Mar 4, 2012

Isles out-defense Devils, Anders Nilsson gets his first NHL win

With a near 20 year age gap between the two goaltenders, Martin Brodeur and Anders Nilsson both looked as if they were in their prime today.

Nilsson out dueled Brodeur and the Isles put up some great defense today as the Islanders downed the Devils by a final score of 1-0 at the Nassau Coliseum in front of a sellout crowd today. Kyle Okposo hit the back of the net in the 2nd period to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead, and the game remained that way throughout. Cizikas picked up the lone assist on the goal, giving him 3 assists in 6 games with the Isles. John Tavares was all over the place, getting 5 shots on goal and playing out of his mind for the most of the day, unfortunately to no avail on the scoresheet.

Nilsson wasn't tested too much, but looked great in the times he was. He is truly a gigantic goaltender - even when he goes down to stop a shot, his upper body covers the top of the net. I know some have disagreed with me on this on Twitter, but I truly believe he's made his way slightly above Kevin Poulin on the depth chart. Not NHL ready just yet, but slightly more so than Poulin at this point based on his play in the AHL and his potential alone. Poulin's injury history is still very scary for a goaltender, and Poulin hasn't looked nearly as good this year in both the AHL and the NHL as he did last year. I had the chance of seeing the Sound Tigers play the Albany Devils at the Times Union Center on Friday night, and Poulin simply did not look like the player he did last year. We shall see, as one would have to assume at least one of them will be starting next year in the AHL.

The Isles are now 5 points out of a playoff spot. How is this possible? For lack of a better phrase, the teams they're fighting for have been just as bad as the Islanders have been recently. Winnipeg has shown some light recently, but nothing major, Washington is falling apart, and Toronto is a case of their own. Is it possible? Absolutely. Should anyone get their hopes up? Absolutely not. Cizikas and Ullstrom have provided a nice spark to the team and the removal of Rolston and Mottau have removed major problems, but this team is not complete by a wide margin. But man, how awesome would a NYI-NYR playoff series be, and how insane would an NYI victory be in restoring this franchise's face? One can only hope, of course... but it's completely unlikely.

Brodeur was nearly unstoppable, but the Isles offense was passing fluidly and did an efficient job. Overall, a great job by the O and D to completely neutralize the Devils. The Islanders will face off against the Devils on Thursday at The Rock. Puck drops at 7, game is on MSG+.

- AT

Side notes:

- Isles prospect Ryan Strome had 5 goals and 1 assist in a 13-4 romp of the Erie Otters today. Erie was forced to dress a forward as a goaltender after their #1 went down in the first period with no backup. 

- A 9 year old fan in the stands won a $100 gift certificate today at the Coliseum. The gift certificate was for Tattoo Lou's. Well done, Islanders PR/management. Well done.

Feb 28, 2012

Caps Stun Isles and Win in Overtime

To be honest, I am not sure where to begin here.

The Islanders suffered their most crushing defeat of the season, falling 3-2 to the eighth place Washington Capitals in overtime. The Isles had the lead for 57 minutes before surrendering 2 goals to Troy Brouwer, including one with approximately 30 seconds left. In overtime, a Josh Bailey turnover around the blueline led to an Alex Ovechkin one-on-one matchup with Travis Hamonic. Ovechkin drove it past Hamonic and through the legs of Evgeni Nabokov to give the Capitals a shocking win.

This is the seventh time this season the Islanders have blown a two-goal lead and lost. It also happens to have come at a critical time in the season, pushing the Isles nine points back of the 8th seed with 5 teams to jump and just 19 games left to play. With an extremely tough March schedule, the Islanders will have to play a prolonged stretch of beyond incredible hockey to even have a chance at approaching the playoff race.

At this point, the direction of the season must turn to development. Questions must be asked as to why Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and Josh Bailey have had invisible stretches. While it is expected for players under 23 to be inconsistent at the NHL level, it is also expected that an NHL coach can correctly develop them and rectify mistakes. Since Jack Capuano has taken charge, we have seen these players regress after showing promising signs early in their careers.

