As the New York Islanders enter tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, drama has once again taken up occupancy in Brooklyn. The Isles are 3-5 in this early season and because of the slow start, many are blaming Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, Anders Lee and of course Islanders head coach Jack Capuano and Islanders general manager Garth Snow. I’m not here to defend anyone, but I believe there is a recurring issue that does not involve either coach or general manager. Here’s a few things that I’ve noticed during this short season:
1. We are only 8 games in and it’s tough kill a team off so early. The last two seasons the Isles started their first 10 games with winning records (2014: 6-4; 2015: 6-2-2). However, last year the Isles next ten games they were 4-5-1 and the last 21 games of 2014, the Isles played a combined 8-8-5. Where am I going with this? Every team has streaks like these somewhere during the season, the Isles just do it in the beginning or the end of a season to add flare to the dramatic. Is it fair to say that tonight’s game against Austin Mathews and the Leafs a must win? Yes, the Isles have to win this game, especially when looking at the upcoming schedule.
2. The offense is not doing well. Really? I mean, if you do the traditional (and incorrect) calculations the Isles current goals-per-game average is 2.75. Over a span of 82 games, that comes out to roughly 225 goals, slightly better than last year. However, like I said, that’s the incorrect way of doing it. Like my standings, each player has a pace and certain players either increase or decrease the total team pace. For example, Alan Quine and Shane Prince have not played all 8 games this season, yet they each have a goal. Their goal pace is higher than that of say Josh Bailey or Anders Lee who have played every game so far. When you take that into account, the Isles are on pace for 247 goals this season. Can they keep this up? I don’t think Dennis Seidenberg can keep up a 20 goal pace all year do you? So the forwards lack of scoring is a real issue, just not the main one.
3. Special teams. The Isles penalty kill is at the same pace as last year, but the Isles have taken some really stupid penalties. When John Tavares is tied for the most penalty minutes by a forward, there’s a problem. The Isles can limit the amount of penalties and the current PK% of 85.7, will go up. The power-play is currently at 13%. It feels like a power outage again since they have not scored one in a while. The Isles only have one power-play goal at home so far this season and that must improve starting tonight. However, I don’t see the Isles having this low number all year long. Last year’s 18% is very attainable and it will certainly help the Isles moving forward.
4. So with all this talk about the lack offense from the forwards and the power outage at home and the untimely penalties taken, Isles most glaring problem of all is this:
#isles have been tied in 3rd pd in 4 of their 5 regulation losses. They've allowed winning goal in final three minutes three times this ssn
— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) October 28, 2016
Say what you want, but the Isles have been in almost every game in this short season. The hope was that the Isles learned from last years playoffs against Florida on how to shut a team out and at least take them to overtime. Indeed, had this happened this year you may be looking at a 3-2-2 record and a win against Toronto today puts the Isles in a more comfortable position. Instead, the lack of shutdown defense and untimely deflections by the opponent are major reasons why the Isles are where they are. If you are tied with 5 minutes to go, you get that point. Hasn’t happened so far. Uncertainty is all over the place and it could engulf them.
5. The Halak trade rumors will be a focus and may be a distraction for this team.
Word tonight is that after @walsha Twitter blast of NYI carrying three goalies, NYI GM has let league know Jaroslav Halak is available.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 30, 2016
Am I really shocked over this? No. However if Halak wants out, then he needs to play lights out goaltending or he’ll end up in the press box. Could this have been handled better? Yes. Here’s what we know: Thomas Greiss, who’s under the same conditions as Halak, has a better save percentage (.907) and goals-against-average (2.71) in two less games than Halak. Greiss also took the Islanders beyond the first round and Halak doesn’t like sharing half a season anyways.
We also know that the Isles are extremely high on J.F Berube in that they would not only start with the three-headed monster to start the season, but they would keep this kind of unorthodox situation for as long as it was possible. Berube needs to show what he has if the Isles want to get rid of the negative perception and Snow needs to make a move if they’re going to get the dressing room the way the Isles want it, drama free.
6. Send Mathew Barzal back to juniors. As much as I like the idea of younger players getting a taste to see if they have a shot at the NHL, the Islanders have a similar scenario like the goaltending situation, there’s just no room at the center position either. The poor kid had to play against the Caps and Montreal in his first two games and that’s a lot to ask any young center to do. 9-10 minutes a game is not enough for the young man. Send him down with a laundry list of things to work on, wish him the best and keep tabs on him.
So for now, the Isles need to take a few steps. Shutting down any opponent with five minutes left in the game and it begins by getting two points against the Leafs tonight as a start. After that, send Barzal down. That will take away some of the drama. Then work on trading Halak. That step may take longer depending on how he is handled and how his play is. In the end, some will not be happy until Snow and Capuano are gone. They may be right. For others, it’s as simple as staying out of the media for all the wrong reasons and just watching their hockey team win games. The Islanders players need to once again come together and show that this a quicker way to get themselves out of this well of drama they’ve dug themselves in.