Monday, February 27, 2012

Garth Dumps Vets At Deadline

In a move that nobody (and I mean nobody) saw coming, New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow dropped a trading deadline day bomb at 3 PM on Monday. The Islanders moved LW Brian Rolston and D Mike Mottau to the Boston Bruins for two prospects.

The veterans, whom the Islanders had brought in at the beginning of the season to provide production and leadership for the youngsters on the Isles' roster, wound up not doing much of either. Snow, decided to pull the plug on the experiment, receiving Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin in return.

While it's not a trade that will have much impact for the big picture of the Islanders' rebuild, it does allow younger replacements such as Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, and perhaps Mark Katic to assume larger roles at the NHL level.

Unfairly or not, Mottau and Rolston had come to symbolize everything that was wrong with the veterans on this year's Islanders; too old, under-productive, and overpaid.

Perhaps two tweets best summarized Islanders fans' elation and what the trade means:

From Craig Buckser (@cbuckser): "Garth wins if the prospects are still breathing."

Taking a more analytical approach soon after was Eric Hornick (@ehornick): "Isles trade two players not part of their future, save $1.3 million doing so, and then add two players who could potentially develop."

While it won't help the Islanders make the playoffs this year, it sounds as if folks are pleased with the move. As they should be.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Isles Drop Rival Rangers 4-3

The game began with a Matt Moulson goal and ended the very same way.

The Islanders emerged 4-3 winners over the rival New York Rangers after 65 minutes of spirited hockey (plus a shootout) on Friday (2/24) night in Nassau.

In addition to a veteran goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov) and a kid (Casey Cizikas) making his league debut, the game showcased two players who were on opposite sides of the rivalry just two seasons ago. PA Parenteau played 22 games with the New York Rangers in 2009-2010 after languishing in their minor leagues for several years. In that same season, Martin Biron backed up Dwayne Roloson in 29 games for the Isles.

The pair has since switched allegiances, each player now having very good seasons for their respective teams.

Biron started the game for the Rangers, who have shot to the top of the Eastern Conference through steady scoring, superior goaltending, and a skilled defense. They came into the game a whopping 23 better than the Islanders in the standings.

But as any fan of either team knows, you can throw that out the window when the two rivals meet.

The aforementioned Moulson got the Islanders out to a 1-0 lead just 6:07 into the contest, taking a slick pass from John Tavares from behind the net and hammering it home.

PA Parenteau, who has been somewhat of a revelation for the Islanders, at times playing on the top line this season, netted another two goals in this contest. He rocketed a shot past Biron to double his team's lead at the 8:42 mark, and the Isles quieted those fans in the stands who chose to wear blue and red sweaters to the game.

After last year's breakout performance, Parenteau is making his case for a big payday this summer. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent, and there is some question as to what his fate will be on Long Island.

He is making General Manager Garth Snow's job very difficult, since the trading deadline is this coming Monday (2/27).

After a second Parenteau goal, this time on a power play at 8:11 of the second period, the Isles looked to be on their way to a victory. They had a 3-1 lead (Marc Staal had earlier narrowed the gap with a power play goal of his own) with a very steady Nabokov in goal.

Nabokov, who is also set to become a free agent this summer, is supposedly in discussions with the team about a contract extension, though at this point there is no substantive news to report.

Casey Cizikas, the 20 year old center, was called up and debuted with a baptism by fire. He played 11-plus minutes, including some power play time, and acquitted himself nicely according to Head Coach Jack Capuano.

"I thought he responded well. He works extremely hard. He gave us some good minutes tonight, won some key faceoffs too."

The game was chippy throughout, but there was only one major fight and it was early on. Matt Marin battled Stu Bickel to a draw in the first period.

The Islanders eventually squandered their lead but held on through a scoreless third period. Nabokov finished with 33 saves (not including those made in the shootout).

Frans Nielsen and Matt Moulson scored in that competition to bring the victory home for the Islanders, and their fans earned bragging rights, at least on this night.

The Islanders, who have just 21 games left to make a playoff run, will need to put together a long winning streak to have a realistic chance at the postseason. They play 13 of the remaining games on the road.

The first of those road contests will take place Sunday, in Ottawa. We'll have news of any team transactions that take place as well.

News and notes:

- Travis Hamonic returned from a ghoulish face injury which required surgery, but he played well and earned Capuano's praise. He played over 22 minutes after sitting out for nine games. The coach called him "a vocal young guy."

- Josh Bailey was scratched with back spasms.

- John Tavares had two assists to bump his season point total to 60. He won 20 of 33 (61%) faceoffs.

