The New York Islanders return to the Nassau Coliseum winless in their last two contests, and bringing with them issues in dire need of remediation.
The Isles were outshot 59-35 (outscored 6-4) which indicates that the offensive core did little to raise up scoring chances, and the defense had an awful time cycling pucks out of their own zone.
Moreover, up until the second period of the Nashville Predators contest, the Isles goaltending proved solid, but two ‘soft’ goals by Evgeni Nabokov–in tow with lackluster offense unit–were the Isles undoing on Saturday, and this particular 3-2 loss proving to be, by far, their worst performance as a team this season.
Jack Capuano‘s 200th game showed that he’s learned a thing or two since taking over this club, as he mixed and matched lineups in the second period against Nashville. Those changes paid immediate dividends as Kyle Okposo‘s two assists, one to Frans Nielsen and the other to John Tavares, gave the Isles a momentary shot in the arm, while also illustrating the need in rethinking first-line configuration going into Tuesday’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres.
The most glaring issues are on defense, however, as Lubomir Visnovsky is showing very little antagonism on the backcheck, the missed mark against Eric Nystrom late in the third indicative of his poor play as of late: (Go to minute 3:28. Lubo and Nystrom on the bottom of your screen.)
If Lubo isn’t willing to take the reins of the PP, and isn’t checking, then his purpose on this team is questionable at best.
The defense, holistically speaking, is doing an anemic job at passing successfully out of their own zone, having everything to do with a lack of confidence and vision on the ice. The Isles defensemen were responsible for the majority of giveaways inside the neutral zone, raking up a total of 17 for the weekend.
Their identity, as a whole, is lacking, but more so on the defensive side than anywhere else. Timid, passive, or disorganized? Categorize it however you choose, the Isles efforts on the backcheck are meager, to say the least.
Also absent was the physicality ever present last season–a deficiency that must have Isles fandom scratching their heads and throwing things at their TV screens.
During the Nashville game, for example, the Isles’s last 8:00 of game time bore witness to a Predators team only interested in keeping the puck deep, and instead of pounding players against the boards, most Islanders were just trying to pokecheck the puck free. No killer instinct of which to speak.
Additionally, the Isles played either apprehensive hockey, such as what was on display in Chicago, or uninspired, stale hockey against Nashville. Both results were the same: losses against teams that the Isles could’ve beaten had they shown up.
Therefore, what’s most lacking in the entire scheme of things is a sense of bonafide urgency, something that was on display in period 2 against Columbus last week, and lest we forget, all of this past April.
Evgeni Nabokov played poorly against Nashville, and his impoverished performance now turns the spotlight back to Kevin Poulin, who alongside Jack Capuano and to a lesser extent John Tavares and Josh Bailey, were the best Islanders this past weekend.
Some would argue that because of the amount of shots he faced, Nabokov is somehow guiltless (or, at the most, suffer less of a sting) in the outcome.
Yes and no.
The aforementioned statement would be better suited for Poulin’s performance against Chicago, only because Nashville’s tying goal was categorically a ‘softie’ let in by the veteran Isles’s netminder.
But in fairness to him, there’s nothing Nabokov could’ve done differently to defend against Ryan Ellis‘s slapshot from that close in. High-percentage shot, from a talented young player. Chalk it up to brute force?
So, the New York Islanders and Coach Capuano are left with some impending questions:
- Pierre-Marc Bouchard must emerge from the background and use his talents for playmaking to help the Isles on that third 3rd line. Will Bouchard use Saturday’s scratch as a motivation to vastly improve upon his play, or sink further into the recesses of obscurity and become the Marty Reasoner of 2013-14?
- Will Matt Donovan, too, use his mistakes in Chicago and Saturday’s scratch as a learning tool, or will the pressure of having to mature at a quicker pace than most weigh him down?
- Will Lubomir Visnovsky improve upon his game? If there was one saving grace to former Isles’s captain Mark Streit‘s play, it was his ability to quarterback the PP. Nothing doing on that end for Lubo as of now.
- Is it time to change the lines a bit, beginning, of course, with John Tavares’s? Will Bailey see first-line duties come Tuesday?
- [And for the tongue-in-cheek question] Will the Isles reverse their fortunes from last year: dominate at home and lose on the road? Maybe next year they’ll go undefeated?
The Isles showed immaturity and disarray this weekend, especially on Saturday against a team they should’ve beaten resoundingly.
Back to the Coliseum it is for the Islanders, against the Buffalo Sabres this Tuesday, and against the speedy, young Edmonton Oilers Thursday.
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