The Islanders need to find out what they have, and how that can be applied to next season. Evaluations must be completed and analyzed with regards to who belongs on an NHL roster next season. But only so much can be evaluated with a minor league coach coaching underdeveloped players.

It is clear a culture change is needed on Long Island. It is not only evident, it is now imperative as the Isles are looking at a potential fifth straight trip to the draft lottery. After years of rebuilding, hope is starting to fade into the distance as the team continues to lose in heartbreaking fashion with no improvements made to the roster.

The Islanders are playing a game where "Moneypuck" has become an art form, but the artist is only drawing a stencil of what the final product should look like. Management is relying on prospects, elder statesmen, and retreads to play big roles for a team that is still trying to find it's own way. There seems to be neither any direction nor capital to take the next step. And there seems to be an attitude from the top that winning is more of a convenience than a necessity. Until that changes, the pattern won't - and an endless cycle of hopeful Septembers and disappointing Februarys will continue.

So as we leave February and enter March, the only reaction to a game like this is the same one we've been having for years.

There's always next year.


Feb 27, 2012

Isles on deadline day: Rolston/Mottau to BOS for Riendeau/Cantin

Let's call it a case of addition by subtraction.

On a generally quiet deadline day for the league as a whole, Garth Snow found a way to get two of the biggest albatrosses on the team off of the books and away from the organization. Rolston, who had been putting up abysmal numbers this year and at many points seemed to not care, cleared waivers yesterday. Teams had been showing interest, but nobody picked up the tab. However, close to the 3:00 deadline, Garth Snow managed to finagle a deal out of the defending Cup champions, and sent both Rolston and Mike Mottau to Massachusetts. The Islanders received some much needed AHL depth to their team in return in forward Yannick Riendeau and defenseman Marc Cantin. Both undrafted players playing in Boston's ECHL and AHL affiliates this season, they will undoubtedly help provide some jump to the Sound Tigers' playoff run this year. Riendeau tore up the QMJHL in his last year of juniors but never really found his way into the NHL, and Cantin has spent time before with former Casey Cizikas on the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. The bottom line of this trade was getting rid of two players who were bringing down the team with their less than adequate play. While there's not much positive one can say about Rolston, best wishes to Mike Mottau to finding a role in his home state of Massachusetts. By all accounts, Mike is a wonderful person to be around and a great human being. Best wishes on helping Boston raise the Stanley Cup again.

Surprisingly, P.A. Parenteau was not moved and most rumblings seem to indicate he will eventually re-sign with the Islanders. He may have been shopped, but clearly the return was not high enough to justify a trade. Evgeni Nabokov was also thought by many to be on his way out but seems to still be working on a possible deal with the Islanders to stay.

In addition, this deal also saves the Islanders $1.2m in cap space, not that it was needed. The Islanders are firmly planted at the bottom of the pack in terms of salary. This should leave absolutely no excuse for Snow not to re-sign P.A. Parenteau. Nabokov, should he choose to stay, should also make a decent payday with this removal of salary which was coming this offseason regardless.

Of all the impending free agents people thought the Islanders would move including Milan Jurcina and Mark Eaton, the least expected were. Clearly, the asking price for these players was not high enough for Snow's liking, and he declined the deals presented to him.

Feb 26, 2012

Isles Fall in Ottawa as Trade Deadline Looms

The New York Islanders lost to the Ottawa Senators in Kanata, Ontario on Sunday by a score of 5-2. After starting off extremely well with a John Tavares goal just 49 seconds into the game, the Isles gave up three unanswered goals and could not come back.

The game keeps the Islanders eight points back of the final playoff spot, but with such little time in the season, a comeback seems almost impossible. Because of that, Garth Snow's trade deadline strategy may have become a little clearer. The Islanders enter Monday's trade deadline with some tough decisions to make on unrestricted free agents such as Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina, Evgeni Nabokov, PA Parenteau, and Steve Staios. They will undoubtedly be looking to sell more than buy, but Snow's MO has always been to stand pat unless he gets the most optimal offer.

