Before we take a look at are what may be considered success by some- and more of the same by others- let us state this: We very much want to see this team win. We have been fans of this team for as long as we have been alive. We have seen this team win, and we all have seen this team lose. We root for the team. We understand that fans are passionate. Often, when those fans are faced with criticism of what they love, the criticism is taken personally. When we knock a player, it’s because the player deserves it. When we knock the organization, it’s because the organization put itself in a position to be knocked. We see this team as something bigger than the names and numbers on the backs of jerseys. We all hate the Rangers. If you traded our whole roster for theirs, would you stop being a fan, or would you still root for the Islanders? Not Frans Nielsen, not Brian Strait, not Garth Snow not even John Tavares (although if he was dealt, you could not be blamed for having your loyalty to this team waver). We would root as hard for The Queen just as hard as we booed DiPietro letting in his two softies per game. Much of our perceived pessimistic or condescending point of view comes from us wanting this team to win, and win often. So when we knock this team (like we’re about to do), it’s done out of love. Think of it like this -only Islander fans can kick our team. We just tend to kick really hard.
With the Islanders sitting a few points out of playoff spot fans are finding more and more positives with his team. Many are taking advantage of this and pointing to people such as us and saying “What now?” Or “ready to eat crow?” Or “Look, Snow IS a good GM!” Well, we have questions. The first is: Is this the first time during Snows rebuild that the Islanders are two points out of a playoff spot at the halfway point of a season? Or even at 26 games?
You may say “See? Improvement!” Well, yeah. Kind of. But in a season where Columbus has beat the Red Wings four times, strange occurrences can indeed happen. Even at two points out of a playoff spot, the Islanders still have the following problems:
No second line – KO, Frans and all around nice guy Josh Bailey have looked good at times. However, how many goals have they put in? How many body checks has “power forward” tough guy Okposo thrown? What’s Neilsen’s faceoff percentage? Assists for “playmaker” Bailey? Yeah, boo. Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are like stealth bombers on ice. Unless you look for them, you won’t see them. Yes Okposo will play down low, but he won’t shoot or score, so it doesn’t really matter where he’s not scoring from.
No Second line, you say? What about the third line? That’s right- we don’t have one of those either. The Isles are getting offense from the Tavares line, the Cizikas line, and Michael Grabner- the man with no line. Marty Reasoner is getting playing time just so some other teams will think he can still play. David Ullstrom, who looked like a future anchor on the third line, looks more like an anchor sinking itself into Bridgeport.
The team has an infatuation with letting the other team score. This team has the second highest goals against in the league. Look at the plus/minus stats. All of the forwards are minuses. The Islanders “shut ‘em down” pairing is a combined minus 27 and counting. As much as we love Tavares, we fear that he becomes Ilya Kovalchck East: great offensive numbers and an awful plus/minus (- 113) for his career. In comparison, Ziggy Palffy, who couldn’t back check half as well as JT, was plus 21 on a team that won 29 games.
We understand that plus/minus is a team stat and this is on the team. Namely, the coach of this team. It is the coaches job to put his players in the best position to succeed. Jack Capuano routinely fails at doing so. Garth Snow failed at acquiring the talent needed to shore up the defense in the offseason, and continues to do nothing in season, even as one starter is out for the season with injury, and another may fly to Slovakia at the drop of a hat. This does not bode well for those of you pointing out Thomas Hickey and Joe Finley as key acquisitions. At least Hickey is one of three guys who are flirting with plus, although it may be due to his partner, Lubomir Visnovsky. There’s a saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well this teams defense is broken, so fix it.
This team can’t win faceoffs. Faceoff guru Keith Aucoin has taken as many faceoffs in the past two weeks as we have from home. Defensive whiz Frans Nielsen is downright awful taking faceoffs in his own zone this year: his winning percentage is third lowest in the league per amount of faceoffs taken. And just to pick on ourselves a little bit, the guy we wanted drafted instead of Ryan Strome – Sean Couturier – has an even worse faceoff percentage than Nielsen. Then again, this is Sean’s second year in the NHL. Frans was drafted by Milbury, so he probably should have some of this figured out by now.
This team does not get up for big games. While you could question the nebulous “compete level” of the players for this, the problem really is a flaw of the coaching staff. How often do we have to see the Islanders be on the cusp of respectability only to get their doors blown off by a team who had already learned how to win? Ottawa beat them like dogs while having a super injured roster. The Flyers matinee loss was the worst home loss ever in Islanders history. The Rangers had a referee aided win to derail the teams momentum. Pittsburgh handed this team an EMBARRASSING loss. Blaming the referee may have been justified in the Rangers game, as the Isles lead the league in games played without receiving a power play, but when Doug Weight spoke after the second period in Pittsburgh about the referee giving an unjust 5 on 3 in the first period, we wanted to vomit. You can’t say “well, we should only be down by 3 instead of 4″ in any form of seriousness. You sound foolish. This team needs to not only string together points against tough opponents, but they also have to avoid a long losing streak. Capuano is usually good for a few of those per year, and had one already. Another one coming now would guarantee this team standing pat at the trade deadline, and that would make them dead in the water.
And here is out last question for this post: Is this really the roster you want to do battle with in the playoffs? Think they’re going to go far?
Feel free to share your thoughts below.
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