I am one to be reasonable when I approach the Islanders level of play. Usually it is after the bitter taste of another loss is expunged from my palette. I was at last night’s game against the Jets, the game before that against the Sharks, and the home opener. Other then the home opener, it appeared that the effort was there for the Islanders — which is fine. But there are too many struggling players on the team, some coaching questions, and seemingly a desire to get away from what has worked for the Islanders too often in the style of play.
Winless through 6 games — 0-4-2 — and heading into what I consider to be the make or break of the Islanders season, there is a real risk the Islanders will find themselves completely out of it, and playing out the string in another lost season before Thanksgiving for a second straight season. What is disheartening, is that the expectations for this current squad was much higher then what we are seeing thus far, even though I conced, it is still a bit early to hit the panic button.
While they have had some success in their careers, both the second and third unit of the Islanders are choked with problems.
Starting with the second unit, there are some realities we need to come to grips with. The “home run” pass to spring Grabner is not going to work night in, and night out. It has to be an opportunistic play, not a bread and butter play. Frans Neilsen — for all he brings to the Islanders, is not a second line center. He is a perfect third line defensive center however. As much as that line had success last year, it is time to break it up and use Frans where he will do the most good. Kyle Okposo is a bit of a mystery. I think he can be guilty of trying to do far too much. He brings an awful lot to the Islanders, but right now, offense is not it, and in all honesty, it has never been the core of his game. It almost appears as if Okposo is at odds with the idea that he is supposed to be a power forward who grinds — using his body to create space and drive to the net to get the dirty goals.
The third line is a discombobulated mess. At this point, I don’t know what to make of Josh Bailey. The franchise made a big mistake when they had he remain with the team in his rookie year, and then compounded the problem last season when they brought him back from Bridgeport too soon. The season was already lost last season when they recalled Bailey. Had he finished the year in Bridgeport, he could have rebuilt his game and perhaps been a more effective entity then he has become. Now he is being used as a third line center — something that is really not his game. Josh Bailey may not be a scoring dynamo — but he is not a defensive center either. His line mate Blake Comeau also looks to be out of sorts. He too is running away from his game. He is not using his body physically at all, and coasting too much. The times the Islanders had their best chances last night and throughout the season is when they elevated their physical play a little — a big check will do that — clear some space to move forward. In Blake Comeau, we are supposed to have a guy creating room for Bailey and Rolston and it just is not happening.
Speaking of Brian Rolston — the biggest problem I have with him may not be his fault. Why is he not a mainstay on the top power play unit opposite Mark Streit at the point is beyond comprehension. He has a cannon shot, and too often he is on a second unit and not getting a chance to unload the shot. During 5-5 play, I am wondering if time and age is catching up to him. Even if that is the case, he can still be a vastly effective Power Play specialist, but is not being used in that manner.
Defensively and in goal the Islanders have been somewhat sound with one notable exception. Though he has not to be blamed for the goals against him thus far, Rick DiPietro continues to display an immaturity that at this point will never change. We are stuck with that 5¢ head for a long, long time to come, and it will plague the Islanders unless they grow to admit the mistake and either buy him out, or waive him to Bridgeport. Either way, that mistake will have to eaten. When he is in position he is doing fine, but his first instinct when ever a puck is dumped in — always — is to leave the crease to play it. Time and time again this is the scenario. Even when 2 opposing players are barreling in hard on him, he makes that move to depart the blue paint, to play a puck. He has no idea who is coming, or how hard they are coming in because his back is turned. He is consistently bad in clearing the puck always off the half wall where defenders are prepared and intercept the puck causing a flailing DiPietro to scramble. Thus far, he has not been burned, but it has been close. Last night he was knocked to the ice ass over tea kettle behind his own net, and had it not been for a bouncing puck, the point man would have had an empty net to score on.