Sunday's game brought some changes to the lineup, with David Ullstrom taking the place of the recently waived Brian Rolston, and Mike Mottau subbing in for the mildly injured Steve Staios. Ullstrom fit in just fine playing on a checking line with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, a line that could easily be looked at as the 2012-13 fourth line. They provide size, speed, skill, two-way play, and some grit. All in all, it's a good complement of style and skill, which could lead to a very productive fourth line soon.

Mottau did not have the same luck, as a backhanded clear up the middle lead directly to an Ottawa goal, giving them a 3-1 lead, which proved insurmountable for the goal-challenged Islanders.

Once again, the Islanders did not receive any scoring outside of the first line. Without structure and any form of systematic strategy, many Islander players seem confused and lost. Jack Capuano has not made many adjustments in his gameplans, and the team panics and crumbles when the other team finds their legs. Capuano has been resistant to changing his lines as well, assuming that old chemistry will magically reform, turning Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner into the players they have been in the past. With the team all but out of the playoff race, the time may have come to experiment a little with the lines. Maybe Kyle Okposo is best served with John Tavares. We know PA Parenteau can play with Frans Nielsen, but a bigger body on their left wing would help - maybe David Ullstrom deserves a look there. The time to try and accurately evaluate the players on this team needs to be looked at now, so needs can be identified for improvement either at the deadline or over the summer.

Failure to adjust and adapt leaves the Islanders spinning in circles, or worse, moving backwards as another season winds down. And that is what is most unacceptable of all.

As Trade Deadline Approaches, Isles Have Tough Decisions to Make

As the NHL trade deadline approaches Monday, the Islanders are positioned in the standings where they could go in multiple different directions. Currently sitting 8 points back, the team is on the fringe of being too far behind to catch up before the end of the season. But they also close enough where a miraculous run puts them right into contention for the final playoff spot. Given all that, Garth Snow is in a position where he will have some tough decisions to make.

The Islanders have two high-end potential unrestricted free agents: PA Parenteau and Evgeni Nabokov. Parenteau is currently second on the team in points (56), and is fifth in the NHL in assists (42). Nabokov has won 15 games for the Isles this season, while compiling a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage (8th in the NHL).

The Isles have repeatedly said they were not entertaining offers for Nabokov, who has stolen the #1 job from Al Montoya and the (again) injured Rick DiPietro. Nabokov, who declined to report to Long Island last season, has been reported to have interest in re-signing with the team. It's to be expected that Nabokov would want closure on the Rick DiPietro saga before he commits to the Islanders. That said, Chris Botta has tweeted that Nabokov enjoys playing with the Islanders and Nabokov himself has said he likes the direction the team is heading. It's also easy to see how the Islanders would want Nabokov to re-sign, given the level of play he has brought while being a calming influence on the ice.

On the Hotstove during Hockey Night in Canada last night, Elliotte Friedman reported that the two sides have continued to talk this weekend. Without a confirmed deal by Monday, it will be up to Snow to put Nabokov on the market or hope that a deal can be reached after the season after other decisions (DiPietro) are made. That said, there is no question Nabokov has been one of the MVPs for the Islanders this season. Given the mutual interest between the two sides, there is no reason that this should not get done. If talks break down at this point, the Isles are the ones that lose in the long run.

PA Parenteau is the other high-end free agent in which the Isles will need to make a decision on. After a solid campaign last year in his first full season (53 points), Parenteau has followed up with a career season scoring 56 points through 61 games. Parenteau has played much of the year on the John Tavares line and first powerplay unit, which has had some critics questioning his ability. Even so, the differences between Parenteau this year to last year are stark - he has cut down on turnovers, hustled defensively, and has developed an agitating edge making him a real annoyance for opponents.

Parenteau, now 28, is entering the prime of his career and will undoubtedly want to cash in on his big season. While Parenteau is grateful for the opportunity the Islanders have given him, he will still want to get paid for his efforts. Because of that, the Islanders may have to pay market value (or overpay) to retain Parenteau, which is something they have shied away from doing long term. Still, it makes sense to push the budget for one of your own. We know that Parenteau works with Tavares, and given the fit and role he has with the team, it may make sense for both sides to get something done.

