November 3, 2010

Looks like I chose just the right time to come back

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.

Negatives

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.

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