November 8, 2010
This one was a hard-fought contest at the Coliseum that ended in heartbreak for the Islanders, with the surging Flyers yanking this one out in the third period on Andreas Nodl's ricochet goal. Essentially, at this point, we know what the Isles are missing and why they're struggling (detailed below, but if you've been following along, this'll sound really familiar). Whether they play reasonably well like they did tonight or play like dog doo as they did the previous six games, these warts will always stick out until they're solved. Ultimately, I'm OK with it. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the team will still have growing pains and things of that nature.
The Islanders resembled an actual NHL team tonight. Against one of the NHL's top squads, they had prolonged possessions in the offensive zone (missing lately), good positioning on D (woefully absent), and consistent forechecking pressure (ditto). They hung right in there until the end, when a combination of a bad break and a missed assignment sunk the ship. Either way, this was an encouraging performance, all things considered.
The power play looked good again. It sagged a little bit recently, but Bobrovsky had to be borderline superhuman to keep the Isles out of the net all but one time. Good puck movement, good vision, good net front presence nearly every time. The PP had been keeping them afloat in the beginning, so it's good to see the beginnings of a resurgence in that area.
The play at even strength wasn't much better. The stats don't lie here: the Isles are the worst even-strength team in hockey, and it's mainly because none of the players can really skate. The number of times a fast, skilled player totally burns an Islander defenseman is piling up by the game. My least favorite player (taking over for P.A. Parenteau), Mike Mottau, has been particularly guilty of this. Roasted by Claude Giroux to set up a gimme two-on-one that Jeff Carter shanked, Mottau was seen with smoke coming out of his ass after the game. His lapses are getting really, really old.
It's official, and I'll stop posting it unless it becomes particularly horrible: the Isles have nobody to clear the crease at all. The two Flyers goals came because nobody had the sense to knock anyone off the front of the net. Radek Martinek had to get physical on one shift to knock his man out of the danger zone, an uncharacteristic reaction we'll probably never see from him again. Mike Richards scored on a deflection by hanging out unmolested in front of Dwayne Roloson. On the second goal, Nodl had all day to knock the puck past a dazed Roloson when he skated into the low slot and nobody covered him.
The Isles' transition passing has been abominable. With Streit and MacDonald out, no one's able to start a rush out of the defensive zone anymore. Jack Hillen has tried his best, but he can't make up for the woes of the other five guys playing with him. Nobody can place a pass tape-to-tape, and it's been a nightmare. So many potential breakouts are stymied by a fumble or overshoot from the passer.
On the Flyers
Big, nasty, and skilled-- in other words, pretty much as advertised. As much as I like Carter, Richards, Giroux, and Timonen as players, though, the entire team's success is predicated on Pronger. Sure, Duncan Keith won the Norris last year. Sure, until he got hurt, Drew Doughty was on the rise and seemed poised to take the throne. I'm not buying either of them just yet; I'll go with the thoroughbred until he shows me that he's not the best defenseman alive and arguably the prototype for every defenseman to come after him.
In my young hockey-viewing career, Pronger is the best defenseman I've ever seen, hands down. He's materially changed the fates of four teams after they've acquired him, propelling once-underachieving squads to the Cup Finals three times (capturing jewelry once). If they genetically engineered a defenseman from scratch, Pronger would be the result.
As long as the Flyers keep trotting him out, they'll have a shot at taking the whole thing. The supporting players are definitely important, no question; but Pronger is the keystone as far as I see it. Bobrovsky also seems to be OK. If the goaltending comes through, they'll be the favorite to take the East again.
November 4, 2010
Six straight losses after another stinker in Ottawa tonight, and there's not much more to it than that. The team looks legitimately lethargic, and the only saving grace in this game was that they managed not to completely embarrass themselves by actually looking somewhat like an actual NHL hockey team. However, once they completed an abhorrent attempt at a five-minute major power play and allowed Sergei Gonchar to sneak into the back door for goal #1, it felt like it was over, and it was. More defensive lapses by the whole team, more bad goaltending (this time by Dwayne Roloson), more inability to bury any and all chances. Who can say when this stupor will finally end? I hope it's sometime this season.
My DVR has a fast-forward option, so I could spare myself a great deal of aggravation.
I hate Mike Mottau again. This is probably the tenth time this season I've seen him make a pass directly to an opposing player in the danger area. How a guy could go from three games of near brilliance to ten games of ECHL-caliber defensive play is completely beyond me, but it's officially happened. His effectiveness on the PP has vanished into thin air, also.
P.A. Parenteau was the Islanders' best all-around forward. A true feat, even for this team.
The Isles are now finding new ways to lose. This time, it wasn't because they were slow, the main cause of the two straight shellackings at the hands of the Canadiens. This time, it wasn't because they weren't physical enough, the main cause of the two straight shellackings at the hands of the Flyers. This time, it wasn't because they were thoroughly outworked, the main cause of the shellacking in Raleigh. No, this time, it was because the Isles were simply watching the puck all night. What will they think of next?
There is no semblance of confidence or energy coming from any player on the roster, possibly excepting Matt Martin. The players look like they're skating in sand with a hopeless, defeatist attitude. It's highly alarming. I'm pretty sure we can no longer attribute this to Rick DiPietro being in net. This isn't the system, either; the skaters' style of play would lose them games if they were playing Lemaire Euthanasia. Is it the coach? They've played unrelentingly hard for Gordon up until now with far less talented rosters and far less hopeful situations. Is it the injuries? They seemed to deal with that fine against good teams in the first couple games of the year.
