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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Are Those Who Wander Lost?

It's hard to watch our New York Islanders flounder at the worst possible time of the season with incomplete efforts in the final games. The excuses are running out and so is the time to correct their mistakes.  They have allowed the 1st goal and only scored 8 goals in their last 6 games.  And the awkward loses aren’t even gathering loser points or helping the Isles keep pace.  The things they are doing well haven’t been enough to compensate for their MIA offensive production.  Even Boychuk and Leddy have failed to score recently.  To make it worse, the surging Rangers, Penguins & Flyers are threatening the Isles fading playoff chances.  You would assume it a necessity to take the next step and salvage the season for Garth Snow and Jack Capuano before the new ownership takes majority control next year.  They remain in the 7th spot (38-24-9 with 85pts) for the eastern conference with a dicey 4-4-2 record over their last 10 games.

The Isles are 1 in 6 since Jaroslav Halak went down.  That is not a discredit to Thomas Greiss who has played very well all season long and has kept his team in many close games. In my opinion, it’s simply what seems to be a component of more inconsistency, injuries and odd lineup changes that are seemingly too much for Coach Capuano and the Isles to compensate for. Even a resurgent Mikhail Grabovski is back on the IR again after possibly being rushed back into the line up to try and regain some sort of offensive spark.  Matt Larkin chimed in on the season’s shortcomings from some of the Isles younger players, “Anders Lee and Ryan Strome have COMBINED for 20 goals. Who knew? Did lack of off-season signings breed complacency instead of confidence?”

Captain John Tavares is aging on the vine much like the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist and if team mediocrity keeps the Isles from taking the next step, JT may look elsewhere when he becomes a free agent for the 2018-19 season.  Tavares has looked as out of sync this season and wasn’t much better than many of his team mates in the recent loss to Philadelphia on Monday.  It marked the 3rd consecutive loss for New York.  Three for the first time in 3 months and the first time the team has been winless in 4 since March of 2015.  The Islanders need to execute their game plan and play much harder than they have been in recent games.  I don’t know if a stop gap solution exists on the current roster, in Bridgeport or is even possible for the season.  But there is confidence in the Isles locker room.  The players believe in each other.  Travis Hamonic, “Last years was last year. This is this season and we've played some really good hockey. We're confident in our group."

My opinion on the coach is well known, but it eventually needs to fall on their Captain.  John Tavares is an elite player, but has struggled in keeping the team sharp on the ice.  Tavares isn’t happy with the team’s efforts, "It's not like we aren't trying. I think we just have to execute better.”  Accountability.  The Isles have 7 of their next 11 games are home where they are 21-9-4.  They are 1-4-2 in their last 7 games and on a dangerous pace to drop out of the playoff picture if some changes aren’t made.  Erick Hornick points out that the Isles also need to finish ahead of Philadelphia, Detroit, the Rangers or Pittsburgh in order to clinch a playoff berth.  Their games at hand have fallen to 1 against the Pens and 2 against the New York Rangers.  Their 4-1 (Okposo) loss to the Flyers put both teams at 71 GP and was a 4 point gain of sorts for Philadelphia with the win.  The loss even snapped a 6-0-1 home point streak.  Things are not well in Isles country at the moment.

The Islanders have games remaining against the Penguins, Rangers and the snowed out make-up game against the Flyers on the final day of their season which could end up being a much larger 2 points than first anticipated.  Or, may not matter at all.  Their magic number is at 19 to clinch a spot while falling behind Pittsburgh by 3 and now only 3 ahead of Philadelphia.  They still hold their own leash, but are we sure how long that will last?  When will roster decisions like playing the erratic Brian Strait over and over again hold Capuano accountable for the questionable coaching decisions?  Will not acquiring a top forward to play with J.T. cost Snow more than just frustration into a vital summer for the Isles organization?  All is not lost just yet.

The Isles will look to play the next biggest game of the season against the Ottawa Senators tomorrow night at home before traveling to Tampa Bay and Carolina on Friday and Saturday.

Isles Notes:

Per Eric Hornick, “Tavares, the only 2009 draftee to score 200 goals, 250 assists and 450 points, is also the first to play 500 games.”

