So, here we are. Another November, another Islanders tailspin. This is the kind of thing that costs coaches jobs and gets players shipped out of town. So, let’s go over a couple of things that have caused Islanders Country to panic. How many years in a row can this team go into a November funk?
The first thing people start pointing to as the point when things turned bad, is the Thomas Vanek/Matt Moulson trade. I have heard the arguments. “Moulson is an iron man!”, “Moulson was so consistent!”, “Vanek is going to leave!”
Let’s back up a second. Who said Thomas Vamek was going to leave? I know we have this whole fool me once, shame on me mentality(Ryan Smyth, Gang of Four, John Spano…). But Thomas Vanek is not Ryan Smyth. And for that we are thankful. Smyth could not hold Vanek’s skates. When you have the chance to get a world class player like Thomas Vanek, you do it. You don’t get something for nothing. It takes talent to get talent. Yes, Matt Moulson is talented and has heart. But, we have yet to see the best of Thomas Vanek. He sure showed us something last night with his 2 goals. Let’s watch him develop into something better here.
As for Matt Moulson being an iron man and Vanek being oft injured? Vanek has never missed more than 11 games in a season. So let’s cool it with the Garth Snow is a terrible GM talk. It remains to be seen if Vanek re-signs with the Islanders, but it’s only November. Let’s give it a chance. He has developed some chemistry with John Tavares and this could be a duo to be reckoned with in the near future.
Defensive/Special Teams Woes
If you do want to fault GM Garth Snow for anything, it’s not improving the defense in the offseason. Radek Martinek is as atrocious as they come. It’s nice that they gave him a shot for sentimental reasons. But, it’s time to send him packing. Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan are capable of handling the defensive load his absence would bring. The Islanders need to make the commitment to these young guys. Scratching one in favor of Martinek is asking for trouble. If someone is going to make a mistake, let it be a young guy who is learning, not a vet who was never that good in the first place.
What about the prospects?
You’re not going to see Griffin Reinhart or Ryan Pulock this season. They are doing well in Juniors and that’s fantastic news. Perhaps we see them in April after their seasons end. The people to look at right now are the ones in Bridgeport. Calvin De Haan, Andrey Pedan & Scott Mayfield are all top Isles prospects on Defense who, in the right situation, could be given a shot with the big club.
Since Lubomir Visnovsky went down a few weeks ago with a concussion, things have gone downhill. Quickly. The team lost a steady defender and a veteran presence. Replacing him has not been an easy task. Add to that the consistently bad play of Matt Carkner, who, when it comes to enforcers, is making Mick Vukota look like Sidney Crosby, and the defensive struggles of Andrew MacDonald, who has become a turnover machine, and you have a recipe for disaster. There are too many holes to plug and the dam is going to burst. There has been too much getting caught with one defender in the zone, too many bad turnovers, and too many instances of players just being caught out of position and being beaten badly by more skilled players.
Aaron Ness is a nice player, but he is young. He deserves an every day shot over Martinek. That is for sure. The return of Lubo will surely help. He seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. Brian Strait‘s injury has also hurt the Isles. While he is not exactly Denis Potvin, he is a steady defensive presence. This team gives up a PPG 31.6% of the time. They need all the steadiness they could get. Those are not only bad numbers for this season, they are historically atrocious. No one has been this bad in a very long time. The worst PK percentage ever was by the 1982-83 Los Angeles Kings. They killed off 68.24% of penalties. The Isles are at 68.4% this season. But, don’t worry, they have company. Anaheim is worse. One thing we know for sure, if this continues there will be many people out of jobs. That includes Head Coach Jack Capuano.
Coaching & Goaltending
No one said Jack Capuano was Al Arbour, but his statements and actions have gotten more absurd over the past few weeks. After every loss, it appears as if he is trying to let cooler heads prevail and talk about how well the team played. That has gotten pretty old, pretty quickly. Two games ago he scratched a struggling Michael Grabner, a move that, even though he seemingly hasn’t scored on a breakaway since Stan Fischler was a young man, still made absolutely no difference. Then, last game, Cappy inexplicably scratched Brock Nelson. The kid had been playing first line minutes in the absence of Thomas Vanek. By all accounts, he has been doing a pretty decent job. Josh Bailey, who hasn’t scored seemingly since the Nixon administration, and Colin McDonald, have been downright awful. If you want to scratch anyone, scratch them.
No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Have the players have tuned Capuano out? Has he lost some of his fire and passion? Or, is he simply just not the right fit? But, clearly ,peculiar moves like scratching Nelson, and his incredible obsession with Evgeni Nabokov don’t help. He rode Nabokov so hard the first quarter of the season, that Nabby had very little time to recover from his many mediocre outings.
Nabokov has been mediocre at best so far this season. When Poulin finally did get his chance, he did not disappoint. However, it seems like there is something about manning the net as the number 1 goalie for the Islanders; because right now Kevin Poulin looks as lost as Nabokov did. After Nabby went down with a groin injury, and it was revealed he will be out a while, Poulin was anointed the number one goalie. He has let up 14 goals in the last 3 games. That is not going to get you into the playoffs. During the offseason, the Isles missed out on James Reimer,and Cory Schneider, and did not include Ryan Miller in their blockbuster deal with Buffalo. More than 20 games into the season, and the Isles still clearly do not have the number 1 netminder they so desperately need.
Is It Too Late To Fix?
No. We are only a little more than 25% through the season. The Isles are almost exactly where they were at this point last year. They had less time to turn it around last year , but they did it. All hope is not lost. They may be in last place, but they are just a few points out of 2nd. The great thing about the new playoff system is the Isles really only have to worry about the Metro Division opponents. Let’s not talk about first. They won’t finish first. But why not second or third? They have the offensive skill. When Visnovsky and Strait return, and the Isles start to get into a defensive groove, the goaltending play will improve as well. Not every goal is their fault. You can only leave them hanging out to dry for so long.
The team is in these games. They are not being blown out. But when you cannot win a game unless you score three goals, and you blow lead after lead in the third period, you’re not going to be bringing home the Cup.
However, it is still only November. There is still hope in this Isles season. It’s not time to throw in the towel….yet.