We are not exactly sure how to react to the first couple weeks of this hockey season. The Islanders certainly have turned a few heads. Is it just because they are fielding a team with the most players who played during the lockout? Are teams taking them lightly? Are they really, finally a good team? Was all of our bashing of Garth Snow and the mentioning of all of their holes, wrong? Whatever it may be, the last few games certainly have been fun to watch. However, Just because things look good doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and just because things seem bad doesn’t mean everything is awful. During the first couple weeks of this NHL season, The New York Islanders have had some encouraging play and some not so much. We are happy to point out both sides of this two-headed team.
Pro: John Tavares has hit beast mode on offense. When a team commits a penalty, opposing goalies should be cursing their fate. If Tavares isn’t burying a top shelf laser beam, he’s passing to Moulson or Boyes to do damage. The power play in Pittsburgh was the best single Islander power play execution we’ve seen in close to fifteen years. If this was a “regular” season, JT91 is on pace for 120 points. 120 points. It took almost twenty years, but Pierre Turgeon has finally been replaced. Unlike Turgeon and his 84 game season, JT is on his way to displaying his best work in half a season.
Pro: Michael Grabner. Tavares is a franchise cornerstone and a league elite. Grabner isn’t near that level, but he is the Vinny “Microwave” Johnson of the Detroit Piston championship teams of the 1980′s. He is explosive, and absolutely a game changer. Unlike last year, he’s finishing breakaways. He’s keying a penalty kill running at 96%. He’s almost on a point a game pace, which will fall…maybe. On this team, he defines the secondary scoring that has been so lacking in recent years. He may score in bunches (1pt in the last 4 games) but that’s what second liners do. Otherwise, they would be first liners.
Pro: Brad Boyes, regular shift lacking John Tavares, is on pace for what would, in a full season, be 58 points. PA Parenwho? Not to mention he has shown a knack for going to the corners and playing against the boards.
Pro: Keith Aucoin. Long story short, Aucoin is playing exactly how Josh Bailey should be. Maybe when Bailey is 34, he’ll be like Aucoin and figure it out. Aucoin brings balance to a line with a McDonald and Ullstrom, and is showing how a center can make a winger look like a better player. He also handles himself really well around the net. His defense is suspect, but that’s not the role he is being asked to play.
Pro: Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom. Energy, grit, and hard-nosed hockey. Even we can’t find anything wrong with these guys.
Con: John Tavares. Plus minus being an admittedly flawed stat, JT91 is the only guy in the top 15 in scoring who is a minus. This could be due to the lame pairings on defense, or his defensively flawed forwards, both Moulson and Okposo have been inconsistent at best. Though plus minus can be looked at as team stat, it reflects upon JT’s personal greatness in a not so positive light.
Con: Garth Snow. Your best moves to improve this team were Keith Aucoin, Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait. We get it, we just gave Aucoin a thumbs up, but after 5 years involving 7 first round picks PLUS all of those second and third rounder’s, your best move was a waiver wire 34 year old. Also,after 6 games you give Strait a 3 year deal? We understand that it was a bargain, but why wouldn’t he be? He’s a 25 year old AHL player that couldn’t crack Pittsburgh “always looking for help” defense. Right move or not, it’s typical Islanders. Also, lets not forget how bad Joe Finley was, because he was also a pick up of yours. I’m sure Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan appreciate your handiwork.
Con: Lubomir Visnovsky. When this trade happened, you couldn’t help but be excited as an Islander fan. Then Lubo filed a grievance. Then another one. Then one more. And then the shine wore off. The refusal to report was actually less shocking, as its par for the course at Wang’s circus. But to say that your refusal to report is due to your son’s health, then you bail on your son because you couldn’t practice with the local team? That’s a bush move. You’re self centered and childish. Not that those aren’t skills that are fine in sports, but as a person, not so much.
Con: The defense. This team allows too many goals. Granted, the goalies have had trouble stopping pucks, but the defense allows too many opportunities for opponents (see: Winnipeg, New Jersey game 2, Toronto, Boston). The Isles are bottom 5 in goals allowed. Pond hockey will only take you so far. It’s a great thing to watch when you are on the wining end. It’s exciting, there are rushes, there are goals, but there is very little defense. The overall defense on this team is lacking. Outside of the stellar penalty kill and Nabokov’s bail out saves once in a while, players are constantly out of position and chasing the other team. Hamonic has been beat a number of times in front of the net, Okposo’s tenacity has been lacking, not sure if Moulson even skates into the defensive zone, Marty Reasoner should go to the bench immediately after a face off, Aucoin is often outmatched, as is Nielsen, and Carkner may have two left feet. It is not solely on these players. It seems as if every goal is a break down of some sort and all players have been responsible for lack of execution. Three players are a plus and the rest are a minus. Grabner, Nielsen and Strait are the only plusses on this team and Grabner, was minus five but now is plus two, after a minus three against New Jersey. Special teams will only carry you so far. Eventually you will have to stop the other team from scoring, not just score more goals than them.
Con: Kyle Okposo. You’re on the first line. Play like a first liner. You’re making us long for the days of PA Parenteau. He may still be the best option for that spot, however, this is a put up or shut up year for Kyle and he not making his case to stay here. It was expected that he would take this opportunity and run with it. Instead, he is pressing and looks lost.
Con: Rick DiPietro. Points in EVERY game on a road trip except one. Hmm…who was in net on that one? The good news is that he didn’t fall apart, so he can still be bought out (dreaming, I know). The bad news is, he didn’t fall apart, so he’ll continue to hand over points to opponents in a 48 game season.
Con: Marty Reasoner. Retire already. You’re taking money for nothing at this point. That should be Casey Cizikas’s job. A line of Cizikas and Martin is one grinder short of being a big time headache for opponents.
Con: Team toughness. John Tavares has been laid out at least four times. This is unacceptable. Don’t give us, well Carkner went right after Phaneuf. So what. Phil Kessel should have been planted on the ice. The same should have been done to Stamkos and Seguin. If they hit our guy, then we hit theirs, plain and simple. We are not saying that Eric Boultin should drop Stamkos. That’s ridiculous. The point is that the other team must know that it is not okay to hit JT. This team is nothing without him and if he keeps getting hit like he has, nothing they will be.
Con: Jack Capuano. Any positive changes to this team have nothing to do with Capuano, and his system. Mainly because we have no idea what his system is. The power play is Weight. Thompson seems to say more than just “pass and shoot” when interviewed, so we have to think that he’s drawing up some goodness as well. While Capuano struggles with line changes and line match-ups, the assistants have done a fine job. Correct us if we are wrong, but Tavares actually listened and watched as Brett Thompson drew up a play against the Devils Thursday Night. What he did not do was grab the dry erase board from his coach and call his own play.
Overall: Next games against division teams at home will show the true identity of this team. Have they turned the corner or are “they still shitty”?
* All stats, standings etc… were as of Friday morning, February 1.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely