No Quick Fix For Islanders Symptoms

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders head to Ottawa this evening to take on the Senators after dropping their last two games.

The defeat last Saturday at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers set the wheels in motion for the eventual trade of Matt Moulson on Sunday evening to the Buffalo Sabres.

There did not look to be too much desperation in their very next outing, a 3-2 loss to the rival New York Rangers in a game which the Islanders were trapped in their own end for long stretches numerous times.

The season is only 12 games old and there is plenty of time to work out the myriad of problems that seem to be holding this team back. With the New Jersey Devils and Rangers starting to put together some wins, the Metropolitan division only gets that much tighter once you get past the front-running Pittsburgh Penguins.

Current Defense Core

Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald have clearly not been at their best early in the season, constantly getting hemmed in their own zone. This could be a function of over-work, as each has had to log 25 minutes or more with current injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky (no timetable) and Brian Strait (also not skating) making it extremely difficult.

The youngster Matt Donovan needs a more low pressure environment to learn and prosper. NHL defenseman take a much longer time to develop than forwards and for this reason, everyone questioned when he was paired with Matt Carkner, who is unable to cover for the inevitable mistakes that Donovan will make.

There is a lesson that most parents pass down to their children which goes ‘It’s Ok to make mistakes, just learn from them and do not consistently make the same ones’. That is what I believe we have seen out of Donovan so far. Nothing repetitive, but rookie mistakes that most (Adam Larsson, Tyler Myers come to mind) have all made. You need to be paired with a strong partner. Perhaps pairing Matt with Hamonic or MacDonald would be the more prudent solution.

Thomas Hickey has been much better this season than last but remains undersized and could easily be pushed around by bigger and more aggressive forwards.

Radek Martinek is not the answer and was always looked at as simply being a stop-gap in the wake of the concussion suffered by Visnovsky.

Brian Strait was not playing all that well before the injury (whether that has something to do with it or not) and Carkner is Carkner.

As Shane Blackburn noted in his article this morning covering the Sound Tigers latest game, help is not on the way. There is no magic bullet waiting in Bridgeport to come flying up to Long Island like Superman and save the beleaguered six. Things on the horizon look much brighter but for now, it is simply what you see is what you get.

Trade you say? Quality defensemen are simply not put on the market and if you even get a rival general manager to talk about one, the price is extremely expensive.

As head coach Jack Capuano noted in his post-game presser after the loss to the Rangers, it all boils down to one simple philosophy. The current group HAS to play better, plain and simple.


Nobody expected the Islanders to struggle to score goals and nothing through 12 games changes that thinking. John Tavares has clearly not been at his best yet, possibly still struggling to adapt to being captain of this young hockey club. But he will be there, as the talent is just too spectacular to suggest otherwise. The Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek trade, while unpopular with half the base due to the fan favorite status of Moulson, still gives the Islanders the better forward.

Josh Bailey has shown maturity and will set career marks in offensive categories as will Eyes player of the month Frans Nielsen.

The fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald (Brock Nelson) has been superb, constantly providing fore-checking pressure and being the one line who has kept the puck in the offensive zone more than any other.

Kyle Okposo needs to be better. His play has regressed back to pre mid-season form of last year. He is not really providing much in any zone, although the statistics say otherwise. He needs to be back on that second line with Bailey and Nielsen which was so effective last season.

In conclusion, the Islanders forwards need to be a thousand times better on the defensive side of the puck. They need to be more aggressive in the neutral zone and get back in the defensive zone to cover up the gaps caused by an inexperienced defense making expected mistakes from time to time. This is a part of the game often overlooked by the casual fan as most point right to the defense and goaltending in terms of goals against.


Bench boss Jack Capuano is a tremendous person and is still believed to be a good coach for this young team. But just as his team needs to tighten up defensively, he has some work to do also.

The too many men on the ice penalty against the Rangers, as angered as it made him, was the right call. His reluctance to change his defensive groupings to take advantage of stronger players being paired with weaker or more inexperienced ones has not been seen yet. He seems married to keeping Okposo on the first line, although it is painfully obvious that is not the right choice.

Most of all, however, is the system. Maybe the style the Islanders are currently playing is just not the right one for this team right now. An aggressive fore-check system is highly dependent on a number of important factors that we highlighted above are actually Islander deficiencies right now.  Responsible back-checking forwards and a strong, experienced defensive unit.

The time has come for Capuano to switch to a more passive ‘trap’ style system. Perhaps a 1-2 diamond fore-check would work best, with a low forward pressuring the puck with high support just inside the blue line on either wing, roaming to the middle as play dictates. The defensemen would stay home between the blue line and red line, effectively slowing the opponents progress through the neutral zone. Other teams are simply attacking the Islanders zone with too much speed to contain over sixty minutes.

The problems can be fixed when properly identified and the Islanders have a real young, talented team. 12 games is no need to panic and push the abort button on the season but at the same time, fans trepidation is {mostly} understood as the team raised expectations for just about everyone after the playoffs last year.

They were raised highest however by themselves; for themselves.