Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Streak Is Dead!

The New York Islanders woke up from their month-long nightmare on Friday (11/26) afternoon. The team had gone without a win in 14 straight games, one shy of the franchise record.

Rick DiPietro was in fine form as the Isles blanked the New Jersey Devils 2-0. Jesse Joensuu gave the Isles a lead that they would never relinquish just 1:32 into play. He was fed a beautiful pass from Frans Nielsen, scoring what might have been the Isles' prettiest goal of the season.

The Devils were punchless, though they tested Rick DiPietro 29 times. He turned aside all shot attempts and recorded his 16th career shutout.

Rob Schremp, whose name was mispronounced on ESPN's highlight package, netted the other goal for the boys in orange and blue.

Jack Capuano, who took the coaching helm during the streak, won his first game as an NHL head coach.

The Islanders now look forward to December 2nd and 3rd, when they play a home-and-home series against one of the few teams they have beaten this year, the New York Rangers.

News and Notes:

- Right wing Trent Hunter is out indefinitely after suffering a Grade III Medial collateral ligament tear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hamonic's Here

I'm not going to lie. I liked Travis Hamonic a lot when I saw him over the summer. When I stood next to him I fully noticed how large he is. We're talking big ol' strapping farm boy big. A description for which, as a native of St. Malo, Manitoba (population: 1,100), he certainly qualifies.

I felt that Travis the man-child might have been ready for the NHL out of training camp, as I wrote here. The Islanders thought differently, but now short on defensemen after Mike Mottau's serious injury on Sunday, Hamonic has been called up.

Hamonic will get his first chance to show his skills at hockey's highest level on Wednesday (11/24) night against Columbus. I wish him a successful debut.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Save Our Ship!

The Islanders took on the Florida Panthers tonight (11/20) looking to avoid deepening their winless streak to twelve games. Florida was the opponent, a team only 5 points up the standings from the bottom-dwelling Isles.

The Panthers came out firing early, testing goalie Dwanye Roloson. In fact, their first shot rang off Roli’s post. He allowed nothing, and the Isles steadied themselves.

Matt Moulson gave the home crowd something to cheer about, scoring on a blast at 13:07 of the first period.

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. Roloson allowed four second period goals (from Santorelli twice, Reasoner, and Weiss). The crowd of 9,157 rained boos down on the Isles as the period concluded.

Down by three goals entering the final stanza, the Isles tried to rectify their sad situtation. They fired 21 shots at Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun to no avail. Vokoun earned the second star of the game on the merit of his 39 total saves.

After the game the scene in the locker room was predictably downbeat. New coach Jack Capuano was willing to look at the mistakes as part of an adjustment period, but still found time to insist that making such errors are inexcusable. “We had a couple of passengers tonight.” He continued, “As we move forward they have to be held accountable.”

Roloson, who took his 9th consecutive loss, says that the team remains upbeat. I can’t imagine how he can say this, especially when he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. I can’t (and wouldn’t) ask him if my hunch is right, but it’s not only in his body language, but in that of most of the players in the room too. Mark Eaton, who wasn’t especially talkative after the game, noted that their play had already cost one man his job.

Unfortunately there is no prospect of improvement on the horizon. Though scouts from other teams were in attendance, the current roster is in no shape to make a trade. And I can’t imagine franchises are too interested in any of the Islanders’ offensive pieces currently on the ice, save for perhaps tonight’s scorer (Moulson).

Even if Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit were healthy and available, would they make that much of an impact? The team has scored a second-from-worst 40 goals and has a –26 goal differential. While the Isles miss the pair, I can’t say that they’d be in contention for a playoff spot even at full strength.

The Islanders will have a chance to pick up their first win in 13 tries tomorrow night in Atlanta. I would like to see an offensive outburst and a win, but realistically I’m afraid it will be more of the same for this team in distress.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Coach, Same Result

The title of this post, while factual, is a bit misleading. The Islanders did not make Jack Capuano a winner in his National Hockey League debut on Wednesday (11/17), but things did looked different. Though they are now winless in 11 straight games and have only one "loser point" to show for their work, the effort looked better.

One change I noticed was a difference in John Tavares' play. He had time and space to maneuver in the offensive zone. He doesn't have the speed of a player like Steven Stamkos, who he is sometimes compared to due to their similar draft positions, but he has the talent to become an elite scorer. This was on display against Stamkos and his mates as Tavares netted the type of goal that needs to be the centerpiece of his game, cleaning up rebounds. It was his 7th of the year, tied with Matt Moulson, who also banked his own 7th goal of 2010 in the game.

The two strikes were far from enough offense, though, as the Islanders lost 4-2 to Tampa Bay. Taking penalties in the offensive zone and going dry on all four power play chances (including a major) will just not do.

The announcers claimed that the Islanders looked more relaxed since Scott Gordon's dismissal. This wasn't a jab at Gordon, but rather an explanation of a concerted attempt by the downtrodden Isles to get back to looking at hockey as a fun game. Some of that talk was also heard from the players in the post-game debriefings.

The cold facts are that no magic bullet exists for Capuano and his team right now. They are undermanned and lack very much scoring punch. As everyone also knows, the Islanders remain dead last in the league standings.

