BUFFALO, N. Y.– Both New York teams are soul-searching these days, in desperate need of changing their fortunes, taking aim at capturing the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But as it stands, neither club appears to be stable enough to make a run for the post-season, let alone make waves if they get in. Regardless of their moves, however necessary, tonight’s matchup pins two teams who come to define the best of the worst the NHL has to offer. There’s no denying that both clubs have some serious talent, but no cohesion whatsoever: be it stringing up wins, successful shifts, adequate/responsible/able administration.
Their last meeting February 9th at the Nassau Coliseum, bore witness to a trigger-happy Islanders squad that looked more like the ‘Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight’ after losing to a Sabres team who only mustered 15 measly shots on goal to the Islanders’s 43. In fairness to the Isles, though, Ryan Miller played ridiculously well, and as all great goalies do (or great goalie performances, anyway) afforded his team an opportunity to restore their confidence, claim the game’s momentum, and achieve a most unlikely victory considering the circumstances. Basically, when you don’t have a full squad of talent, you’re resorted to playing scavenger-like, opportunistic hockey. The Sabres accomplished said feat back on the 9th; the Islanders’s on Thursday against Le Habs.
The Sabres also added to the Islanders’s worst losing streak of this truncated season, as they were Loss #3 in the five game downward spiral that was February 3rd through the 11th. In fact the Islanders are 3 – 7 for February, achieving the dubious distinction of having recorded the worst loss at the Nassau Coliseum in team history in the process. Oh and lest we forget that amid this losing streak, John Tavares won a NHL Star of the Week. See, the pieces are there, but the puzzle’s still incomplete.
The issue isn’t all that different for Buffalo, as Thomas Vanek comes into tonight’s match with 25 points (ahead of JT by 3), with 12G and 13A, while Miller keeps doing his best to stop the bleeding.
Only two points separate these two ailing teams, and from the looks of it, will continue being so (with only the positioning among the two differing week to week). But as it stands, one can safely say that the Islanders are the stronger of the two, but that isn’t saying much. Again, the Isles were the stronger team Feb. 9th but a lot of good that stat/notion/conclusion/assumption got them, as they lost and continued to stink up the NHL.
- the Islanders to barrage the Sabres’s Miller with ample shots, as the Isles will attempt to capitalize on a weak backcheck and an overall demoralized team, for the most part
- Steve Ott to play 20+ minutes, bringing a +4 to the rink this evening. He will be the ‘best’ defenseman on the ice tonight. Again, another piece to the Buffalo puzzle but no one to put it altogether
- the Sabres to suffocate Tavares via the double-team but to no avail
- the Sabres to continue their undisciplined play, and racking up more penalties than they should. Last night saw the Sabres take 7 penalties, of which the Leafs capitalized on two. As it stands, the Sabres are 20th on the PK and a dreadful 29th on the PP. (The flipside is an Isles team ranked 4th on the PP and 9th on the PK, YET TWO POINTS DIVIDE THESE TWO TEAMS! Tell me they’re not closely matched and they’re not the best of the worst.)
Another point to which these two teams meet dead center is their off-the-ice moves this past week. As you may have heard, a certain goalie of ours was put on Waivers yesterday afternoon, closing the book, it seems, on an era the likes of which all Isles fans and Isles players would do best to eradicate from their memory banks. The DiPietro years bookend some of the worst Isles teams and outcomes in their history, amid pockets, fleeting glimmers really, of hope and triumph. I will say this: the best thing to happen to the Islanders while DiPietro was here are the signings of John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov, two moves that, when you think about it, have everything to do with DP: the Isles get JT because of the poor record due to a poor and injured DP, and sign a reluctant Nabby because of a poor and injured DP. So, inadvertently, we must thank DiPietro for something at least <tongue squarely in cheek>
DiPietro on waivers, like his exorbitant and undeserving contract, are/were symbolic moves on behalf of Charles Wang and the Isles’s front office. Of the two, however, we can agree that sending DP packing is the better decision. This move, however, changes NOTHING on the ice from a tactical perspective, obviously, as DP hasn’t been a relevant or prevalent figure in the Isles organization in quite some time; well, not counting the syphoning of cash his contract beckons and that fact in the back of the minds of most Isles players, beginning with Tavares.
Whatever the case, the Waiving of DiPietro is a sign that better things will come in the near future. The albatross has been lifted and the Kevin Poulin era will commence shortly–and no, don’t cross your fingers on this one, for KP will do just fine here. I don’t believe we’ll ever have as a bad an era as the one that just ended yesterday afternoon.
Now, Lindy Ruff: after a decade and a half of service, with a record of 571-433-162, 1304 Pts, the Sabres organization has decided to close the book on an era, as well. Unlike DP, Ruff is a proven winner, but be it weak teams, bad luck, and yes, tons of mistakes, no Lord Stanley in Buffalo. Now, Sabres fans wait and see what new managements brings.
The more you dwell on the ups and downs between these two clubs, the more uncanny their similarities seem to be. With that being said, if I were Jack Capuano I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
- Thomas Vanek: tied with Sidney Crosby for points (25) and James Neal for goals (12). Not too shabby considering his team, no?
- John Tavares: 22 points, 11 goals and 11 assists. Not too shabby considering his team, no? (heh)