Ryan Pulock scored his 1st NHL goal against the Nashville Predators.

Josh Ho-Sang has 82 points in 66 games with Niagara of the OHL.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grit, Guts & Promise

Your New York Islanders (38-21-9) currently sit 2nd in the Metro and 3rd in the eastern conference, thanks to a 6-2-2 record in their last 10.  They have 85 pts in 68 games.  The latest stretch included a solid 6-4 effort against the Rangers and gutsy wins against Pittsburgh (2-1) & Florida (3-2).  There were a few stinkers, like a terrible 3-1 loss to the Oilers.

While they have had some lackluster periods, like the most recent game against Pittsburgh, points have been acquired.  Much of these efforts have overcome a troubled PK or an on and off again scoring touch.  These performances are not only built on the backs of guys named Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen or even Halak, they have come from those who continue to make an impression and carve a name for themselves in Brooklyn.  When looking at this year’s team, you have to acknowledge the contributions of the 4th line and the depth in goal.

The line of Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck have gotten the attention of everyone in and around the league, putting opponents on notice.  Since the 14-15 campaign, the trio of Matt Martin (7 & 9 for 16, +1 and leads NHL in hits with 323), Casey Cizikas (7 & 19 for 26 with a +4) and Cal Clutterbuck (13 & 7 for 20, +8 with 4 GWG) have made a huge impact.  Both Martin and Clutterbuck are NHL record holders for 300 hit seasons.  The 4th line has changed the pace in contests for quite a while now and is often tasked with managing the opposition’s top players during the most important parts of the game.  They have brought a gritty and physical game without the stigma of playing dirty.  "If the other team is starting to get any momentum," said Cizikas, "that's when we look at each other and say, ‘This is our time to step up, this is our time to get the guys going and get the momentum on our side.”

Jaro Halak (18-13-4 with a 2.30gaa and a .919Sv%) suffered a “lower body injury” and does not need surgery, but he will miss 6-8 weeks. That will take him out for the rest of the regular season and into the 2nd round of the playoffs should the Isles advance.  That is a big loss for New York who will miss their starters’ presence in the rotation.  What that will mean for the Isles remains to be seen.  I do know is that the Isles have one of the best “back-ups” in the NHL with Greiss and a 3rd rostered goaltender in Berube who has shown flashes of a solid NHL level keeper despite limited NHL experience.

Thomas Greiss has shown something all season long, going 19-7-0 with an impressive 2.25gaa (9th in the league) and an equally solid .928Sv% good enough for 2nd in the NHL behind Brian Elliott at a .929Sv%. He hasn't exactly played a backups’ role for the Isles this season and is as good as the team could have wanted.  He has never been the starter in a scenario like the one in front of him.  With Halak hurt and an AHL experienced goaltender behind him, Greiss should probably get the lion’s share of starts and be relied on as the one to take this team to the next level.  If the Islanders are successful into the 2nd round of the playoffs, it will be a tall order for Halak to replace him even if he is fully recovered from his injury.  Thomas Greiss has the reigns and Isles country is eager to see what he can do.  I am sure he has waited for this chance his whole pro career.

J.F. Berube's burden is yet to be measured and he will only show his true worth as the team fights to solidify their playoff position.  He simply needs to play to improve. That's the reality.  Berube is 1-1-1 with a 2.52gaa & a .924Sv%.  He looked very good in a 2/2 win vs the Wild and very capable in the Isles latest 2-1 S.O. loss to the Pens in which he was named the games’ 2nd star.  “I just tried to play as simple as I could, put my body in front of the puck, be square and be on top of the paint,” Berube said. “Just trying to focus on the little details and I knew I’d get my rhythm as the game went on.”  Berube looked focused and dialed in on the puck despite the loss and kept his team in the game.  That’s all you can ask from a netminder.  His inexperience will factor in, especially in the bigger games to follow, but you have to be encouraged by what you have seen so far.

No passengers.

Isles Notes:

The Isles are in Nashville on Thursday, 3/17 and Dallas on 3/19.  Both 8PM starts.

