Slumping Islanders Host Sabres with Visnovsky and Bailey in Tow


UNIONDALE, N. Y.– Amid the banter/speculation regarding the Tim Thomas trade and all the distraction it brings forth, the New York Islanders are staring at the possibility of being dead last (or very close to it)  in the East by the middle of next week, if they find a way to lose the next two games (Buffalo Sabres  and Carolina Hurricanes) at the Coliseum.

As it stands, there is a FIVE-way tie for the tenth spot in the Eastern Conference, and tonight’s match-up pins two of those five teams trying desperately to gain momentum and gather some semblance of a winning streak.

The Buffalo Sabres arrive to the Coliseum having defeated the Montreal Canadians in a shootout, 5-4, with a 2 goal/8 SOG performance from Thomas Vanek. The win comes at a most opportune time for the Sabres, as they’re confronting a New York team on the down-slope; these two clubs, however, mirror themselves quite thoroughly this season with regard to success and failure, but only the Sabres have the energy to make a run for the eighth spot, having shown some prominence against the surging Habs and the emerging PK Subban (who scored his second of the year on the Power Play) last night.

The Islanders may very well switch positions in both the standings and the W/L column with their Upstate cousins, as the Sabres are at 4-6 with one more game played than the Isles.

With the expectations of seeing both Lubomir Visnovsky and Josh Bailey in Islander uniforms this evening, fans may take some comfort in the fact that both ownership and coaching staff are aware that there’s a lack of productivity, lack of assertiveness currently haunting their team. Expect some ‘glaring’ changes, even if they only add up to lateral moves.

But if a loss ensues this evening, the Isles will inherit the Sabres’ current record and standings spot. This once first-place Islanders squad must return to some semblance of foundational hockey: maintain position inside their own zone, and carry (NOT DUMP) pucks into their opponents end, while taking the body more often and with much more assertiveness than what was on display against the Rangers.

And the loss to the Rangers is my sticking point for today: not so much for the plethora of goals scored against them, but the ease to which the Rangers went about their business. Aside from a brief flare-up in the second period, the Islanders were the most passive/insecure with their forecheck to date. Sadly, this NYR-NYI didn’t even resemble a faded copy of those match-ups New Yorkers are so accustomed to seeing. What is usually a night to appease a penchant for aggressive, abrasive hockey, turned out to be a Rangers’s scrimmage.

The lack of overall energy, or more importantly, the inability or wherewithal for the remaining Isles players to rally around John Tavares‘s brilliant and equally industrious play is something in need of immediate redress, criticism, and cause for concern. But, perhaps not.  Perhaps because of the truncated season and all of the opportunities for possible playoff runs such a scenario proffers, the New York Islanders and their fan-base were walking through the last two and half weeks with their eyes wide shut. Perhaps when the Isles finally realized their potential (within a point of first place, etc) early last week that was the exact moment when reality set in. (Or disconfidence, or fear, or trembling, or any points in between.) Perhaps the Islanders fell under the weight of their own meager, scattered success on the road.

As it stands, the Islanders are anemic in those special team areas once, however brief, heralded as par excellence examples of fundamental hockey at its best. Not to mention that their 5-on-5 play is downright miserable, with brief segments of geninue creativity and fiestiness, especially from Tavares, Michael Grabner, and on occasion, Matt Moulson. But with Grabner we get the speed, vision, and determination with no finish, and with Moulson, we get the positioning, awareness, but no one to feed him pucks (or no one capable of feeding him pucks, and vice versa.)

Suffice to say that tonight’s match is of crucial importance. Crucial.

Lubomir Visnovsky and Josh Bailey Debuts

In brief, let me summarize the emergence of these two players onto the Long Island scene with a quote from Paulo Coelho:

"When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny."

I find the aforemetioned particularly telling and equally appropriate, for it can apply to Visnovksy (to a lesser degree Bailey) directly as both person and player, but resounds as a mantra most befitting to the New York Islanders of these past few home games. Looking forward to next week’s schedule, the Islanders must decide who they want to be as a team and what exactly they hope to accomplish as an organization now and before Barclays.

They’re not Stanley Cup material, that’s for sure. Are they playoff material? No. Are they a possible 8th seed by season’s end? As of now, no. As of now, the Islanders are only successful at dismantling themselves.  From a purely objective standpoint the Islanders have nothing to offer NHL teams in way of a challenge, sans ONE player, who’s already been mentioned.

Now enter Visnovsky and Bailey onto the stage, two players with their share of baggage and talent, who fans hope will augment the talent on this burgeoning yet befuddled hockey club. So with their entrance, Act I (or the expositional component) that comprises the Islanders’s tragic-comedy comes to a close. Will we see if these are heroes who right the wrongs, or like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, help bring down the protagonist and facilitate his unnecessary end.

Tim Thomas: To be or not to be an Islander (Pushing along the quasi-Shakespearean references I’ve so crudely added here for no good reason)

And now Tim Thomas, a most interesting piece of Islanders’s news:

I have read my share information on this transaction, and without a doubt I dreamed of the possibility of seeing Thomas in Blue and Orange, but I knew I was kidding myself. Sure enough, I agree once again (gladly) with Mr. BD Gallof (@bdgallof) over at WFAN/CBS who like myself and friends and fans alike, believe this trade to be a beneficial move to help with the Isles’s cap floor issues, the Bruins’s cap ceiling, while setting up for some intriguing trade options in the very near future. All this spells no Thomas between the pipes this season, ladies and gentlemen.  Right now, and I could be eating my words later, GM Snow is looking somewhat deft at the helm for a change. Time will tell.

Here’s a quick review of the trade details as I’ve understood them:

  • If the Islanders do play Thomas, they must then fork over a second round pick in ’13 or ’14 (depending when he plays.)
  • If Thomas never suits up, the Isles do not lose a thing, and their ‘floor’ is secured in the meantime. (Not to mention the Bruins relieve themselves of cap pressure! They figure Tuukka Rask is more than capable of filling in for TT, anyway.)
  • The Islanders are not obligated to use Thomas in any way, and may very well bank on his market value to scoop up other teams’ picks instead.

In any case, fans must accept the fact that Garth Snow and the rest of the Islanders’s administration are looking to assemble a team to compete for more than this year’s playoffs, even forego them (not literally, of course, but also not make such drastic moves that would see the Isles not returning to the post-season for another six years) if it meant picking up talent and setting-up a new team on a new stage.

More on this later…once I/we all get some more concrete facts.



Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles