them at different times this season.  While I feel the team is a real contender, I have always felt they lacked the consistency necessary to be a serious threat in the playoffs.  Especially now that they have a much deeper roster and more experience playing together as a squad.  With the new ownership of Jon Ledecky & Scott Malkin coming to power next season, the margin for error for everyone in the organization is closing in.

So much so that head coach, Jack Capuano had questioned the resolve of players and making mention of “compete levels,” far too often.  Capauno had this to say after the 4-0 loss vs. the Flyers, “I think the top guys that are here are playing pretty good hockey to be honest with you, the experienced guys,” Capuano said. “It is some of the other guys that need to find their game. That is a decision that Garth [Snow] will have to make as far as personnel. But we are going to have to sit down and talk about it going into Columbus as far as what we are going to do. Obviously it is not working with some of the guys we have now.”  But even team captain, John Tavares has been off this season and simply needs to be better.  He has 15 & 16 for 31 pts and a -7 in 41 games played this season.  Still good enough for 2nd in points on the team, but not good enough for Tavares.  “We’ve (coaches & players) got to be better,” Tavares said.

So with the back and forth play, the Isles need to try and find the formula to a more consistent effort.  Everyone is indeed accountable and need to direct their efforts to a more focused approach.

So what can they do to be better?  How about win.  They came back and won their next two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets (5-2) and New York Rangers (3-1) to stand alone in second place for the Metro division & 4th in the east with a 24-15-5 record for 53 points in 44 games played.  Brock Nelson scored his first career hat-trick vs the CBJ and helped start the surge the Isles rode into Thursdays tilt against the Rangers.

After benefiting from some dumb luck in their defensive zone and being outplayed in much of the first half of the game, the Isles were able to shrug off a NYR goal with :45 seconds remaining in the second and mount a 3 goal third to beat the Rangers.  They did so with a physical edge and controlled play on both ends of the ice in the period.  Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy (PPG) and Kyle Okposo (ENG) scored for the home team in front of a well-represented, but still mixed sellout crowd.  Nelson now leads the team in goals with 18 and has stepped up to be an offensive force for the Islanders.  They improved their play in the neutral zone and took over the battle for loose pucks late in the game to seal the win.  The Islanders broke the Rangers 15 game winning streak when leading after two periods and won their second straight against their arch rivals at the Barclays Center.

Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves and was absolutely the main factor in the win.  He improved to 12-6-0 vs the Rangers and has an 11-8-3 record (2.17gaa and .923Sv%., 2 s.o) on the season. Halak now has an 8-0-0 streak vs Henrik Lundqvist in their last 8 head-to-head match ups.  Leddy, Nelson and Pelech were named the three stars of the game.  The play of Calvin de Haan continues to improve, especially with the top pairing minutes made available by injuries to Boychuk and Hamonic.  And defensive call up, Adam Pelech is playing well & was credited with assists on the tying and ENG in the Isles big offensive 3rd period outburst.  It was Pelech’s first NHL points in a game where he took a skate to the face and got back out on the ice after getting patched up.  To me, if Pelech’s play continues to be at this level, it should be hard to take him out of the blue line rotation.

So when you look at the latest game against the Rangers, you can see a microcosm of the Isles season so far.  They had elements of offense, suffered defensive breakdowns and got steady goal tending and gritty physical play.  This time, they had scoring from different parts of the line-up and had a strong PK showing with a sometimes erratic PP.  These Islanders have showed a little of what they need to do to be better in their overall game, but still need to find that mark consistently to be taken as serious contenders in this league.  As long as they are able to dig in and give the kind of effort they were able to find late in the game against their arch rival throughout the second half of the season, they should find themselves in just about every game.

“I thought it was a gut-check for our team tonight,” Capuano said. “I thought our team played extremely hard against a good team.”  They are home against Vancouver at 4:00 this Sunday to see if they can do it again.

Isles Notes:

New York Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano has been named an Assistant Coach of Team USA for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Tavares was named to 2016 NHL All-Star Team:  "I'm excited about participating again. It's a reflection of our team and our team's success." –Tavares

The team has moved its practices to Ice Works from morning arrivals at the Barclays Center.  The team was vocal on the strain that the time away from home can bring, "Just long days," forward Anders Lee said. "Being out all day, I think it got a little long. This way we're home -- can eat around (there) and go in a little bit later for the game."

Isles prospect Söderström auctions off #WJC2016 equipment for children's cancer fund.

The Isles have VAN this Sunday at 4pm and are away at OTT next Friday and back home for a rematch against PHI next Saturday.

Isles fans are making a difference in Maya’s memory.

Sound Tigers Notes:

Ryan Pulock and Joe Whitney are the BST 2016 All-Stars! 