Brock Nelson had played 202 consecutive regular season games for the Isles prior to his scratch against the Pens on Tuesday.

Per @GregBalloch, “Ilya Sorokin had a .953 save percentage in 28 games this season, and did not win "KHL Goaltender of the Week" a single time.”

Head Coach, Jack Capuano had reached 203 wins as an Isles coach, 2nd only to Al Arbour with 740.

NHL Notes:

NHL, NHLPA expected to go ahead with ‘streamlined’ goaltender equipment.

GMs were given framework for possible expansion draft.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trading Places: Shane Prince Acquired

As the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline fizzled out, your New York Islanders made a pair of moves that went under the radar to most NHL fans.  It wasn’t Mikkel Boedker as the rumors would lead you to believe or even former Isle, PA Parenteau, for whom Toronto wanted a 2nd round pick.  They did acquire Shane Prince and a 7th round pick from the Ottawa Senators for the Isles 3rd round selection in 2016.

The 23 year old forward has 12 points (3 & 9) on the season so far in 42 NHL games.  “In 2014-15, he led the Binghamton Senators in scoring with 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 72 American Hockey League games.”  The native New Yorker from Rochester and former 2nd round selection (61st overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, saw top minutes in his AHL career, totaling 148 points (67 & 81) in 206 games and had a successful junior career with the Ottawa 67’s and Kitchener Rangers.

‏@ShanePrince18  made his feelings known on Twitter: “Beyond excited to be a member of the @NYIslanders !! Thanks to Ottawa for everything the last few years.”  Prince may realize that he is on a team that just might have a plan that differs from the underuse he went through with the Sens.  He will wear #11 for the Islanders and should see action against the Vancouver Canucks tonight.  The team is in 3rd place within the Metro with a 33-20-7 record with 73 pts good for 7th in the eastern conference.

They also made a minor-league move by trading, F Taylor Beck to COL for F Marc-Andre Cliche.  Cliche was drafted by the New York Rangers, 56th overall in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.  He has 6 & 13 for 19 points in 38 games with the San Antonio Rampage.  He will wear #26 for the BST.

The trend of over payment at trade deadline and draft has always blown me away. While the Isles are a work in progress, they are certainly not desperate enough to panic and hemorrhage draft picks or assets for rental players with big names who don’t fit their scheme.  The trading of a player like Shane Prince has made the Ottawa fans and members of the blogosphere angry.  When you are a fan of the team that acquires said player, sit back and think on that.  It means the player may have more to offer than goals and assists.

The Isles are big into a player’s statistical numerical rating and many feel Prince is an underused and talented asset to add depth to the NHL level Islanders.  He wasn’t acquired with the intention to enhance the roster in Bridgeport.  B.D. Gallof wrote an informative piece on Prince and after reading it, you are helped to understand the move in a lot of detail.  After taking some time on the deal, I am reminded of the way Garth Snow does things.  Season after season, he shows a methodical persistence to his plan and the team has improved because of it.

Some fans are still angry that this is the Isles line up that the team will have the opportunity to take into the playoffs.  They watch as other teams trade for big name players and make attractive moves that they wanted their team to make.  I get it.  But I have learned that my fandom through the years doesn’t mean I know all the details or the real metrics of a trade.  For better or worse, we get to sit back and watch our talented team sink or swim and go into the first summer of new ownership.  Both Snow and Capuano are sure to be measured on not just their progression up until now, but how the season will finish.   I won’t tell you that I am confident that the team is sure to go far, but I am still looking forward to see what happens.  Call me a homer, but I am not ready to count them out in the first round.  The offense has its moments, the special teams are awesome, the defense is very good and the goaltending is as good as it’s been in a long time. Let’s see how the team goes into to the stretch.  I know there won’t be any shortage of fans ready to grab the pitch forks and torches on the way to Brooklyn.

Isles Notes:

Pulock on playing his first NHL game with the NYI (vs Oilers): "It's a dream as a kid to one day play in the NHL. Today's the day and it's exciting."

Pulock was sent down to the BST as a paper move to be sure he is eligible for the AHL playoffs, but has since been “recalled” by New York.

Thomas Greiss leads the NHL with a .930 Sv%.