There are two sides to every story. There are often pros and cons to most scenarios. Some people see blue skies, while others look at the upcoming weather report anticipating a storm. The fact is that everyone sees things in a different light, so why should the recent play of The New York islanders be any different? Over the past ten games the Isles have posted eight wins. This comes on the heels of a dismal two months. There are numbers and results that warrant praise and celebration and others that are equally eye opening in the opposite direction. We aim to look at both sides.
Since Garth Snow and the Islanders management decided to actually use its assets and do something about the pathetic play that lasted through November and much of December, the Islanders have been a different team. Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Strait returned from injuries, and Captain Stay the Course Snow decided to actually make roster moves. Pierre-Marc Bouchard was released, Ryan Strome was recalled (and rejected), Calvin Dehaan was recalled and some players were given their own personal luxury suite. These additions and subtractions have helped to turn a totally lost season into one that may actually create some excitement in the long run. Well, those mentioned above and the ridiculous play of John Tavares and his line mates.
The first line as been awesome. John Tavares has reached another level and has finally realized that this team is his burden to bear. Instead of sulking, he has embraced it, much to the demise of opposing goaltenders and defesneman. Kyle Okposo has put his second half all-star jersey on the shelf and should be wearing a Team USA jersey instead, but apparently some mediocre Rangers who quit on their coach in the playoffs get first crack at the gold medal. In trying to do his best Herb Brooks impression, David Poile has made himself look like a fool. USA will be lucky to medal at all. In any other sport, John Tavares would be a lock for the MVP whether the Isles win or not. A-Rod and Barry Bonds have won MVP’s on last place teams, and the NBA routinely hands over awards to players based on outstanding play. The NHL basis its awards on, well, who knows. Odd statistics maybe? Nine times out of ten, the Norris Trophy winner has the most points among D-men and the Vezina goes to the Goalie with best save-percentage even though there is a separate award for that.
Calvin Dehaan, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. This trio of Islander first round picks have been nightly contributors. Either putting up points or with solid play these three has helped turn the Isles season around. Three Garth Snow picks have made three Garth Snow singings, Bouchard, Regin and Matt Carkner useless. If only Snow had faith enough in his picks, the Isles may not have had such a rough first half of the season. And of course, Strome gets sent down to experience the AHL life in order for the Islanders to save burning a year off of his ELC. Stay classy, Garth.
The Islanders are five points out of the playoffs with thirty games to go. This is surely the time to mount a run. The first line seems battle tested, the fourth line has been solid and the special teams are contributing. The games against Eastern Conference teams present a situation for the Isles to gain significant ground.
The Islanders are closing in on a .500 road record and have often come from behind to do so. They have shown that they do not give up and are learning what it takes to win in this league. It is like playoff hockey every night, since every loss pushes the team closer to elimination. The players seem to have realized this and have committed to playing a team game based on hard work and a solid two-way game.
Anyone who watches sports knows that a team is never as bad as it is at its worst and it is never as good as it is when it is at its best. This Islander team is no different. The Islanders are playing very well at the moment. Honestly, how could they keep up the wretched play from November and December. Things are looking up at the moment. Magically the Islanders are sitting 5 points out of the playoffs, even with the awful two-month swoon. There are a few things one has to consider when considering this a positive.
Understand that the Isles have basically the same record as Columbus in reverse. So in order for the Islanders to get into the 8th seed, in the second half of the season Columbus will have to play as bad as the Isles did in the fist half. In order for the Islanders to gain ground, teams also have to lose. It is not as simple as the Islanders winning four in a row. Every time the Isles win, Columbus (current 8th seed team) must lose. If the Islanders lose and Columbus wins, points basically reset. And Columbus has 3 games in hand. Yikes.
This is why early in the season when people say well “it’s early”, that means dog shit. When you dig a deep, 25% of the season wasted hole, you can no longer just rely on yourself to get out, you need a hand to do so. The Isles will now need other teams to falter for them to succeed. Has anyone noticed the East lately? Nobody is losing. They Isles had a chance to cement themselves in the playoff race when everyone was losing and they didn’t. Here’s a prediction, if the Isles miss the playoffs, nothing will be done in the offseason because Garth Snow will say that outside of a 20 game stretch the Isles played well, and our rookies are ready to take the next step- that same step we’ve been hearing about our resident nice guy Josh Bailey making for the past 6 years. We’re pretty sure that if you erased twenty games from any team, they’d all make the playoffs. The Islanders pissed away an opportunity to solidify themselves in the playoff race. For two months the team played horrible and management stood still and did nothing. Sometimes it is easy to forget that there are teams ahead of the Islanders also fighting for that same spot. The difference is that these teams also have to ability to make trades and get better, something that is an unlikely course of action for the Isles. After all, what’s left to trade?
It has been great to see some resiliency and watching the Isles come back night after night. However, playing with a lead is nice too. A win is a win and you can’t argue that. Much like blocked shots, coming from behind is a misleading plus. Blocking shots is great but it also means that you do not have the puck and the other team is firing shots in the offensive zone. If you come from behind often, that means that you are often losing. The islanders must lead to take control of games and keep leads.
Con #3 This is a multi-tiered con.
Though the team as whole is playing better, most notably the defense, where is the secondary scoring? John Tavares has put the team on his back and Kyle Okposo has followed suit. However, Josh Bailey stinks. Fans and Butch Goring-who talked up Bailey’s one or two good shifts every other game- are really looking through rose colored glasses. This guy is cemented on the second line and he hasn’t scored a goal in three months. THREE MONTHS!!!! Sure he has few assists here and there but come on, really? Five years for an assist every other game? The next addition by subtraction has number twelve written on the back. Too bad he passed a test with flying colors and will be here for the foreseeable four year future.
Frans Nielsen still makes bad passes and gets beat by anyone over six foot, and has been a consistent minus for much of the season. So much for Selke consideration for Mister Two-Way Play.
Michael Grabner is as inconsistent as ever. His hustle and effort is there, but he needs to score. If Michael Grabner scored on 2% of his breakaways he’d have more goals than he presently does.
Matt Martin and Colin McDonald both lost the big goal ability they relished in last year.
Ryan Strome has 1 goal. However, Strome gets a pass because his name is not Peter Regin or Marc Bouchard, so he is an addition by subtraction of nothing else. And while Strome wasn’t lighting up the offensive scoreboard, he was controlling the puck- keeping it away from opponents. Which is why you’d send a guy like that back to the AHL.
Has the second power-play unit scored a goal yet this season? Yes, we understand that the first unit often scores, not giving the second unit a chance to do so. However, when that line gets ample playing time, it does absolutely nothing. Noticing what personnel is on that line however explains why it produces no goals.
Has Travis Hamonic forgotten how to get points? His points are down each of his last four years. Yes his defensive play has improved this year to the consistent top Islander four form (also known as playoff team bottom 4 playing), due to the fact that Andy Macdonald was relieved of his duties on that pairing. And also due to the fact that Calvin Dehaan understands that clearing the zone and moving the puck is part of a defenseman’s job. This is something all other Isles D seems to forget at times. Remember Calvin deHaan- the guy taken 11 picks after John Tavares?
Are we going to trust Kevin Poulin and a twice injured Nabokov to carry us to the playoffs? Poulin looks much better than the first time around and Nabokov was serviceable before the injury, but a move needs to be made…and it won’t be.
There are plenty of question marks for this team. Will Garth Snow try to address them come the trade deadline? We shall sit tight and see. Eh, just kidding. We know he isn’t going to do a damn thing, and we know we’re going to say it’s all just a matter of more of the same.
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