Islanders: Forget the Playoffs, Just Fight the Good Fight

Greenwich Village, N. Y. — The news that Michael Grabner is sidelined with a shoulder injury 7 to 10 days neither signifies nor bespeaks a curse, ill-fortune, or poor coaching. Injuries are an inevitability, and inevitably the Islanders were about due to be paid a visit. I understand no one is saying any such things, or even thinking them, at least to my knowledge, but I feel compelled, nevertheless, to defend against any such thought.

The Isles will get better. Forget that we’ve all said this for years. They are. If you’ve been paying attention this season, you’ll believe me. Hell, if you expected them to beat the Penguins the other night, then you do believe in this team. Why? Because they’ve given us reason, more so than in years past.

And the fact that it took half the  season for an injury to a key player to befall the Isles is a testament of actual good fortune, actual responsible coaching and training/medical staff.

But now the Isles lost, for me anyway, the key ingredient to their PK unit, and speed on either side of the puck. Not to mention one of the best scorers on the squad. The rest of the season does not bode well, if you’re thinking playoffs. I’m not. For me, 5 games over .500 and a 9th spot would be a great achievement.

The Isles are a 9th or 10th place team, with a superstar in Tavares and a supporting cast that varies from solid (Matt Moulson/Casey Cizikas) to downright awful (Marty Reasoner). And that, for me Isles fans, is the identity of this team: extreme tendencies on both sides of the talent line. No even keel. No happy middle ground. Just a great player surrounded by emerging and/or diverging ones.

Can anything happen? Of course it can. And by anything you mean the Rangers, Devils, Leafs, Flyers, and Jets losing as many games as the Islanders need to win? Sure. Hey, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you while we’re at it.

If the Isles make the playoffs, it would be the greatest accomplishment in 20 years. And the inevitable one-and-done outcome to quickly follow suit, will only magnify this team’s deficiencies. So, am I saying they should purposely not make the playoffs? No. Pessimism? Bah humbug. I’ll die with these guys. Bury me with my Mikko Makela jersey. ;)

I’ll say it again: the Isles must compensate for lack of talent with resiliency. Lose, but not be blown out.

The focus should now be clogging up scoring /skating lanes, taking the body on every shift and scouring the ice for loose pucks. Now’s the time to play rudimentary, fundamental hockey. Nothing cute. Play the trap in the NZ. Bore your opponent to death. Then attack.

You lose speed and prowess on the PK for the next 10 days, what other alternative do you have? Then again, there are so many holes in the defense, and on the back check in general, that there’s no fix, quick or otherwise at present, to address these needs. What’s left is resiliency.

My eyes are off the standings. I don’t care to see points at present. Or ever. I just want my team to show up every night and play tough.

No, my eyes are on the doings and sayings of coaches and administration from now until the end. Now’s the time to see who comes up from Bridgeport,  who is returned, etc. Now we will inspect Charles Wang’s due diligence in preparation for the move to Brooklyn. Now we will see if our gripes against Jack Capuano and Garth Snow are sound and with profound merit (I know they are, but I’m attempting to be as unbiased as possible.) Now we will see what trades, if any, will be made. Now we will see if Tim Thomas still has some market value and the Isles get some much needed help on defense once his trade occurs.

Forget the standings, people. Live with this team on a day-to-day and all will be well. Only then can you see the progress and small battles won from the unsung heroes encompassing this team. Not many and not consistently the same players either, but there are a few. For me, Evgeni. How must that man feel: winning hotly contested battles to only then getting blown out the next day. #Respect for Nabby. He’s made of steel.

As I mentioned in previous posts, an Islander loss like those in Pittsburgh, or at the Coliseum against the Flyers, is nothing more than par for the course for a team that has absolutely no identity whatsoever and no talent base even remotely close to being playoff ready/built.

So, is this past loss and Grabner’s injury the end for the Isles? Of course not. The season ended when the Isles couldn’t take first place. When the Isles couldn’t muster initial wins on this past homestand. The season ended when we lost to the Rangers at MSG during their first meet, lost to the Flyers 7-0, when we lost to the Bruins, etc. etc. Get my point?

Every game is crucial, and every game means the season is on the line. Why? Because the Isles aren’t built for winning streaks, playoff runs, and championships right now. Because the Islanders are the most rickety and yet most riveting (believe it or not) rollercoaster in the NHL.  Because if you’re an Isles fan, a 1 goal lead is much more uncomfortable a reality than being down a goal; because if you’re an Isles’s fan and the team is within two points of a playoff spot, you’re probably thinking, “Watch them lose this one. Watch. Only because they’re knocking on the door.”

Frankly, the Islanders are a year or two (and three solid players and a goalie away) from being a team. They’re getting there, and closer than I’ve seen them in years past. But not a team like the Ottawa Senators are. That’s a resilient team regardless of how the season ends for them.

I look to JT for such things: he plays solid hockey, scores, and goes out every night to defy the odds. Men like, nay, people like that will be rewarded soon enough. (More so in hockey than life, I might add. That’s why we love sports, no? Because the impossible is possible?)

Grabner’s disappearance from the lineup will ultimately make the Isles weaker because there’s very little consistent talent. Because the resiliency of which I spoke a few posts ago comes from believing you’re a part of something uniquely special, even if it is a struggling team with heart. You can find it in Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, JT, Nabokov, and two others that I leave readers to decide upon. You lose Grabs you lose your legs. That’s it. I don’t care if he’s clanking pucks off the pipes. He’s always a threat on the ice. He’s gone and now who will step up.

I will enjoy whatever is thrown my way, because I love this team. The owner is terrible. Garth Snow isn’t my favorite GM but he’ll do for now. And Jack Capuano…well, I’ll just wait a bit more before I speak of him again. For now, Go Isles. Stay calm and carry on. And Grabs, feel better.

–RD

Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles

 PS–> Please read our own Scotty Bonner’s two-part Midterm Report on the New York Islanders.  Here on eyesonisles.com

Thank you for your time.

GAME RECAP

  • Isles 1 Penguins 6.
  • Crosby with 5 assists. NHL spent three or four tweets drooling over Crosby’s achievements and what not. Wonderful, I know. Sid the Kid, blah blah blah. Only half a tweet, if at that, for JT and his 100th goal. There’s your recap.

Good day to you.

 

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Tuesday, Oct 2828 Oct7:00Winnipeg JetsBuy Tickets

Tags: Bridgeport Sound Tigers Evgeni Nabokov Garth Snow Islanders John Tavares Matt Moulson Michael Grabner New York Islanders NHL Rick DiPietro

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