Yesterday, we handed out our October monthly report card grades for the Islanders forwards. Mostly positive with some rare exceptions but overall a good month for the current group of front line players who are counted on to fill the net with consistency.
Scoring was not considered to be an issue heading into the 2013-14 season for New York and thus far, that has held true, as the Islanders are currently 12th in the league, averaging 3 goals per game.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the talk in Islanders country all summer long was of the defense and goaltending, one of which we will address today as the current group of blueliners get handed their October grades.
Currently ranked 27th out of 30 teams yielding an average of 3.2 goals per game this season mirrors the shortened 2013 campaign in terms of inconsistency and breakdowns.
The Islanders started 9-11-2 in their first 22 games and had a team goals against average of 3.41. They then proceeded to go on a tremendous roll to the playoffs, finishing 15-6-5 in their final 26 games and lowering their GAA to a much more palatable 2.46.
Changes this season so far have been the addition of rookie Matt Donovan, the return of Radek Martinek and the unfortunate injuries suffered to Lubomir Visnovsky and Brian Strait. The latter has forced top tandem Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic to play more minutes than they ever have and Matt Carkner to be inserted into the starting 6 more often than perhaps head coach Jack Capuano would have originally planned on.
Whether the Islanders can pull everything together and go on a similar role remains to be seen with their playoff hopes riding on the outcome. But there is no reason why they can’t. It is all a matter of execution and more responsible gap control and back-checking help from the forwards.
Let’s take a look at what was observed from high in the press box for October when it comes to the players.
7- Matt Carkner : 10 GP, 0-2-2, -3, 12:38
Carkner has had some moments this season but they have been confined to playing against slow, prodding teams such as the Boston Bruins (and that is not a knock against Boston but a true analogy of how they play). When faced against smaller, quicker opposition, Carkner has really struggled, especially in his reads from the offensive and neutral zone. Likely just a one year placeholder for the future waiting in Bridgeport and juniors.
Grade : D- , can’t really justify anything better than this for Carkner, who certainly has the heart and passion but not the speed to keep up with more than half of the current forwards in the league. Has even tried to rile up the opposition to no avail.
46 – Matt Donovan : 12 GP, 1-2-3, -2, 16:41
Doug Hamilton, Jake Gardner, Adam Larsson, Tyler Myers….all rookie defensemen in the National Hockey League who initially struggled before finding regular roles on their respective teams bluelines. What we are seeing out of Donovan is perfectly normal as the position takes much more development historically. Oozing with offensive talent that is evident, his confidence is growing and he wants to make a difference. Confidence goes a long way in the development of young players and Donovan is going to be a very good player for years to come. For now, needs to be paired with a strong partner. Would love to see him and Hamonic as a tandem.
Grade : C+ , Has made expected mistakes that rookie defensemen will make and has not been helped by being paired with Carkner before finding a more suitable (and still not perfect) partner in Martinek. -2 after 12 games with almost 17 minutes in ice time speaks volumes and his offensive instincts are evident. Just has to take his defensive mistakes each game, analyze them and learn from them. But to fulfill his enormous potential, he has to play.
3- Travis Hamonic : 15 GP, 1-5-6, -3, 24:54
Hamonic has shown a willingness to develop his offensive game and we have seen him rush the puck more than ever after 15 games. The statistics bear that out, as with 6 points he is on pace for his best offensive season of his young career. Still only 23, he has to be considered the future leader of the blueline and could be wearing an ‘A’ as early as next season depending on the contract status of his partner. Agile with a willingness to crash and bang has endeared him to Islanders faithful.
Grade : B- , With the injuries suffered by New York, Hamonic is playing the most minutes he has ever seen, averaging almost 25 per game this season. He can perform better defensively and it is almost a guarantee he will. Still has to work on certain reads in own zone, especially when he and his partner have to switch off.
14 – Thomas Hickey : 15 GP, 0-3-3, +4, 18:08
Hickey has come a long way since being plucked off the waiver wire by Garth Snow. What he has turned into has been an undersized but very useful defenseman in the Islanders system. A very good skater with good instincts, this has been just another gem found in the scrap heap of league cast-aways. Has had one real bad game that I could remember and that was opening night. The last 14 have been very good.
Grade : B+ , A much deserving grade for Hickey, who is always gracious with the media, win or lose. Never one to ‘run and hide’, always accountable and spoken for. Only immediate improvement could be in his transition passes.
47 – Andrew MacDonald : 15 GP, 1-4-5, -4, 26:55
Since being named assistant captain and with the uncertainty of his contract status looming over his head, MacDonald has been turning pucks over at an alarming rate. At a team leading 27 minutes per night, it could be over-exposure more than mental breakdowns however. Not at home running the first power play unit in Visnovsky’s absence. Would be best suited as a second pairing guy rather than top flight minute eater.
Grade : C+ , Both MacDonald and Hamonic as a pair have not been at their best and instead of shaking up the forward lines, maybe a shake up on the back end might be more needed to work out the teams defensive lapses.
4 – Radek Martinek : 6 GP, 0-2-2, +3, 15:18
Martinek was signed as an injury contingency when Visnovsky went down almost three weeks ago. For his age and injury history, has provided decent defensive play on the back end and with the exception of the game against the Rangers, has not hurt the team. Most likely on borrowed time until the injury situation is resolved.
Grade : B-, One of the few ‘plus’ players on defense, Martinek is playing just over 15 minutes of dependable hockey for Capuano. I don’t think anyone could have expected any more than what we are currently seeing out of him.
37 – Brian Strait : 9 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 15:56
It will most likely never be known when Strait exactly got injured or how it was affecting his play, but there clearly was a decline from last season to the early part of 2013-14. Through 9 games, he did not impress at all with reads or assignments. With the limited information being provided by all teams this year regarding injuries, the severity of the shoulder injury is still not known, but he is still not skating.
Grade : D , Injury aside, was just not the same player he was at the end of last season.
11 – Lubomir Visnovsky : 8 GP, 1-2-3, +3, 20:01
This has affected the Islanders more than anything outside of an injury to Tavares or Nielsen. And I would argue it was suffered at a more important position that the team could least afford. When Visnovsky got hit (and it was clean) he proceeded to get spun around and banged his head into the Coliseum plexiglass. The sight of Hamonic having to help a woozy Lubomir off the ice was not welcoming at all. Three weeks later, he has still not resumed any physical activity and it could be another month before we see him back on the ice.
Grade : A, Was playing solid hockey prior to the injury and is a more stabilizing influence on the back-end than many give him credit for. +3 with over 20 minutes ice time, good in transition, power play quarterback…he is the oil that makes the engine run. And it’s running real dry lately…..
As always, thanks for reading Eyes On Isles.