The New York Islanders suffered more than just a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
The still uncertain status of Lubomir Visnovsky, who suffered a concussion in the first period and had to be helped to the tunnel by Travis Hamonic, underscores a bigger problem that goes deeper than losing one defenseman for an unspecified amount of time.
In the first eight games of a 2013-14 regular season that has seen the Islanders go 3-3-2, their record bears a striking resemblance to their play on the ice : inconsistent.
Which New York team will show up on any given night is a subject of apprehension for every fan who tunes into MSG or enters the Coliseum to see them play live. Will it be the team who thoroughly and completely dominated the Phoenix Coyotes 6-1? The team who was opportunistic and shutdown a very good offensive team in outlasting the Edmonton Oilers 3-2? Or will it be the 40 minute effort against the Buffalo Sabres or Saturday’s 20 minute one in losing to the Hurricanes?
Either way, the players keep repeating the same mantra in the locker room, which is most closely resembling a morgue after losses with most whispering as if to not disturb the silence that permeates even the hallway leading to it.
“Definitely we have to better as a whole and that chance (refering to missed 2 on 0 in early second period) I would have liked to have back, as it could have changed momentum” said forward Matt Martin in the losing locker room afterwards. “We got away from our gamplan again, making that extra pass instead of taking the shot” Martin continued to note.
The Islanders, so far early in this campaign, seem to be resting on their laurels after a string of games in which their battle level and offensive prowess is on full display, a point not lost on Islanders forward Matt Moulson. “We can’t take anything for granted in this league. Just because we create chances and take a lot of shots in one game doesn’t mean its going to come the next game. We just didn’t get enough pucks to the net.”
Head coach Jack Capuano has done what he could from behind the bench, implementing both pre-game and in-game lineup changes in order to give his team that extra jump and was quick to comment on how the Carolina game went wrong. “After Regin hit the post in the first period. We did not start the way we needed to start and did not deserve to win the hockey game. You watched the replay of the goals and there is a clear lack of effort on a few of them. We passed up way too many opportunities.”
This team is young and still developing as a unit, but one would have to wonder where the lessons that they seem to learn one night end up disappearing to the very next game. “Yeah you would think; that’s the formula that we talk about all the time” Capuano added. “We talk about our victories and the way we play giving us a chance to win. Tonight, for some reason, it was not there. We could have had more effort there.”
Visnovsky was scheduled to be re-evaluated today and was not present at Sunday afternoon’s fan function at Adventureland amusement park. This all but guarantees Matt Donovan‘s widely felt deserved return to the lineup for Tuesday’s night match with the Vancouver Canucks. Donovan, in his rookie season, has been brought along slowly and carefully by the coaching staff but this leaves them with no other choice. He is going to have to increase his responsibility on the offensive front in Viznovsky’s absence and take the point on the first power play unit. Only 23, the thing that could be said for certain is that Donovan does not lack the confidence and internal fortitude to not only accept the challenge, but thrive from it.
In the defensive zone overall, the Islanders most glaring weaknesses have been two-fold. An inability to clear the puck at the most opportune moment and lazy man on man coverage from both the pairing on the ice as well as the forwards. Matt Carkner had an extremely rough game on Saturday, being inserted for the aforementioned Donovan, finishing a -3 after taking on increased ice time once the team went down to 5 defenseman.
It is very likely that Radek Martinek will be signed now, since he has been practicing with the team and in many popular opinions, can help the transition game and clearing deficiencies. The players at the position at Bridgeport are in no position to come up and help in such areas, being too raw and needing much more seasoning before being thrust into such an important role.
At forward, the offense has been as advertised: lethal when firing on all cylinders but too often attempting to make one too many passes in the offensive zone rather then just getting puck to the net. Kyle Okposo is still struggling in his overall game, trying to find some resemblance of chemistry with captain John Tavares that has not yet arrived.
The line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald has clearly been the Islanders best overall with each game, earning their anointed title of the ‘crash’ line but there are hardly a combination that you want on the ice with the game on the line and needing to sustain consistent offensive pressure. The Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen combination has also been excellent but with so much juggling going on with their other winger, cannot possibly create and sustain any long-term chemistry.
Brock Nelson, sent to Bridgeport to play in this afternoon’s loss at Webster Bank Arena, has been recalled but it is still unseen as to how long he remains part of the 23 man roster. Capuano seems to be leaning more towards keeping Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the lineup on a regular basis and Nelson would probably be best served going back to playing under Scott Pellerin and seeing consistent ice time.
Whatever the future holds for the Islanders this season, any realist will tell you they are not a cup contending team yet. However, a step back should not be allowed or accepted either. This group needs to grow into more than just a first round playoff plank on the bridge to the Stanley Cup for another team. They must turn into contenders themselves. For that to happen, they first must learn consistency in playing the message that Capuano preaches is needed every single night.
The schedule says there are 74 games remaining to learn the message. I say, it’s more like 20 before they dig a hole that could prove too deep to dig out of.