Hockey from the Blind Side, Nothing is Set in Stone

At the moment with the All Star Break upon us, the New York Islanders are still in the playoff picture, though a look at the standings indicates that their position is a bit precarious. In fact, I think that pretty much 2nd to 8th may be a revolving door situation as it seems only the Washington Capitals have a comfortable spot atop the East.

Let me first say that I don’t at all intend this post to be negative or some doom and gloom projection for the Isles. I believe they will make the playoffs, and thanks to my colleague, Paul’s previous post, I feel a bit more grounded in my assessment of the team. All things considered, they are still in great shape, and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

The problem is, the East is a mess. It seems that teams win and lose in streaks and the positioning of the standings alters faster than some people change clothing in a given day.

What this basically means is if you lose a few games in a row, you can quickly find yourself on the outside looking in. Likewise, put together a bit of a run and you can leapfrog three or four teams and find yourself looking at home ice advantage if the season ended the next day.

For the Islanders, this means there are no guarantees. If they don’t collect 2 points when they should, those points are gone and they could end up in the pocket of another team in the conference. Case in point, the Detroit Redwings last week. Those were two points the Islanders really Had to have, yet they were squandered.

Granted the Islanders do have some games in hand over the teams ahead of them in the standings, but those games in hand have to be converted into points. There are still 35 games left to play, and that will make for a potentially nail biting finish in the Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders have to make sure that they put themselves in a position in which they aren’t one of the teams trying to scrape and claw their way into the playoffs when the middle of March or end of March comes upon us.

I don’t want to even begin to discuss potential trades and the Travis Hamonic situation. That could definitely have some sort of an impact for sure on the Isles, but at the moment, Hammer is still an Islander and I take the position that unless Garth Snow is absolutely floored by a trade offer, Hamonic will still be here come April.

So, what has to happen for the Islanders to assure themselves a playoff spot by game #82’s conclusion? Basically, Winning games … That is the bottom line. They can’t afford any slides or mail in efforts. Crunch time is probably more upon them than one most likely would like to think.

To accomplish the task of making the playoffs, I will summarize what I believe must happen with the Islanders. I’ll break these points down into 4 major categories:

Goaltending

One of the major reasons why the Isles are where they currently sit in the standings is because of the solid and impressive net minding of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Greiss has pretty much earned MVP for the first half of the season by many fans, and deservedly so. However, let us not discount Halak’s contributions either.

If the Islanders want to make the playoffs and get beyond the first round, they will need this pair of goaltenders to continue to keep pucks out of the net and steal games. If Greiss continues to provide the kind of “backup” starts he has done so far, it will mean less work for Halak during the regular season and make him well rested and ready for the post season. One cannot place a true value on this factor, though do fans remember that guy, Evgeni Nabokov?

Offense

It’s all and well that the goaltenders can enable a team to earn 2 points they might not have necessarily deserved to gain. However, one cannot rely on that luxury every night. Thus, the scoring for the Islanders needs to step up and be a much more consistent contributor to games.

•John Tavares needs to be the dominating and dynamic John Tavares that can literally carry a team.

• Anders Lee and Ryan Strome have to start finding the back of the net and recapture the number of nightly contributions they had last season.

• Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski need to do a lot more in putting the puck in the net that goes beyond their important contributions in other areas of the game.

• Josh Bailey has to also start putting some points up as well.

Defense

Nick Leddy has definitely been finding his stride of late. However, the back liners are not contributing as they did last season. Whether this is basic puck handling or points, it’s been an ingredient that has been missing.

Johnny Boychuk should be returning to the lineup soon, and he is a guy who has to shoot the puck more and provide some more offensive numbers. I believe the Islanders have gotten 16 goals from the defense, which is really a pretty unimpressive number compared to last season’s totals. Basically, as the Black Hawks and other teams do as far as a philosophy goes, the Islanders need to have the blue liners shoot the puck and create the rebounds and chances that can lead to more offense over all.

Special Teams

Special teams is an area that can make or break you. You can sometimes live and succeed with one working well while the other one may not be performing at a high efficiency. However, that’s not a given by any means either.

The bottom line is the power play has to become a lot more consistent and score the big goals at the important times of games. To me, the Islanders have looked disorganized and chaotic at times on the power play, as there is often far too much passing and little to no shooting. Some will say that John Tavares’s “slump” is a major factor in the power play woes, but I don’t think this to be the entire case. I just don’t think the guys on the ice shoot enough and spend more time looking to dish the puck off or are waiting for the “perfect play” instead of good old fashion, put the puck on goal and collapse on the net.

The Penalty Kill has been another important cog in the success the Islanders have had so far. Same guys and same coaches, but a far better kill rate. They just need to keep it up for the rest of the season.

Concluding Thoughts

So, the Islanders resume action on Tuesday when the Wild come to town. That begins the march to the playoffs in my mind.

Will there be a trade or trades? Will we see Ryan Pulock at some point? Will Kyle Okposo and/or Frans Nielsen receive contract extensions?

These are some questions that may or may not be answered by season’s end, but, to me, are not as important as the basic “mission” of making the playoffs. My only concern is this team winning games and establishing a definite playoff position in the standings by March and April. It’s all well and good to talk about winning in the first round, but you have to get to the dance first before you can take a turn on the dance floor.

@hockeyblindside

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