- The Islanders improved their record to 5-1 all-time in shootouts against the Rangers. Nabokov has never lost one as an Islander.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

The Islanders swept the season series from the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, downing them 4-3 at Nassau Coliseum. The game featured a Kyle Okposo opening goal just 2:07 after the first puck dropped, and John Tavares regained his scoring touch with two goals, the second of which won the game.

Tavares' 24 goals leave him one off the team pace (Matt Moulson) and back to a point-per-game pace for the season. There isn't a fan in the world who is worried about his production.

P.A. Parenteau, quietly having a whopper of a season, at least assists-wise, helped on two goals and his line now reads 12-41-53. The point total matches his career high, set a year ago.

Parenteau, the 28-year old New York Rangers castoff, will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season.

The Islanders, whose record improved to 25-25-8 on the season, sit just 6 points out of a playoff spot, but still in 12th place overall in the Eastern Conference. The "playoffs" talk in the dressing room and from the coach is thoroughly optimistic, but is it realistic?

With just four more games left for the Isles to play until the trading deadline arrives (February 27th, 3PM Eastern time), should this team be buyers or sellers?

Throw in a completely unsettled situation in goal, with Evegeni Nabokov and Al Montoya set to become free agents as well, and General Manager Garth Snow has a potential mountain of scenarios to sift through.

Trade one of the goalies? Sign one long-term? Which one?

It's no secret that this team needs to upgrade their defensive corps (Travis Hamonic will resume skating this coming week, incidentally), their secondary scoring, and could use a bodyguard for their star center. Can dealing a veteran bring back anything of value?

With scouts on hand last evening from Philadelphia, Dallas, and elsewhere to get their looks at the talent in Garth's stable, the pressure may be mounting on other league GM's to pick some of that Long Island fruit.

I asked Parenteau, who at this point is easily the most coveted unsigned talent the Islanders have moving forward to 2012-2013, for his outlook at this uncertain time of the year.

"I really think we can pull this off," he said, referring to a playoff push that he expects his team to make. "For the other things," he continued, "we'll deal with them when we get there." He added, "I'm really focused on the playoffs."

With young talent waiting in the wings, so to speak, such as Kevin Poulin (who recorded 33 saves in the win), Ryan Strome, Kirill Kabanov, and perhaps Kirill Petrov, can Garth afford to do nothing?

I leave the question open to you, Islanders fans. Should the team be buyers or sellers this week? Please leave your comments in the section below. As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Night For Nabby and Nielsen

Philadelphia's Wells Fargo/Wachovia/First Union/Core States Center has been a house of horrors for the Islanders. But after breaking their impossibly long drought in that building last month, the blue and orange squad from New York is suddenly rolling there.

It took a Herculean 45 save effort from Evegeni Nabokov and a shootout, but suddenly the Islanders have won two in a row in the building that formerly struck fear in their hearts.

With Travis Hamonic out for several weeks (announced as two by the team) after facial surgery stemming from a puck to the face, young Aaron Ness made his NHL debut.

Amidst a patchwork defensive corps (Dylan Reese would leave this game due to injury), Ness saw 14:25 of action in his league premiere.

The story of the night, other than Nabokov's spectacular night between the pipes, belonged to "The Great Dane," Frans Nielsen.

Nielsen, who would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, was inked to a four-year, $11 million extension, announced during the game.

How did the 27-year old celebrate? With one of his patented backhanded goals in the shootout against Philadelphia netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, of course. It gave the Islanders the lead in the so-called "skills competition" and turned out to be the only one they would need on this night (John Tavares added an insurance goal soon after).

The Islanders were 1-0 shootout winners, escaping Philly with an improbable 2 points in the standings. Their season record stands at 22-22-8 with 30 regular season games remaining. It'll be a tough task for them to make the playoffs, but their play is much improved over the last few months.

It's not a stretch to think that this team is finally becoming a regular playoff contender for the coming years after so much heartache and disappointment.

One glaring weakness, exposed again on this night by their paltry 18 shot effort, is the inconsistent scoring. If a top-liner doesn't have a big night, goals just don't seem to come. This lack of offensive depth must be addressed in the offseason, perhaps earlier.

The trading deadline for Garth Snow and the league's general managers is February 27th.

Kyle Okposo, this page's primary focus, rang a shot off the post but recorded no goals for the ninth game in his last ten. John Tavares and Frans Nielsen each needed an assist to reach 100 in their careers, but will have to wait at least until Thursday (2/9) night against Montreal.

The team sits just four goals shy of scoring 10,000 in franchise history. I'll be on hand on Thursday night in Nassau to see if they get it done.