I don't know what the cause of this funk is, but it's making the Islanders pretty frustrating to watch. There's a feeling of resignation after the Isles can't convert in the first ten minutes and inevitably let up the first goal of the game to the other team, after which they seem to deflate like clockwork. Let's hope this trend discontinues before we all do insane things on IM and HF like call for the firing of the coach and GM less than 15 games into the year, declare the young core useless, and place blame on inconsequential players like Doug Weight and Trent Hunter. Wait, people have already started doing that?... I see.
On the Senators
For the most part, a perennially unimpressive team since that one time they dominated the League and got stomped in the Cup Finals. I love Dan Alfredsson, a guy who, like Eric Staal, is my type of player. However, their other headliner (Spezza) plays only one zone. Their defensive rock is good, and they added Gonchar, but those guys aren't buttressed by very much. The goalie is very good but not elite, and the supporting cast won't really blow your doors off.
Can they scratch out a playoff spot again? Sure, I guess. Are they a Cup contender? Not really. When your team is languishing in limbo like this, it's time for a drastic change. I might auction Alfredsson, Spezza, and Phillips to the highest bidder at the deadline, then take my several first-round picks and rebuild from the ground up by notching a top-three overall pick in 2012. But then again, this is the team run by the same GM who flipped a first rounder for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie, then flipped another one for David Rundblad.
Another crack at Philly for the gang on Saturday. Cross your fingers.
November 3, 2010
There aren't really any words to describe what kind of effort the Isles put together in Carolina last night. Their fifth straight loss now drops them to twelfth in the conference, and their once-strong +8 goal differential now sits at -11, third worst in the NHL. Tough to find any positives, so I'm frankly not including any. Some negatives are self-explanatory but nevertheless necessary to state for the record.
If Rick DiPietro keeps handling the puck like this, we're all in a lot of trouble. The Isles clearly had the better of play in the first ten minutes, then DiPietro's goof with the puck-- again-- completely deflated the team. Once Corvo slapped that laser by DP, who was sorely out of position after his puckhandling gaffe, the game was over. Sergei Samsonov put the nail in the coffin with his beautiful stick work on the Hurricanes' second goal.
I understand that Ricky D's advantage is his above-average ability to play the puck, but his hesitation right now is inexcusable. There's no other way to put it. Rick has now let up three goals (by my count) simply due to giving the puck away when he wasn't even pressured. That is ludicrous. It's tangibly hurting the team.
The Isles still can't knock anyone out of the crease. Sound familiar? Bruno Gervais getting minutes again doesn't help this cause at all, but nevertheless, it's still a huge issue. It was an issue even when the team was semi-healthy at the start of the year. Wanna know why Eric Staal runs roughshod over the boys in blue and orange every time he plays them? The guy is a bull on his skates and owns his section of the ice with impunity. He's one of the top five all-around players in the NHL, and just in case you forgot, he had it all on display tonight.
Nobody's playing the body anymore. Nevermind that the team's body language in general is just horrific, the style of play has taken a serious turn for the worse. In the beginning of the season, the team was spirited for at least 45 minutes of every game, making sure they threw bodies into oncoming skaters and establishing at least some sort of physical presence. Now, the only guy doing that is Matt Martin, who really does not belong in the NHL to begin with at this stage of his career.
I really hope this isn't some sort of revolt against the coach. I'm a fan of Scott Gordon generally, but I really hope my worst fears aren't confirmed. The way the team isn't trying on D, isn't staying true to the system, and isn't playing with any sort of punch for this kind of extended stretch indicates that they're either (a) demoralized due to getting shut down four times in a row by two really good teams and the general bad luck with health, or (b) sick of Flash.
Matt Martin and Bruno Gervais need to be exchanged for Jesse Joensuu/Rhett Rakhshani and Dylan Reese. Joensuu and Rakhshani at least have the hockey sense to play the bottom six effectively. I love what Matt Martin brings to the table, but that kid's game needs a lot of work. From what I've seen of him, first NHL goal aside, his game needs a ton of work before he comes back. Meanwhile, Joensuu is polished and might actually be a better skater than Martin at this point. Alternatively, Rakhshani is great on the PK and can at least be some sort of offensive threat on the fourth line while Martin gets much-needed minutes in the AHL. Reese is flat-out better than Bruno, and I think it's high time the Isles cut the cord.
On the Canes
Eric Staal is maybe my favorite non-Islander player in the NHL. Because he plays in Carolina, he gets constantly overlooked, but as I mentioned above, I have no problem calling him one of the top five all-around players in the NHL. The Isles seem to consistently have tons of trouble with Staal and the Canes; during the Tavheduch season, the team took their worst loss in franchise history in this very building. Cam Ward always performs well against the Isles, and that trend continued once again this evening.
Carolina's a write-off every season, and I was guilty of this sentiment as well, but management there puts together a pretty good roster on a budget all the time. Staal is the headliner, Gleason is the rock, and Ward is the stalwart goaltender, and the pieces around them seem to come together nicely. This year, it's the likes of Samsonov and impressive rookie Jeff Skinner holding it down. I'm on record at IslanderMania as a Skinner supporter, and I maintain that after watching this game. He's in the mold of John Tavares, a guy who may not have the greatest athletic ability but really knows his way around the ice.
The Isles head to Ottawa next, and I don't know if you can find anyone who isn't dreading this game.