While things seemed markedly better for this game, the fact is that the franchise has a lot of work to do (both on and off the ice) to right the ship. Compiling the problem was that fewer people are in the crowd to notice any changes (8,025 on this night) these days. And most of that task lies with people other than Capuano.

It seems like we've been here before, doesn't it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gordon Out, Capuano In as Head Coach

In a somewhat unsurprising move, this morning the Islanders fired Head Coach Scott Gordon. I say unsurprising because when a team loses 10 of their first 17 games (the last 10 in a row, mind you) changes need to be made. Brigdeport (AHL) head coach Jack Capuano will be the interim head coach.

I am struggling to say something that hasn't already been said elsewhere. I guess the feeling I come away with is that the change is mostly cosmetic. Sure, it's a new voice in the room, but under Capuano the roster will be the same, the system will be the same, and the culture will likely be the same. Capuano can't make Mark Streit or Kyle Okposo come back from injured reserve any quicker. He can't help Rick DiPietro regain his form, if that's even possible at this point, sooner. And he certainly can't draft new players to infuse the team with scoring.

Capuano was Kyle's first (and only) head coach in the American Hockey League. Most of the current home grown Islanders have played for him. Those who haven't are certainly familiar with Capuano from this preseason's camps and scrimmages, which now seem light years in the past. Maybe a new voice in the dressing room is exactly what the Islanders need to reclaim their season. I'm just not sure how different it is.

As for Gordon, he'll stay in the organization as an assistant to the General Manager. That move seems to be en vogue these days in sports -- giving the guy you've just fired a different role. I can't say I understand it other than for financial reasons. Sometimes it's best to just cut ties and move on.

Before you think I am being too harsh on Gordon, let me say that I and seemingly everyone who is around the team likes him. He is as normal and down to earth as someone in his position can be. However in the National Hockey League, like in any other business, you win or you're out. For Gordon, a coaching record of 64-94-23 (.417) over 2-plus seasons was not good enough.

Capuano will get his first shot at a win on Wednesday (11/17) night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Westward Hole!

In what must be the quickest swing of fortune and fan emotion in the history of sports, the New York Islanders have gone from the top of their conference to the bottom. And it took fewer than three calendar weeks.

The Isles, who haven't even had a lead in any of the contests, have lost eight games in a row. It may get worse before it gets better, too, since the team will take on San Jose and Los Angeles before the week is through. Those squads are a lot better than the Anaheim team the Isles were shut out (1-0) by on Wednesday (11/10) night.

I was worried (and warned by other writers earlier this season) that goals might be hard to come by this season for the Islanders. The injury to Kyle Okposo only compounded the fear. But after a while a team has to play the hand they're dealt and find a way to at least compete each night. It looks right now as if the will to play, let alone win, has evaporated. The home announcers said as much after the broadcast.

I don't have the answers on how to turn this around. Fans, who tend to overreact, are calling for the ouster of Head Coach Scott Gordon. I don't believe that would change much with this team. Especially if he is just replaced by one of his assistants.

What I do know is that when you outplay, outshoot, and are given six power play chances against a team that played the previous night, you should be able to score at least a lone goal. The Islanders didn't, and now run the risk of returning home from California on a ten game losing streak.

Is it time to push the 'panic' button and make changes to the roster? I don't know. Would playing still-developing players like Travis Hamonic and/or Calvin DeHaan at the NHL level change things on defense? How do you add goals to an anemic offense?

If the Islanders want to climb out of their hole, they'll need to address these issues, and quickly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Isles Making A Habit of Losing By Five

Fresh off a 6-1 drubbing in Philadelphia last weekend, the Islanders headed down to Carolina looking to right their ship. Unfortunately, after a lackluster performance it seems as if they only succeeded in taking on more water.

The Carolina Hurricanes came into the tilt with the same number of points as the Islanders, but the teams looked vastly different on the ice. As every fan knows, the Islanders have been decimated by injuries, but there is simply no good reason to lose 7-2 to a middle-of-the-pack team like Carolina.

After a hot start to the season, the Islanders have lost five games in a row. And it has been a team effort. The goaltending, especially that of Rick DiPietro, has been poor. The defense has been poor. The scoring hasn't been nearly enough. General effort on the ice has looked lackadaisical. And so on.

In his post game television interview, a clearly frustrated Coach Scott Gordon said he has spoken with individual players about this malaise. He believes that lessons should have already been learned. The breaks out of the defensive zone and play away from the puck have been some of the sources of concern for him.

He did sound one tone of optimism, though, in that the Isles will have another chance to make things right tomorrow night (11/4) in Ottawa. He felt that was better than a long layoff with players stewing over the losing streak.

Let's hope things improve, because the season is still young and far from a lost cause. But the excitement that surrounded their hot start has all but vanished.

News and notes:

- Michael Grabner and P.A. Parenteau were the scorers for the Islanders, each netting their third goals of the season.

- Rob Schremp returned from an injury that had sidelined him for the team's first 11 games. He saw 13:14 of ice time and was a -4 in the game.

- Goaltender Dwayne Roloson is expected to start the game in Ottawa. Roloson holds a 2.40 Goals Against Average this season, while Rick DiPietro has allowed 13 goals over his last two starts.

- Carolina center Jonathan Matsumoto scored the first two goals of his NHL career.