Islanders Treading Water In Metropolitan Division

Oct 22, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Vancouver Canucks defenseman

Kevin Bieksa

(3) scores the game winning goal past New York Islanders goalie

Evgeni Nabokov

(20) in front of New York Islanders center

Frans Nielsen

(51) and Vancouver Canucks center

Brad Richardson

(15) during the overtime period of a game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Canucks won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013-14 New York Islanders are most easily described as an emerging team, and by “emerging” I mean “talented but inexperienced,” and by “talented but inexperienced” I mean “frustratingly mediocre.”

At least from what I’ve seen so far this year.

Sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference at 3-3-3, the Isles are nothing if not unremarkable after nine games. Coming off last season’s late-April run and hard-fought playoff series against a heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins team, fans on and around Long Island had high hopes for their club this year.

Suffice it to say that “unremarkable” wasn’t how the fan base thought it would be characterizing its team this October.

The problem with high expectations is that they often morph into unrealistic ones because of all the hype surrounding a young, up-and-coming team. And we’re seeing that happen with the Islanders, early in the season as it is.

To clarify: To date, the team isn’t a disappointment, but that’s not to say the team hasn’t been disappointing. Even the players would agree.

After Tuesday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Matt Martin spoke with Eyes On Isles about his team’s style of play: “Sometimes when we get a lead we stop playing the way we were playing to get that lead,” Martin said. “At times I think we sit back a bit and start thinking we have to protect it when we’re at our best when we’re moving forward and getting pucks deep.”

“We want to start playing our game for a full sixty minutes. What we did in the second half of last season was our identity, and we haven’t found that yet.”

This team has the talent and the capability to play at a higher level, and to a man, the players certainly expect that of themselves. Believe me when I say there’s more confusion and anger in the dressing room about the team’s early season play than there is on #IslesTwitter.

But if the Islanders want to be a team that routinely spends more time above the postseason cutoff line than below it, the players will have to figure out how to play ‘April hockey’ during the season’s first six months instead of waiting until the postseason deadline.

“Playing fast and physical and getting pucks on net, keeping them on their heels instead of letting them walk in the zone on us,” Martin said, when asked how this team needs to play to extend leads rather than give them up. “That’s something we did the second half of last season that we’re pretty good at.”

The Islanders know that outworking the other team is the key to their success, much as it was in Games 2, 3, 5 and 6 against the Penguins in May. For the most part, New York outplayed Pittsburgh by employing a frenetic, hard-hitting style of play well suited to the underdog mentality that defines the Isles.

But when the Islanders deviate from the style that earns them a lead, the results speak for themselves. The Isles have played eight one-goal games this season, including their last six in a row. In those games, they’ve given up one-goal leads eight times and two-goal leads twice.

“There’s been a few games that we’ve blown that we should’ve won, and we know that. You learn from it, you can’t dwell on it and you’ve got to move forward,” Martin said.

For the Islanders and their fans, moving forward might involve more frustration than celebration, especially if the team continues to give up leads. The silver lining is that the players understand what course corrections they need to make in order to avoid a middle-of-the-road season.

It’s clear that Martin is tired of giving interviews like the one he gave on Tuesday. The only solution is for the Islanders to remember how they dominated teams at the end of the 2012-13 season.

Maybe tonight’s game in Pittsburgh will help.

-MW (@MichaelWillhoft)

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Concerns? Ideas on how the Islanders can win more games so I can stop asking questions like this? Post them in the Comments section below or follow me on the Twitter so we can talk it out.