Ouch. There was no other way to describe game one if you’re an Islander fan. Sure the referees called some very iffy penalties in the first period leading to two Pittsburgh goals – with the help of a linesman blocking an Andrew MacDonald clearing pass directly leading to a Pittsburgh goal – but when you muster ZERO goals for yourself, that says a lot. The scarier thing was that Pittsburgh was playing without some of their regulars, and without one superstar in Cindy Crosby.
The outcome, 5-0, was not shocking for us. We predicted in our playoff preview that this Islander team will be lucky to revisit Pittsburgh after tonight. To remind our wonderful readers, 4-0, at best 4-1. And it’s not because we like bashing this team. We HATE bashing this team, but we do it because someone has to, and as the playoff rally cry went, why not us?
Seriously, we do hate bashing the players. We wish we couldn’t. The leadership, the atmosphere, the ownership, a change in jersey design as a rebranding, that is eminently bashable. The players are doing what they are asked, so their shortcomings are burdened by having to work within a system that, for the casual and non casual fan alike, is hard to identify. As one longtime fan watching the game pointed out “They looked confused.” If your players look confused, that’s coaching failure. Wait, lets use a Capuano like nonsense phrase: lets call it “coaching level.” The coaching level wasn’t high as compared to a former colleague of Capuano’s behind the Islander bench, Dan Blysma. Ray Shero has a better “talent sense” and “acquisition skill” than Garth Snow. Supposedly Shero is willing to go to work in the “dirty areas” for his team, which we assume is calling other general managers with valid trade proposals that involve moving core roster players in order to improve a team, something Snow seems to be completely unable to do. Shero trading Jordan Staal is like Snow trading Travis Hamonic. Additionally, Pittsburgh acquiring Jerome Iginla, Douglas Murray, Jussi Jokinen and Brendan Morrow for prospects is like Garth Snow moving Calvin de Haan for Ray Whitney, except Snow hasn’t shown a tendency to trade prospects to help his team, or to promote a prospect drafted in the top 5 picks of the 2010’s to help out his team.
And hey, speaking of 2010, wasn’t that 2010’s #20th overall Beau Bennett opening the scoring against the Islanders? In the playoffs? Wasn’t he drafted 15 spots after Nino Niederreiter? How could he possibly be NHL ready? How could he have put up 3-11-14 in 26 games playing third and fourth line minutes this season when Nino couldn’t score on the fourth line (unlike Casey Cizikas) and had to spend a season in Bridgeport to learn how to be a first liner? Man, does that draft pick look more and more suspect with each passing day. Meanwhile, Cam Fowler has 195 games and 80 points under his belt, making him the fourth highest scorer to come out of the 2010 draft. And he’s a defenseman. But we digress.
Well, not really. The playoff debut of Islanders superstar John Tavares was special, largely because it was the first time in the year 2013 that Tavares played in an NHL game without recording a shot on net. The Penguins were also without a superstar in Crosby, but the Penguins have drafted, traded, and signed well enough so that when Crosby is out, Evgeni “Lurch” Malkin (draft), James Neal (trade), Chris Kunitz (trade), Paul Martin (free agent), Brandon Sutter (trade), Kristopher Letang (trade), Jerome Iginla (trade), Matt Cooke (free agent) and Pascal DuPuis (trade) can step in and put up points. The Islanders have…Marty Reasoner? Marty Reasoner is the Islanders forward with the most post season goals on this team’s roster. Marty Freakin’ Reasoner. Again, this is the type of scary talent acquired by Garth Snow that pushed this team over the top in the regular season.
Oh wait, Reasoner sat for most of the time that the Islanders were playing winning hockey. Including for rookie post doc Anders Lee.
And that’s the problem. Islander fans have been starved for so long for something feeling or looking like success that they sold out 3 home playoff games in minutes without thinking about how the team actually got to the playoffs. Yes, statistically the Islanders were the 8th seed in the Eastern conference, but were they the 8th best team?
Nope. Not at all.
That distinction goes to the New York Rangers. The Rangers deadline moves actually saved them in this shortened season. If this was an 82 game season and they waited until the trade deadline to make moves, they may have actually missed the playoffs, as the season may have been too far gone to save. That said, the Rangers were supposed to win the conference after making a splashy trade for Rick Nash, so even finishing sixth and facing a hot Capitals team should feel like a disappointment for Rangers fans. And just for being Ranger fans, those people should be disappointed in themselves.
So if the Rangers were the 8th best team, Who was the 6th best? The Toronto Maple Leafs. Why? Because the 5th best team was The New Jersey Devils. The Devils finished 7 points out of a playoff spot. But think back to opening night, and how helpless the Islanders looked against a full and healthy Devil’s line up. Again. Martin Brodeur has more career wins against the Islanders than he has against any other team. Brodeur missed 19 games this season to injury and days off. Historically, Brodeur starts in 67% of Devils games. That would be 12 more starts. The Devils gain points in 67% of Brodeur’s starts. That’s 12 more points minimum. In looking at games in which Brodeur started that the Devils gained points for, 65% of the time, those were wins. So you have to expect that it would be more along the lines of 18 points if Brodeur is healthy all season. And Ilya Kovalchuk, as well. Kovalchuk missed 11 games. The Devils lost ten of them. Barring injury, the Devils are a 60 point team. Luckily for Islander fans, injuries refused to be barred.
Well, that means that the Islanders are the 9th best team then. Disagree. That team was the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers put up over a hundred points and whipped on Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs last season in a very exciting matchup. This season, the Flyers were streaky for sure, having had both long winning and losing streaks. Much of that was due to injury, but the Flyers had 12 points in the last 7 games of the season, including two against the Islanders. And lets not forget which team delivered the worst ever Nassau Coliseum beating of the Islanders in the history of the building back on February 18, 2013. The Flyers were just coming together, and were a mere 3 wins away from being the 8th seed, as they held tiebreakers against the Islanders. As Scott Hartnell said at the end of the season, “You see teams that got off to a great start and are now starting to struggle lately, Ottawa , Montreal , Toronto , Islanders, and I really believe if we still had another 30 games to play, we would be in the playoffs. Unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury and it’s our own fault for putting us in that situation to begin with. Also, my ex wife was really into Jeff Carter, and vice versa.”
Folks, the playoff bracket may say first seed versus 8th seed, but in reality, it’s ten versus one. And if the Islanders management is happy with how this team made the playoffs and expect the same for next season, they’d be insane. This team in a full season with healthy opponents absolutely fades away. Case in point- John Tavares scored more goals percentagewise in his points this season, but he ended the season scoring one less point than games played. Just like last year. Maybe he has peaked in total point production. Or maybe he needs an elite winger to pair alongside him to boost overall line production. Evgeny Nabokov lost his last two starts headed into the post season (Kevin Poulin squeezing in a loss in between), and then got the Christmas tree treatment in his first Islander playoff game, as he got lit up. The wheels were coming off of the Nabokobus just like last year, but in a shortened season, those wins actually had more value than in an 82 game season. These guys were your two stars. Imagine how this team would have finished if Devil-itis struck and took down our top forward and top goalie? We’d be Jonesing for Seth in a few weeks, for sure.
Not knocking the effort of this team, but if management is satisfied with results like this, you can expect more of the same next season…and that’s at best.
Filed Under: NHL
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