There has definitely been a different feel in the air this season for the New York Islanders.
The air has been expelled as a result of all of the blown games the Isles have given away. In their first 16 games of the season, the Isles have allowed the game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation three times. Even worse, three more go-ahead goals have been allowed in the final three minutes of the third period, amounting to a dwindling in confidence for this Isles team.
Now, the Isles stand in last place in the Eastern Conference standings at 5-8-3 and 13 points. There are many factors that have played into this in the last few weeks.
The goaltending situation has been very odd for the Isles. With three goaltenders, Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and J.F. Berube, finding an equal and fair amount of time for all of them to get action behind the pipes has been difficult. Halak has started six straight games as of Monday night’s 4-0 shutout against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Finding a balance for all three is problematic. If one, such as Halak makes multiple starts in a row, Greiss will not stay sharp, leading to decrease in reaction to the speed of an actual game and allowing more goals. Practice and “garbage time” play will not cut it for goaltenders as elite as these trio are. An example of this was during the Isles’ 3-2 loss in overtime against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 12. The Isles were up 2-0 late in the third period. Halak was dominant up until the Panthers tied the game with 13.6 seconds left in regulation. Jonathan Marchessault’s shot which squeaked under Halak’s left arm is one that the veteran goalie should have had.
After the game, he took full blame. Halak’s agent, Allan Walsh spoke his mind on Twitter on Oct. 29 saying that the team’s three-goal rotation is not working out. He said, “Hard to figure out NY Islanders using 3 goalie system for 2nd year. Biggest issue is goalies don’t get enough practice time to stay sharp.”
One of these guys has to go, for their own benefit and the management will not let Greiss go. J.F. Berube, another client of Walsh’s has not played a single minute this season. If they trade away Halak, the Isles could receive a package for the future, such as draft picks. The resume of Halak runs deep, and he has proven to be a reliable No. 1 starting goaltender time and time again.
As in years past, the Islanders have been plagued with injuries. Defensemen have been going down almost every week. Most recently, the injury bug has struck Dennis Seidenberg, who was placed on the injured reserve list with a broken jaw. This led to the call-up of Scott Mayfield from their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers to take his place on the blue line. Luckily, Travis Hamonic has returned to the lineup after being sidelined—for only eight days into his recovery with a broken thumb. He is playing injured, after being told it would be four-to-six weeks until he can return to the ice.
It is great to see a guy who has been with this organization for many years now have that sort of dedication to the blue and orange, but playing injured can also affect his ability to play at 110 percent, thus hurting the team. This decision can also hurt Hamonic himself in the long-run, and possibly keep him out again even longer if he reinjures his thumb. The risk may not be worth it. The team has been losing games even with him in the lineup, and if he goes down again, then what are they going to do? Hamonic’s leadership is admirable, but Isles fans can only hope he is well enough to play effectively.
On the offensive side, rookie Matthew Barzal, who barely received his chance to shine on NHL ice, was sent back to his junior team the Seattle Thunderbirds after playing only two games with the big club. If the management is going toward a younger presence on the ice, this is not the way to go about it. How is a rookie supposed to get his feet wet in the league if he does not receive the playing time he needs to gain that experience? Let the kids play.
Even veterans have not been performing the way Isles fans and management would hope. Andrew Ladd, who the team signed a seven-year deal with this summer, only scored his first goal for the team on Nov. 7 after 12 scoreless games to start the season. He then scored again in the team’s next game on Nov. 10, for a grand total of two goals and one assist this season, as a fourth-liner. Three points is not what Ladd was supposed to contribute to the team.
The same goes for Jason Chimera, another offseason pickup for the club. Chimera netted his first goal as an Islander during the same game as Ladd and has not got on the board since. Both Chimera and Ladd were projected to have 20-goal seasons. At this pace, chances are slim.
After making it to the second round of the playoffs last season, and the way this Isles team is rolling, it looks like they are poised to end up toward the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings this season. They cannot be eliminated from the playoffs 16 games into an 82-game season.
However, every point matters, and the Isles can put themselves in a poor position as early as November. With the way teams such as fellow Metropolitan Division foes such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have been playing, the Isles need to start picking it up. That being said, there is still a whole season left to play, and teams can get on hot streaks out of the blue. Hopefully this will be the case for the blue and orange, because they can do better.