Dec 29, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; New York Islanders forwardCal Clutterbuck
(15) skates with the puck during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
As of late, the New York Islanders have been beating competition ahead of them in the standings. The forwards, and defense at times, have been scoring goals at a pace similar to the beginning of the season, though they have still yielded the second most goals in the NHL. Calls for coach Jack Capuano‘s head have calmed for now, but the Islanders have a long way to go.
With the path to the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division not exactly an impossible journey, there is, at least for me, a player that can be a catalyst in the Islanders making their second straight playoff appearance.
Secondary scoring hasn’t come easy for the Islanders this season and there are far more responsible culprits than Clutterbuck. However, he has shown his offensive abilities in the past and after comparing Clutterbuck’s numbers with the Minnesota Wild with Josh Bailey‘s, they aren’t very far apart. Though Bailey does have much better puck handling abilities, Clutterbuck is (far and away) a more physical player and as a bottom six forward, physicality and scoring goals could bring the Islanders to the next level. Allstars are expect to do well, but what wins Stanley Cups are good support players playing up to, and beyond, their ability when the team needs them.
Since my two-cents is probably only worth one, I decided to ask some of the guys here at Eyes On Isles to share their thoughts on the subject. Here’s what they had to say:
Rich: Frans Nielsen – For the Great Dane, it isn’t so much stepping up than it’s a case of keeping up a steady, strong pace of intelligent and opportunistic hockey. His focus must concentrate upon aggrandizing the play of his linemates in the manner most familiar when thinking about John Tavares. No longer does it serve the Isles’s purpose that he score goals, but rather open up scoring chances for those sharing duties with him.
Joe Powers: Travis Hamonic – There are quite a few Isles who could stand to put a little more on the line out there, but my vote goes to Travis Hamonic. No longer the defensive stalwart he was last year, he’s been a shadow of his former self. While still logging big-time minutes, his offensive contribution has been negligible, while on the defensive side he has been surprisingly mediocre. His all around game has suffered, and the team misses his steady reliability.
Andy: Andrew MacDonald – Even though MacDonald has 20 points in 43 games, his defensive blunders have been plentiful. Leading the league in blocked shots does not adequately mitigate the risk caused by his defensive zone turnovers, which have been many. His reluctance to shoot on the power play has hindered the unit since the unfortunate injury to Lubomir Visnovsky. As an alternate captain, his play is going to be critical to the second half fortunes of the team.
Eric: Evgeni Nabokov – Even though he has been pretty solid since returning, he has to keep it up. The Isles seem incapable of winning when scoring less than 3 goals, so they are going to need him to step it up big time.
Peter: Travis Hamonic – He was signed to a 7 year contract extension because he proved he could be a solid defenseman in the NHL. While his play hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t been nearly where it was just a few months ago back in April, and if the Islanders want to do anything this season, he needs to be on the top of his game.
Reagan: Kevin Poulin – As great as Evgeni Nabokov has been since his return from injury, he can only start so many games. Although Nabokov will tell anyone he can go for all 82 games, Kevin Poulin will have to get some of those starts. Poulin currently has a .892 SV% and 3.29 GAA, which will certainly not cut it for a starting role, let alone a backup. With Nabokov’s contract expiring at the end of the season and the Islanders and Sound Tigers with the worst cumulative save percentage across the NHL and AHL respectively, Poulin will have to step up if he wants to right the future goaltending ship for the Isles.
Joe Pantorno: Andrew MacDonald – What!? You might exclaim? I know, a bit odd, seeing as he leads the league in blocked shots, but those that truly watch his game have noticed that he panders far too long in the defensive zone with the puck and is prone to some pretty bad turnovers (see Carolina’s first goal on Saturday night). It’s a wonderful aspect to block shots, it’s another aspect to truly be a TEAM’s best defenseman. He is going to have to step his game up on a physical and puck-handling point to where he truly can be considered a rock in this team’s defense.
Chris: Josh Bailey – The Islanders handed Bailey a five-year contract after playing a vital role in the team’s first playoff berth in seven years, but he has done little to validate the signing to this point of the 2013-14 season. After starting off hot, Bailey hasn’t scored a goal sinceOctober 25th, and has recorded only three assists since the middle of November. While it’s fine to praise Bailey for doing “the little things,” Bailey’s contract suggests he’s a top-six forward on this team. The Islanders offense partly depends on his production, and they aren’t getting it.
Who do you think needs to be the difference maker for the Islanders in their push for the playoffs?