The Islanders will still have to make a decision on Parenteau, as his agent, Allan Walsh, recently stated that Parenteau will not negotiate a new contract before the end of the season. Since the Islanders are in a tough spot, they will have to make a decision on whether to move Parenteau before Monday's deadline. Parenteau has a cheap cap hit ($1.25M), making him a very attractive option for teams close to the cap. Given his production this season, the Islanders could expect some big offers as teams get desperate as they lose out on other options.

While these two players are the most sought after roster players, the Islanders have other unrestricted free agents that may be moved for draft picks. Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina, and Steve Staios all figure to be on the block. From my standpoint, Staios has provided a steady and calming influence this year while staying relatively healthy, and could be an option to come back as a bottom pairing or depth defenseman. Eaton has been effective in his role and could help a contender with defensive depth in the playoffs. Jurcina has had a down season, but has the tools to be a solid defenseman in the right role. It would not be surprising to  see two of these three defenseman moved.

As far as a blockbuster move goes, Garth Snow has not been apt to make those types of trades so it is unrealistic to expect one on Monday. While fans have been frustrated by the play of Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and Mark Streit, the team has most likely identified these players as solutions for next year and barring a major overpayment, they will not be moved. Streit is the team's captain and provides a solid offensive presence. Even though his defensive play has been maddeningly inconsistent, he still provides an element that team cannot replace in the short-term.

Okposo and Grabner have been inconsistent this year, but are both still young, raw players that have not fully developed. Both players have seen success at the NHL level and will again, but need a better mix of coaching, structure, and line chemistry to get to that point. An offseason to clear their heads will do them both good as they enter the second year of a five year contract, but trading them (barring a major, major overpayment) would be a horrible mistake at this point. Keep in mind that even if the Isles have identified them as players that are not long-term options, it would make little sense to trade them with their value as low as it has been in a while.

The trade deadline is always an intriguing time for all of the teams in the NHL. For the Islanders, however, the Nabokov and Parenteau situations combined with their spot in the standings make things a little more interesting than they otherwise might have been.

Only 27 hours and counting.


Isles Defeat Rangers; Rolston Waived

Getty Images
It's fun to beat those guys, huh?

Friday night at the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders defeated the Rangers 4-3 in a four-round shootout decided by Matt Moulson. The win had brought the Islanders to within 6 points of the final playoff spot. However, as we speak circumstances have changed -  the Isles are now 8 points back going into their Sunday evening game in Ottawa.

Not surprisingly, two main contributors in the emotional win were unrestricted free agents P.A. Parenteau (two goals) and Evgeni Nabokov (33 saves). Matt Moulson added a goal and an assist, and John Tavares assisted twice as well.

Friday also marked the return of Travis Hamonic, who missed almost three weeks with a broken nose. Hamonic ingratiated himself well in his comeback, despite a full cage, with an assist and a +2 rating.

There were a few takeaways from tonight's game. Kyle Okposo played with high intensity and determination. Okposo's game has been inconsistent, as the 23-year old forward still has a raw game and is in his first full season off a major injury. That said, while his turnovers and offensive play left a lot to be desired, his physicality and intensity were exactly what he needs to bring every night. Okposo is still a big part of the Islanders going forward and will need to build on Friday's game to take his overall game to the next level.

The Islanders gap control and structure are nowhere near the Rangers' level, which made this game a lot closer that it might other wise have been. Despite outworking and outhustling the Rangers, the Islanders still found themselves giving up more shots than they took and were caught in the defensive zone more often than not. The most glaring and obvious mistake - the Marian Gaborik breakaway - gave the Rangers life and brought their fans and team back into the game. The overall theme was the Rangers were much quicker to close gaps and win board battles. That's something that Jack Capuano will have to adjust immediately as the Islanders will continue to play tougher and tighter conference games going forward.

Finally, the atmosphere at the game last night was unrivaled to any game other than opening night. The fans were into it (without any noticeable altercations), the teams were into it, and it resulted in a very loud Nassau Coliseum. It made for a very fun and enjoyable night at the old barn.


On Saturday, the Islanders waived disappointing forward Brian Rolston and called up David Ullstrom. Rolston only contributed 9 points on the season (4 goals), despite getting constant powerplay minutes. For the Islanders, it was a move long overdue. Rolston is ineligible to play Sunday at Ottawa, but if he clears, the Islanders can insert him back in the lineup Tuesday at Washington.

As far as the cap implications are concerned, Rolston's salary still counts on the cap due to his contract being signed after he turned 35 years old. However, it does not count in full, as the Islanders are granted $100,000 as per the CBA. (Thanks to Capgeek).

If he clears, the Islanders may elect to bring him back up through re-entry waivers, meaning if any team took Rolston off the Isles hands, the Isles would only be on the hook for half his salary. This is a possibility, given that Arthur Staple tweeted earlier that the Isles have received some inquiries on Rolston. Most likely, however, this would require the Islanders to take on a large contract in return.


Feb 23, 2012

Tim Wallace clamed by TB on waivers

After being sent down yesterday and placed on waivers to possibly make room for another call up candidate, forward Tim Wallace was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wallace was not contributing much on the 4th line with only 1 assist in 31 games and a -7 in that time. He had 20 points in 24 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, so the hope was that he would be able to contribute to their unbelievable run to the playoffs.

No real harm with Wallace gone as Bridgeport has been fine without him, although it unfortunately leaves BPT with no replacement should the Isles call up another forward.

Feb 21, 2012

Recap: Sabres - 2, Islanders - 1

What more is there to say? The Islanders traveled to Buffalo tonight after a brutal drubbing by the Ottawa Senators in the annual President's Day Matinee at the Nassau Coliseum. With the team just 6 points back of the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs, the team had the chance to keep pace or even gain ground in the playoff race with a big matchup against the Sabres.

Kevin Poulin and Ryan Miller battled each other, both making some impressive saves and performing under pressure, but with goals by Tyler Myers and Thomas Vanek on horrible defensive efforts, the Sabres took a 2-0 lead that the Isles were not able to overcome. That said, the Islanders made it a game as Frans Nielsen went short side on Miller to make it a 2-1 affair, but the team was not able to breakthrough for an important second goal.

To put it simply, the Islanders played an abysmal hockey game tonight. While the score was close, the game was not as tight. The Isles constantly lost board battles, puck races, and battles in front. While these things don't show up on the stat sheet, they are essential to winning hockey games. In other words, when cliches like "will to win" and "extra effort" come out of players' mouths, they are talking about these little things. Tonight, the Isles lost on every one of them - and subsequently, the game.

With only 22 games remaining, the Isles will have to jump five teams and make up at least 7 points. They are one point out of 15th in the conference. It is clear at this point that the Islanders will sell veterans like Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina off. Questions remain on whether they will choose to trade P.A. Parenteau and Evgeni Nabokov.

Most importantly, the Isles failed to show up in yet another "big game." This is an indictment on everybody, from the general manager down. The team is constantly unstructured and unprepared. At what point to fingers start to be pointed at the general manager (for putting this team together), the coaching staff (for not meeting supposed expectations), and the players (likewise)? For now, all that matters is another lost game as the team continues to collapse.


Feb 20, 2012

Opinion: Time for a coaching change?

In what seemed like the 30th time this season, the Islanders came into a big game - a game where their own star player admitted was a must win in order to keep playoff hopes alive - and completely squandered both their own hopes and the hopes of the 15.5K fans at the Coliseum today. The Islanders lost a big one against the Senators and dropped another one to continue wobbling around the .500 mark. This wasn't a game where the Islanders fought valiantly and were simply outplayed. This was a game where the Islanders flat out had no desire and no drive to win from the get go, and it was seen all game long. My question is - is the coach the biggest problem here?

