Islanders: Completely Lost at Home
By Rich Dias-Rodrigues
UNIONDALE, N. Y.– The New York Islanders failed to capitalize on yet another 7 Power Play opportunities as they fall like bricks through water to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum 4-2.
The Islanders were held scoreless on this home-stand for approximately 5 1/2 periods until Michael Grabner swept in a loose puck, at the 3:14 mark of the third period, past the impenetrable, but rarely (truly) tested Marc-Andre Fleury. And don’t let the SOG total of 34 fool you: there were more outside chip shots then quality ones throughout the night for the Isles.
The team from Long Island needs to take a long look in the mirror and find themselves again, otherwise it will be the longest of truncated seasons for what we thought was a promising team.
- The greatest deficiency is the confidence on the Power Play. The Islanders went from a tic-tac, creative, aggressive group of ragtags playing fearlessly, to impotency and clumsiness:
- Erroneous or feeble passes inside the attacking zone abound, and were deftly swallowed up by opposing defensemen with little or no exertion on their part
- Mark Streit‘s inability to tame a puck on the blue line, or any Islanders for that matter, to truly hold the blue line on any given day as of late is becoming a concern.
- Absolutely no ownership of the puck inside the Neutral Zone, leading to endless amounts of dump n’ chase scenarios the likes of which forces an audience to believe this team has absolutely no game plan against talented squads. Grinding it out doesn’t always work.
- Noticeable it was that the PK unit failed to hold a tight box formation as they once did successfully on the road, leading to more open men in the slot area and goals. Not much, but enough to notice. Overall, the PK still remains as the one saving grace for the Isles.
- Evgeni Nabokov is showing his seams, as he let in some ‘soft’ goals, and by that I mean, shots in which he had a clear line of sight. Here’s one example:
- The Pittsburgh Penguins took the early lead on the Power Play with a goal by James Neal, at the 2:58 mark. He took advantage of a scattered PK unit, but most importantly, a rickety Nabokov performance.
- The New York Islanders were once more held to the periphery of the ice, with their back to the net for most of their Power Play opportunities, while their even strength scenarios bore witness to a team that cannot setup a decent play inside enemy turf. All the aforementioned stems from the manner by which they transition from their own end: mainly, the Isles seemed to take the puck tentatively up the ice, and whoever has it tried to make a big pass or big play, and if he couldn’t see a window, dumped the puck inside the offensive zone hoping for a lucky bounce.
- Confidence on both sides of the puck is what’s lacking at present. Confidence and deliberateness to be precise. These past two home games have shown a cowering Isles team that is a mere shadow of its road-trip self!
- The Penguins would add another tally in the second with a Simon Despres shot that caught Nabokov napping to his right–a very poor goal given up here by the veteran netminder:
- The Penguins would add two more before the end of the night, one an empty-netter (and none by Sidney Crosby and/or Chris Kunitz) to put the Islanders down again at home.
Overall Assessment and Prognosis
- The Islanders’s front-end portion of the homestand is salvageable on paper, as both the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres come to town not playing their best hockey either. But as it stands, the Islanders aren’t brimming with enough poise to suggest that these are the easier of the teams to beat on the slate this week.
- No one on the Islanders squad is playing well, especially tonight and especially Nabokov. Granted his defense was non-existent, but so were his reflexes. I guess, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for Rick DiPietro to earn his keep.
- Normally, I would worry about the outlook for this slowing sinking Isles team, but a road game with NYR is awaiting, and they can use a solid road win to lift up their spirits. It’s time to reignite this rivalry that has always given the Isles a quick boost in the past. Moreover, they will see the Rangers the following week (Valentine’s Day) so there’s still a chance to control one’s destiny in the standings.
- But right now the Isles have undone in two days what it took a week to accomplish: a tie for first; best PK and PP units in hockey; respect from opponents.
If the Islanders can win the next three and return to MSG the following week with a considerable lead on the NYR and a return to the middle pack of the Eastern Conference standings, they’ll be able to take enough confidence on the road to muster some much needed victories. But it begins (or ends) at MSG. As it well it should, for what is hockey without some drama.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles