Fans, bloggers, and analysts seem to be having a field day with the New York Islanders this season, particularly with GM Garth Snow. “They need a goaltender.” “Why not trade Moulson for a defensemen or goaltender?” “If Snow was willing to trade a first round pick in Nino Niederreiter and a future first and second round pick, why not try to get Cory Schnieder?”
These questions keep coming up over and over, even from the most recognizable of writers. The last week wasn’t the best for the Islanders, but there’s more to hockey than the wins and loses.
To me, there are a lot of positive notes we can take out of the last three games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes, despite the Islanders 1-2 record in those games. Moreover, if you have been following the team the last 4 or 5 seasons, you will see that Snow has faith in his draft picks and prospects. Last season, we saw the Islanders make the playoffs based on Snow’s “build from within” mentality.
Defensively, the Islanders need to tighten up. Alright, I guess that goes without saying. However, the calling up of Aaron Ness was/is, in my opinion, a very good sign. “How?” you might ask, “How is this good news? The guy has 10 NHL games under his belt. We need a veteran presence on the blue line.”
As much as the Islanders needed to call Ness up due to injuries to their blue line, bringing him up into the top-6 also gives management the ability to see just how much more time players need to develop. Further, with Ness in his 5th year since being drafted (2008), now is good of a time as any to see what he can do until players come back from injury.
The Islanders are lucky to have the prospect pool that they do, more specifically on defense. Snow realizes that this will not only be a cheaper way to build a strong hockey club given the team’s tight budget, but the developing of prospects allows for Snow to limit his need to trade or sign free agents, which we’ve seen since he’s become GM. A solid defensive core won’t be built overnight.
With that, Ness played pretty well in last night’s loss to the Hurricanes. He had a few good looks to move the puck out of the defensive zone and did so with poise. Ness is no replacement for the injured Lubomir Visnovsky, who doesn’t have a time table to return from a concussion, but his skating ability will be welcomed on the Islanders back end.
As far as goaltending is concerned, it’s easy to pick on Evgeni Nabokov. However, a quick look at his numbers shows that he isn’t playing any better or worse than he has in the past. According to NHL.com’s stats, only twice has Nabokov eclipsed a .920 save percentage, which occurred during the 2003-2004 and 2009-2010 seasons. Granted he was playing for a team that had a lot of experience and not a rebuilding organization like the Islanders. Either way, his numbers aren’t exactly spectacular, regardless of how many wins he’s had in his career (340). That means, much like Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, that the team in front of him was playing well, too.
Cue Kevin Poulin. Another 2008 draft pick, Poulin has been given two opportunities to show his worth over the last three games and boy has he stepped up. Despite loses his first two starts, which were a week apart, his last two games have been nothing short of NHL starting goaltending calibre. Poulin has looked collected and calm, and as Butch Goring pointed out during the game, his positioning has been much better on the whole.
With the Islanders in need of a confident goaltender with something to prove, Poulin seems to be comfortable filling that role and appears to be getting better. Also, having the starts closer together also allows him to get a rhythm. So, if anyone needed a reason to stop pressuring Snow to make a trade for a goaltender, Poulin appears to be it.