Everyone adored Capuano last season for finally putting together some synchronicity with the team and not allowing the team to be beat up upon anymore. I as well as Carey was a fan of bringing him back to give him another shot. However, in more times than one can count, the team has come out simply not ready to play. The Isles gave up 2 goals within 2 minutes to start a huge game which is, needless to say, disconcerting. There doesn't seem to be a plan on the ice other than the very basic notion of defensive trapping that was famously deployed by the Devils during their heyday. Teams in the new NHL have figured out how to work around this however, and when you're playing against a team that has Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, naturally when your best defenseman is Andrew MacDonald, the trap isn't going to do much. There was no urgency today, no care, no sense of direction... and we've seen it all before.

I do not deny that some of this lies on the players, but a good coach can do wonders in changing mindset of a team and putting them on the correct path forward. You look at what Ken Hitchcock has done for a Blues team that began the year extremely lackluster. He's changed the mindset of the team, implemented his system which has a record of winning, and now has the Blues as the #4 seed in the Western Conference. Similarly, after being fired by the Washington Capitals after a few years of speculation, Bruce Boudreau quickly took over the job from Randy Carlyle and now has them over .500 and 5 points out of a playoff spot with 23 games to play. Anaheim looked like a lottery team earlier in the year and now looks like a playoff team, and everything changed when the coaching staff did.

It's also impossible to deny that Capuano was given a very poor team this year. Besides Tavares, Okposo, Moulson, Nielsen and Parenteau, there really isn't much to work with offensively. In terms of defense, he was forced to put out a journeyman who was on the edge of retirement as his #2 defenseman and work with only 2 true top 4 d-men. However, that does not excuse his inability to use what he has to their fullest capability. For one, putting Nielsen, Grabner and Parenteau on a line together makes absolutely no sense. Grabner's outbreak last year was in big part due to being slotted with Okposo, who used his physical capabilities to allow Grabner to get open for the breakaway. Having a playmaker, a 2 way forward and a forward whose only attribute is his speed and defense on the same line makes absolutely no sense. Recently, the Grabner-Nielsen-Okposo line has been reunited, but it then leaves the first line without a physical presence. Again, part of that blame undoubtedly falls on Snow for not acquiring a strong forward like Erik Cole last season, but Capuano simply has not done enough and simply doesn't seem to have the hockey intelligence to change his ways.

So what do you do? If Snow wanted to show the fanbase he was serious going forward, he would fire Capuano tomorrow after yet another lackluster showing in a big game and hire Randy Carlyle or Michel Therrien, two coaches who have a lot of experience with young teams and can get them in game shape. Do I expect this to happen? Absolutely not, but the Islanders are coming upon a very serious spot in more ways than one. It's time to make a statement and show not only the fans but the players themselves that they're ready and willing to do what it takes to change the mindset of this organization.

Feb 8, 2012

Recap: New York Islanders 1, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (F/SO)

Who would have thought that the Islanders would have the Flyers number in Philly this year?

After one of the best goaltending performances in the NHL this year, the Islanders found a way to sneak out a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday in Philly. Evgeni Nabokov made a season high 45 saves for the Islanders as they'd go on to beat the Flyers 1-0 in the shootout. Frans Nielsen and John Tavares scored for the Islanders while Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds were stopped by Nabokov.

This was a tough one for the Isles who were outplayed almost the entire game. Without their #1 defenseman Travis Hamonic and playing without the injured Dylan Reese for a period, Nabokov was peppered all game and didn't seem to have much help. Poor defense and a few giveaways by Mark Streit didn't help the cause either. By the end of overtime, the Islanders offense which seems to have stagnated once again, only managed 18 shots on Bryzgalov. Simply put, it was almost like a practice session for the Flyers. It's understandable that the defense was weak due to injuries, but there is absolutely no excuse for getting shut out for the 10th time this year.

There is simply not much to describe Nabokov right now. He's started 25 games and has a cool GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of .923. Trading him would be a miserable, terrible mistake by Snow as the team just got back to .500.

One positive note that was released before the game was that Frans Nielsen has decided to remain with the Islanders for 4 more years, signing a 4 year, 11M contract with a cap hit of 2.75m. As with Okposo, Tavares and Grabner, the deal is backloaded.

It's still shocking to see the Islanders won this game, but you take it and run with it. The offense needs to be better against Montreal on Thursday at the Coliseum. Game time is 7 PM and will be on MSG+2.