Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking on the Road

(Not the actual path taken this road trip, but close enough!)

The seven city road trip, which is taking up a solid chunk of the Islanders' November schedule, continues on Friday (11/20) in Minnesota. To this point the trip has gone surprisingly well, with the Isles taking 6 of a possible 8 points over the first 4 games of it. The team also finds itself somehow, almost miraculously, entrenched in a playoff spot. If reaching that goal is to be successful, everyone knows that road wins are the key. With Minnesota, St. Louis, and a weak Toronto team left on the road swing, it is imperative for the Isles to keep the winning momentum going and come home on a high note.

With the season now 1/4 completed and the Isles at a respectable 23 points (a nice rebound from their 1-4-5 start), here are some questions that you, the readers, may have some thoughts on. These are not criticisms of any player or the coaching, lest they be taken that way. Feel free to contribute in the comments section as always.

- While the desire to find secondary scoring is paramount, is it worth breaking up the top-line dynamo that Tavares, Mouslon, and Okposo have been? It is unreal how well they play together, surpassing even our own high expectations, as evidenced again Monday (11/16) night in the 4-1 win in Boston. Okposo once again started on the second line, but late in the game was on the ice with JT when Kyle threaded him a long and beautiful pass that seemingly had no chance of finding its target. It did, however, and nearly set #91 up for a brilliant goal. It could be dismissed, if only plays like this weren't occurring nightly.

Kyle has told us in the past that "chemistry is chemistry" and that he has no way to explain why the three forwards play so well together. If you have a thought or opinion on the lineup matter, let us know.

- Mark Streit's "down year." Admittedly, complaining about your team's best D-man who is 4-7-11 over 21 games and logs nearly 26 minutes of ice time per night seems petty. But there's something different about his game this year and we can't quite figure out what it is. He's on pace to record a career high 180 shots on goal, so it's not as if he's firing at the net less. It just seems that his play has been flatter, and his normally rock solid work at the blue line isn't as strong this season. What gives?

- Conversely, Andy Sutton. What has gotten into this guy to make him a defensive force? Did he just wake up one morning and realize he's 6'6" and nearly 250 pounds. He's hitting, is a +3, and has scored 3 goals on only 14 shots. Furthermore, his health issues finally seem to be in the past. Another blogger we spoke with even suggested extending his contract. Do you agree?

- Now, some overall team issues. How to stop lackadaisical third period play? Is this a conditioning problem? Inexperience? While it seems to be getting better, the Isles still look as if they are sleepwalking through the final 20 minutes of games. Any of you hockey players out there have a suggestion?

- Lastly, do you think the Isles will be able to keep up with their Atlantic division foes? The one knock on the Islanders' performance so far might be that they really haven't been heavily tested. That will change later this month, when the Isles face Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey before the calendar turns. Right now the Isles' intradivision record stands at 1-1-1. Arguably the Eastern Conference's best teams play in the Atlantic. The Isles have beaten up on the Southeast squads (4-0-3) and have held their own (2-3-3) against the Northeast teams. How will they fare against their divisional brothers?

These questions and more will be answered as the season moves along. As for now, the Isles just have to keep outworking the "better" teams and maintaining their course. It would be a delight to surprise the pundits come April. And that starts by finishing what they've begun on this road trip.

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