NHL Notes:

Blackhawks extend streak, Joel Quenneville passes Al Arbour for second all-time in wins.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Isle Be There: Paul Cartier

In a series of articles, called Isle Be There, my intention is to focus on the different social groups that support your New York Islanders team & its players. This will also include current events, situations and personalities in and around the team as it relates to its fan base and community.

Happy New Year Isles fans!

The biggest thing we have as fans is a team to rally behind and a very likeable collection of personalities both in front of and behind the scenes.  Whether it’s the BOA, the return of Sparky the Dragon or the hundreds of passionate fans that I have met over social media, Islanders Country bleeds orange and blue every day of the year.  I want to tell you about someone who I have gotten to know from a distance, but strikes me as a good guy.  Even the legendary Jiggs McDonald wished him a Happy Birthday on Sunday’s broadcast.

One of the top requests on the list of things that fans wanted brought over from the sacred grounds of the NVMC to the state of the art Barclays Center was organist, Paul Cartier.  Paul has been the team organist for years and he has been the master of anthems throughout several of the team’s most memorable games.  He got the attention of Mike Bonner and the New York Yankees from his work with the Isles and has been Yankees official organist since 2004.  Since retiring as an air traffic controller after 27 years, Paul is grateful for his time playing for the fans and the team he has cheered for since he was a kid.

Paul has been an Isles fan since ‘72 when he attended the first Isles game ever played against the Atlanta Flames with his brother Rudy. It was then that he embraced the idea of playing organ for the team.  Afterwards, if he couldn’t get tickets, he did anything he could to see John Tonelli, Bryan Trottier and the rest of his team play, including sneaking in to the NVMC.  His strongest memories of the old barn was the atmosphere and passion of the fans cheering for their team.  Whether it was Mike Bossy’s 50 in 50, the 19 consecutive playoff series wins, the team’s first Stanley Cup victory or the clutch come-from-behind wins, the memories he associates with his early fandom are a precious part of growing up on the Island.

At 8 years old, his first experience on a small Korg organ was enough to sell him on the power of music.  At 15, he went to the NVMC to try and win the job of team organist, but was told he was too young.  Not being someone who gives up on what is important to him, Cartier kept working at it until he was invited to play during intermissions by Dr. Fred Mendolson, who by coincidence, happened to be his brother’s music instructor.  Cartier got opportunities later on filling in at Islander games and got most of his professional experience by playing for the New York Arrows indoor soccer team who played at the Coliseum. In 1981, Paul finally landed the job with his beloved Islanders and stayed through 1985.  Later he came back to fire up the fans at home games, where he has remained for the last 15 years.

Whether it’s as a member of the South Hempstead Volunteer Fire Department for 37 years or playing the organ at Our Lady of Hope church, Paul enjoys doing his part in the community.  At the Barclays Center, Cartier mentioned to me that, with his new set up playing out in the open, he has had a much better connection to the fans. This has enabled them to meet on social media and at the games.  Even his commute on the train to games has turned into a time to talk Isles hockey with fellow fans on the way to Bklyn.

Paul hopes to reunite with long time Islanders NVMC anthem singer, Joe Duerr to properly represent the national anthem at Islanders games in their new home at the Barlclays Center.  He told me about @organistalert, a Twitter group that connects fans to the “starting organist” at specific sporting events and serves as a place to talk about the music that they play during games.  Feel free to say hello to Paul at the Barclays Center, look him up on Facebook or say hello to him @PaulGCartier on Twitter.

Paul is a fan of John Tavares and loves the new attitude of the current Isles team.  “They seem to be back and I enjoy watching them win again.  The fans respond when the team wins and when the place (Barclays Center) is full, you can’t beat it.”   When you can make an Isles home game, be sure and stop by and say hello to Paul.

He will be the guy starting a certain chant that has become a crowd favorite.  You know, the one about clapping your hands?

Isles Notes:

The Isles lost to the Penguins on Saturday, 1/2 by a 5-2 score and beat the NHL leading Stars, 6-5 at a packed BC in Brooklyn on 2/3.  They are 3rd in the east with 49 pts after 40gp with a 22-13-5 record.  They have the Capitals on Thursday 2/7 and then visit the Flyers for an early game on Saturday 2/9.

Jaroslav Halak has been activated off the team's IR list and participated in a full team practice today.  Christopher Gibson has been returned on loan to Bridgeport.

Per John Kreiser, Johnny Boychuk “out 4-6 weeks with upper-body injury. Have allowed 84 SOG, 10 goals, 3 PPG in 1st 2 games without him.  Adam Pelech was recalled on loan from Bridgeport to fill in on defense.

The #BST have signed Patrick Cullity to a PTO. Two other players up from #MoMavs, three players down.

Hockey Notes:

Finland wins the gold at the WJC gold over Russia while team USA wins the bronze over Sweden.  Isles prospect, Linus Soderstrom wasn’t in goal for Sweden for the final, but finished tournament with an impressive 1.42gaa.