Another big game came and went with a loss, and the New York Islanders continue to look less and less like a team that should be in the playoffs.
It’s not over for the Islanders. They still sit in playoff contention amongst a conglomerate of teams that are either similarly just hanging in there or hitting their stride now (whoa, Carolina).
The season isn’t over and the playoffs are a possibility, but this Islanders team is not a playoff team. It isn’t built for playoff hockey, nor does it have the mentality to win a playoff series.
This word is thrown around often, especially this time of year when each game becomes the ‘biggest of the season’. The Islanders rarely show a sense of it and come into the majority of these games flat.
New York Islanders
Ever get tired of hearing that this team doesn’t have their legs? I do.
While we generally take the idiocy of Mike Millbury with a grain of salt, it was embarrassing to admit he was right when he called the team out last Wednesday against the Rangers for lacking urgency.
Sure, the Islanders won, but it was a game they didn’t deserve to win.
Saturday night against the Bruins, the team they needed to beat, they mustered 19 shots on goal. With six power plays.
So let’s look at the power play. It’s been described as anemic but most of the time, it almost seems detrimental. The Islanders get little zone time, little shots, and barely any high danger scoring chances. Let’s not forget some of these short-handed goals they’ve given up.
So what can be done to fix it? Sure, maybe Johnny Boychuk’s return helps. Or hey, there’s that heat-seeking-missile-firing Ryan Pulock languishing in Bridgeport. Doug Weight said himself he should have moved Joshua Ho-Sang to the first unit with the actual opportunities he was producing.
Maybe these things make a difference, but it just doesn’t seem likely. Other than Ho-Sang, the Islanders seem unable to get through the neutral zone or make a pass that isn’t into an array of opposing players. Oh, unless they’re making those ridiculous back passes while everyone else is skating forward into the zone.
Toughness and Energy (aka the Fourth Line)
Butch Goring is still talking about the Islanders’ fourth line like it’s still part of their identity. It’s time to let that go because it isn’t. Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck still comprise two-thirds of the line, but it doesn’t matter. Matt Martin alone is just Matt Martin. I’d go as far as to say the same about Clutterbuck.
Those three guys together were what made that line special. It doesn’t work when one – any one – is missing.
Martin’s absence is bigger for how completely soft this team seems to have become. There isn’t a person alive that can convince me that Clutterbuck hasn’t been tamed since Martin left.
Where is the high energy hitting? Where is the presence that says ‘hey, don’t f – – k with us’? It’s in Toronto fathering and protecting their talent. The Islanders get pushed around and there isn’t a thing they can do about it.
After Martin signed with Toronto, I wrote that we’d miss him the most. I was right. Numbers are replaceable, presence isn’t.
The Islanders produced 46 shots on goal against Marc-Andre Fleury Friday night in Pittsburgh. They battled for a big one against the second best team in the league.
Let’s say it again. They managed 19 shots against the Bruins, a team fighting for a playoff spot, that’s struggled of late, and started their backup goalie. Sure, second night of a traveling back to back against a generally rested team plays a part, but they have to overcome that.
Brock Nelson continues to be an utter disappointment, annoyance, and at times, detriment. Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera have cooled off. The first line is still producing but not at the clip they were when the team was winning with more consistency.
Nikolay Kulemin’s injury will hurt but only because it will give ice time to Shane Prince.
Energy, skating, hitting, you name it. It’s not there every game and lately, this team manages it one in three or four. That isn’t going to do it and no one’s been able to find the answer to fix it.
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Leadership and Accountability
Weight holds this team – and himself – accountable in ways Jack Capuano never did. He deserves credit and respect for it.
John Tavares is the leader on this team. He’s earned the letter and there is rarely a night he hasn’t gone out and destroyed himself to get something done. The unfortunate thing about this team is not every guy does that. They don’t do it and they still have a roster spot and still get the ice time.
The guys with the A’s on their sweaters should be re-evaluated and this organization seriously has to stop under-valuing every single thing Boychuk brings to the table including his voice.
All of this speaks of the construction and mentality of this team. It starts at the top where Garth Snow (and his job security) has modeled a sense of entitlement that perhaps has bleed into his roster.
The destruction of its core last summer was huge, but its inability to begin recovery has pulled any sort of notion that they could be competitive in games that truly mean something. Like playoffs.