Isles Experience Growing Pains, Road Struggles Continue


James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders continued to experience growing pains as they fell to 0-2 on their current four-game road swing. They came into game two of their four-game road trip with a different approach, but the end result was the same, as they failed to pick up a win against the Carolina Hurricanes, dropping a 1-0 decision.

The inevitable cries of the frustrated portion of the fan base for a coaching change or a blockbuster trade aside, it’s obvious something must be done to right the ship sooner than later. These changes, in all likelihood, will have to come from within, for a couple of reasons.

Impetuously axing the head coach or attempting to trade for whatever pieces are missing from the puzzle at any given time are short-sighted impulses, with long-reaching implications. Garth Snow has meticulously pieced this team together, and admittedly isn’t quite there yet. And the truth is, no championship team can be built solely through the draft. But rushing blindly forward when some hardships are experienced on the heels of the first signs of success can be disastrous (ask the past two decades-plus of New York Rangers teams how well that works). Most of the pieces of a competitive team are already in place on the Island. They are in the early stages of growing together as a unit – and most of the time, growth is accompanied by some degree of pain.

On Thursday night backup netminder Kevin Poulin stepped in and played his heart out, turning aside 23 of the 24 shots he faced. Even in its debilitated state the defense got things together, holding the opposition to a single goal. Unfortunately the offensive game wasn’t clicking, managing just 21 shots on goal and failing to score even one on Hurricanes backup goalie and the game’s first star, Justin Peters.

The low shot count only tells part of the story, though – the Isles fired another 23 shots wide of the net, and the Hurricanes blocked 13 more. Had they connected on just half of these failed shot attempts, the 39 total would have been their fourth highest number of shots on goal this season. Had all of them connected they would have tied their season-best 57 shots. It seems unlikely that Peters – who was never rigorously tested throughout the game – would have found a way to turn that many aside.

Should have, could have… at the end of the day, the only number that counts is the highest goal total, and once again the Islanders came up short in this regard. Sure, there are reasons why things played out the way they did – missing key personnel, even some of the replacements missing in action – but that’s a relative thing, because at any given time every team in the league is limping along at less than full steam for some reason or other.

Among the few positives was the play of Aaron Ness in his season debut. He played over 13 minutes, threw a couple of hits, blocked some shots, and didn’t look out of place in the least. Stalwart defender Andrew MacDonald was his usual rock-steady self, skating for nearly half the game and throwing himself in front of several pucks. The penalty killing unit shut down both Carolina power plays.

The trick now, rather than scrapping the game plan and starting from scratch, will be to build on the positives and add more elements to what they accomplished in Carolina. Thursday’s game was a solid effort in two of the three zones. Between the pipes the ball, for the time being, is in Poulin’s court. He will very likely get the start on Saturday in Columbus and, barring a complete collapse, on Sunday in Montreal as well. A more consistent scoring attack would turn some losses into regulation ties, and ties into wins. Nobody was particularly happy with the mediocre two-goal effort against Washington, but even that would have proven to be enough on Thursday against the Canes.

I’ve said it before, and it still rings true: as soon as the Isles figure a way to bring all the elements of their game together at the same time on a consistent basis, they will start to pile up the wins. Until then, it seems likely we’ll be forced to endure more instances of “if only” and “it could have been”.