The rest of the blue line has been as advertised. Mark Streit is still trying to rebuild his game, and while it is improving, you can see some instability which is natural. I think it will come around soon enough. Steve Staios and Mark Eaton are more or less as we expected. Travis Hamonic is the only physical defender on the ice, and that is going to be an issue moving ahead because while it is part of his game, he is not what I would call a crease clearing big body. That element is still sorely missing from the Islanders. There is no punishing big body to be found, and as of now Scott Mayfield is the only one in the Islanders system I see as that kind of player. And he is years and years away in Denver at best. Andy MacDonald looks OK, but his injury status concerns me. Is he truly ready and 100% or still feeling the ill effects? When a player that young needs regular maintenance days, I am weary of his ability to be fully effective. I need maintenance days too — but I am fat and 40.
Coaching and Management should be lauded for attempting to be stable and rational after some tough losses. But a 10 game sample is enough…and an 0-4-2 skid is far too long to wait around and see if the Islanders should start to mix up lines or even more.
My even more would suggest that while the team is young, there are no rookies on this team right now. Travis Hamonic is the closed thing we have to a rookie. Nino Niederrietter is not here yet. When he is, then we will have a rookie. The point being — players like Comeau, Okposo, and Bailey need to understand that they are well past their rookie seasons and must be accountable for their actions — or lack of them.
The problem the Islanders have is a lack of ability to move players around. My instinct would be to bench Comeau, Bailey and Okposo — bring in Justin DiBeneditto, David Ulstrom and Michael Haley. Again — I would think that Ulstrom could center the second unit with DiBo and Grabner, followed by a third line grinding unit of Neilsen, centering Matt Martin and Haley, along with the 4th unit being comprised of Pando, Reasoner and Rolston. Move Rolston to the top of the 1st PP unit…. Perhaps Ulstrom is not ready, maybe its asking too much of unproven players? But it would be a shake-up without making crazy trades. We need hungry bodies. If nothing else, it is making an example out of Okposo — a leader on the team. Players may start to wonder — if KO is being benched, what’s my level of play like? It could be a real motivator. But with the limit at 23 bodies on an NHL roster, and the inability to send anyone to Bridgeport unless they pass through waivers, the Islanders are currently stuck.
A trade may very well be in the cards to open up the log jam. Josh Bailey has no real value, and Blake Comeau has questionable value. P.A. Parenteau could be traded with some value, but you risk messing with the only line that currently is working in the hopes that rookie Niiederreiter can step in an be the top line left wing right away. It’s risky. Art Staple reported in Newsday there were 10 scouts in the press box last night, so something might be coming…
One thing that is coming this month — The Capitals, Bruins, Devils, Canucks, Flyers, Pens, Rangers, Avalanche, Habs and Sabers. That is our November — and the reason it is make or break. If the Islanders don’t go .500 during this stretch, they are going to be in trouble. And based on what we are seeing from these opponents, the Islanders have a very tall task in front of them.
One thing I don’t advocate at this time, a coaching change. Cappy has had the team playing reasonable well from an effort position with the exception of the 3rd line. He is a steady guy and the last thing the players need is a coaching change again. Unless it becomes evident the players are completely dismissing Cappy, he should remain. That being said — he made a mistake pulling DiPietro too early last night, and I don’t like how he is using Rolston on the Power Play. The last 3 games alone could have easily been Islander wins. The game against the Pens, was the result of a poor call against Okposo when pushed into the net bringing the game to overtime, but they played well enough to get the win. The Islanders fully outplayed the Sharks, and were screwed by the ref’s fully! The last game — the Islanders outplayed the Jets start to finish. The bounces did not go their way — not one bit.
At some point, one has to wonder — will the bounce start to break a little in the Islanders favor. Tomorrow night, the Islanders face a very tough opponent, and Cappy has already said there will be line changes. My desire would be to start Nabakov or Montoya.
About the Author: A graphic designer who loves the game....and knows that age has slowed him down — but the passion is there. Islanders fan since the 70s, Dad, Husband and Coach of the Flying Tiger's Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns