The Islanders lost at home against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. They fell 3-2 in O.T., but secured a valuable play-off push point. Currently, the Isles sit 1 point out (33-26-12 in 71 games) of a post season spot, just behind Toronto with 78 points and 1 less game to play. They are set to play a nationally televised game against the Rangers for the last time this season, Wednesday on NBCSN followed by a game against the ever dangerous Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday. These match-ups will most likely indicate if the Islanders will reach the playoffs and certainly give an idea of how they might expect to perform against the better teams in the east. They are currently 19-18-8 against eastern opponents and only 10-9-5 in key division games. Not exactly a promising indicator, but that’s why they play the game, right?
The Islanders ended their franchise-record (Hornick) 9-game road trip with a 5-3-1 record, but Doug Weight had a few things to say on the schedule. “I don’t feel like getting fined but to have five days off and then to fly to Dallas, and then to fly to Chicago, and then you have a 2 o’clock game in Calgary when their building was empty for the next four days . . . and then you come home and you play one home game and go back, it’s ludicrous for me,” he said. “I yelled and screamed (at the team after the loss Monday) anyway because they deserved it. Weight said. “You have to be better this time of year, but fatigue is a factor.”
To add to the uncertainty, the Isles have just one win (O.T. vs Carolina) in their 4 games following that road trip.
I’ve settled on three keys the Islanders need to address if they have any hope of making and getting through the playoffs:
1: Call up Ryan Pulock
The Isles PP is ranked 26th in the league at 15.2%. Erick Hornick mentions that the Isles are 14-7-6 when they score at least one power play goal and 19-19-6 when they do not. How could they finally pin down a consistent PP recipe that has eluded them for so long? A possible answer or at least a treatment to the disease could prove to be a two-part advantage for the guys in orange and blue.
Islanders defensive struggles, turn-overs and mistakes like the ones committed by Bailey, Clutterbuck, Ho-Sang and de Haan against Columbus have cost the Islanders in recent games. Overall, these shortcomings have brought back the surrendering of late goals in random periods and even worse, in the final minutes of close games. At this point of the season, each-and-every game is important. First, the points are necessary to even make the playoffs. Secondly, more points can help the Isles make a possible push higher up the playoff ladder, which could mean the difference between home ice or being a visitor should they advance to the second round and beyond.
So how can they address their problems on the PP and give their defensive game a shot in the arm it so desperately needs? I would say to try what they did at the trade deadline after a trade couldn’t be had at a fair price. Call up a promising prospect that may help change the face of the team.
Josh Ho-Sang has made a huge impact for New York. Yes, there are a few rookie type mistakes, but still he has sparked some offense and brought some grit and threat to the special teams. He made some noise in the AHL and has gone 3 and 3 for 6 pts in 10 games with New York that includes a tally on the PP. Ho-Sang may never be sent down again, making it harder for a guy like LW, Michael Dal Colle to show what he can do or even delay the talents of Matthew Barzal, (79 pts in 41 games so far this season at a +32) now playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but that’s a good problem to have. And there is no reason either of those guys shouldn’t eventually be able to push an underachieving rostered player to the scratch list.
Let’s say Garth Snow gives Ryan Pulock a shot. Let him have the opportunity that Ho-Sang has gotten. Let him lend his talents on the PP and on the blue line to a defense that has been struggling as of late. Who knows, maybe he can add at least a temporary boost to their game. Possibly more. Maybe, just maybe, he can contribute even more than Pelech and Mayfield have. As an NHL pro that gains experience, he can start to contribute in a manner that the team expects after selecting him 15th over-all in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Bridgeport sits in the eastern conferences’ 5th spot with a few weeks to go. Pulock has 12 and 23 for 35 points in 42 games at a +9. That leads BST defensemen and even after missing time with a foot injury, the offensive value of Pulock gets more apparent with each season playing in the Islanders system. Pulock left the ice on Saturday against Utica after being hit by ex-BST, Pedan, but is on tonight’s game roster for Bridgeport against Hershey.
2: Recall Jaroslav Halak
Eric Hornick sums it up well, “Thomas Greiss has played in 13 straight games (6-5-2), 32 of the last 36 games (16-11-5 with three shutouts) and 34 of the last 40 games (18-11-5 with three shutouts). Greiss has already appeared in a career high 44 games, and set career highs for both wins (23) and shutouts (3).” Greiss has been good when the team has played accountably in front of him. He has even given them a chance to win at times when they haven’t, but he can’t do it alone. Especially when he needs some time off. We have heard rumors of Isles wanting to speak with Halak about recall, especially after the latest outing at home vs Carolina went much worse than expected for Berube.
Jaroslav Halak leads the BST in wins (16-6-3) and has cooperated with the team’s request to play in Bridgeport. The Islanders need some NHL level depth in goal and they need the confidence to join the rush when both goalies are in the net. "We never lost faith in Jaro. We think he needed to reboot his career, get some things solved, and it looks like he’s done it." – Weight
3: Keep things going offensively
The Isles’ top line has 28 goals (and 42 assists) in 29 games under Weight and per Eric Hornick, and a few others have also thrived under the new coach. Nick Leddy (18), Ryan Strome (16), Brock Nelson (15), Andrew Ladd (15) and Jason Chimera (13) have scored some serious points and have helped the Isles get back in the playoff hunt. We are well aware that they win when they score first (22-8-8) and dominate (32-7-3) when they score at least three goals and have only won once (1-19-9) when they do not.
The Islanders have made some strides forward, but were also subject to a few bad breakdowns, especially in recent games. That could be a symptom of fatigue and a result of playing a lot of games on the road. But it all means nothing in the grand scheme of the season. The Islanders must find a way to win and not focus on the things that may have made it a little more challenging to compete. They are now 16-9-4 (.621) for 36 points under Doug Weight, but have slowed in their last 14 games, going 7-5-2 in that stretch. Their consistency has suffered and they have lost games as a result.
The stats show that the Isles are among the top teams in points since weight took over as head coach, but unfortunately the “Isles are 11-9-12 in one-goal games, winning only 11 of the 32 games (.344). That .344 percentage of 1-goal games won is the lowest in the NHL. (The Isles were 21-6-10 in one-goal games last season.) - Hornick”
That means they need to score early and often, maintain a strong checking game, clean house in their own zone and refocus on special teams. It needs to start against the Rangers and Penguins. A win against one of them is a must. If they can’t win both, it’s necessary to be in the thick of both games and at least make themselves hard to play against, having a shot of getting at least a point moving to finish the season.
This is a good formula to ply for the remainder of the season, but unless the Islanders can start by recapturing some of the consistency gained as a result of Weight taking over, we may just be watching another campaign fall short of being able to compete for the ultimate goal.
11 games to go. How bad do they want it?
The Isles PK is ranked 15th at 80.7%.
Casey Cizikas missed 11 games (Upper Body) and was removed from the team's IR list on 3/17, playing over 16 minutes against Columbus on Saturday and looked good.
Per Arthur Staple, “Spied Pat Brisson at Barclays Center last night. #Isles owners keeping lines of comm open w/ Tavares' agent ahead of 7/1 negotiating period.”
Rangers and Sabres selected for 2018 Winter Classic, not Islanders.
Sound Tigers Notes:
The BST are 38-22-2-1 on the season.
U.S. women boycott IIHF tournament weeks before its hosted in U.S.