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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Terrible

Happy Holidays! The Islanders currently sit in 14th out of 15 in the Eastern Conference with 29 points. That is an all to familiar spot in the standings for the Isles. While this year was supposed to be a year that the Islanders would prove that they are a playoff team and potential Stanley Cup contender, this year has gone down the drain early. Here is some of what's up with this team.

Credit: Getty Images
The Good: Since returning from a groin injury, veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has been great. In the five games since returning, Nabby is 2-1-2. First, he shutout the Montreal Canadiens for a full three periods. But since the Isles didn't score either, the game went to OT where Nabby couldn't make a save on a Max Pacioretty stop. In his last game in Detroit, Nabby was barely tested by a beat-up Red Wings team and got his 56th career shutout, first of the season. In five games since returning, Nabokov has a 1.96 Goals Against Average and a .928 Save Percentage, both great numbers that should help his team win if he keeps them up.

The Bad: These photos from the end of the third period of the game against Tampa Bay don't need much explaining.

Credit: Getty Images
The Terrible: Third Period Leads. What is it with the New York Islanders and third period leads? In 38 games this season, the Islanders have blown a third period TEN times. If the Islanders had won all 10 of those games, they would be right in the middle of the playoff teams. In five of those 10 games, the Isles have blown a two goal lead. In those five games, the Isles are 0-2-3 after taking a two goal lead into the third period. Simply, the Islanders will need to be mentally tough and physically tougher in the third period if they want to have any chance at making the playoffs. 
At least Ryan Strome is here to save everybody. 

Happy Holidays to all and Lets Go Islanders! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Have We Found Him?

Islanders Canadiens Kevin Poulin
Credit: USA Today
The New York Islanders have long been looking for a goaltender to establish himself as the #1 option.

Kevin Poulin will make his third straight start for the Islanders tonight vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
This will only be the third time in Poulin's career that he will start in three straight NHL games. It happened in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, but both of those times, Poulin was the #1 goalie by default because the Islanders had numerous goaltender injuries.

Matt Martin Matt Martin #17 and Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders celebrate their 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 2, 2013 in Uniondale, New York.
Credti: Getty Images
This is the first time Poulin has played well enough to earn three straight starts, relegating Evgeni Nabokov to the bench. Looking at the numbers, it's simple to see why he will start. He is playing well. In six games this year, he is 2-4-0. One of those four losses was a 1-0 decision at Carolina last week. You can't expect him to be perfect. In his last four starts, Poulin has a 1.75 GAA and a .939 save percentage, both outstanding numbers. For comparison, in Nabokov's last four starts, he has allowed 17 goals and hasn't had a save percentage above .875 in any of those games. The coaching staff had no choice but to start Poulin and keep playing him as he played well.

Whoever is in net will still need more help, as both Lubomir Visnovsky and Brian Strait aren't near returning from their injuries quite yet. With or without them, the question remains:
How long can the Poulin wall keep backstopping the Islanders?

Lets Go Islanders!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How it All Started

When I was just seven years old, I attended my first Islanders game. That day was one to remember. I remember an usher gave me a souvenir puck as we were leaving the game. I remember thinking that the team in the green jerseys, the Dallas Stars, were the good team. I don't remember the video below too well, but I remember the Islanders winning. Take a look.


After that, I was hooked. Later that winter, I wrote a letter to the Islanders with a bunch of questions. Surprisingly, I got a response a few weeks later, as you can see below.

The signature on the bottom of the letter belongs to Mike Milbury, who was the Islanders general manager at the time of the letter, which was late in 2001. Getting a letter on official Islanders stationary from their GM was something I always treasured. I've kept that letter for almost 12 years, and although the stuff Milbury writes about might be random answers to questions I have, the letter has a much greater meaning to me. 

I am a New York Islanders fan. From all the bad to all the good that hopefully will come soon, I'll be rooting for the blue and orange. This letter helped start it all. 

Lets Go Islanders! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Off-Season Predictions

File:Rob Scuderi 2011-02-10.JPG
Rob Scuderi (Credit: Wikipedia)
Bernier (Credit: Letsgokings.com)
Sorry for the long delay between entries. This has been a busy time.
My offseason predictions are as follow:
1. John Tavares is named Captain.
2. Jonathan Bernier becomes an Islander in a trade that gives up Nino Niederreiter.
3. So does Rob Scuderi, via free agency.
4. Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan make the team.

That's all for right now. I'll be back in August with more news and opinions!
Lets Go Islanders!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the Brink

As you probably know, the New York Islanders just evened their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins with a gutsy, gritty 6-4 win on Tuesday night. If you don't know, or just want to see again, here are the highlights from the game that tied the series at 2.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images
Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been pretty bad in the Penguins net. However, that should not take anything away from the Islanders and what they have done to give the Penguins a test they never would have expected going into this series.

After the first period of game two, the Islanders have done a great job of getting to Crosby and Malkin, as well as many other Penguins, keeping off their game and making them stay on high alert whenever they are on the ice. Travis Hamonic has been instrumental in doing that, as he has been the Islanders best physical defenseman.

Credit: Getty Images
Another key is the Islanders have been getting secondary scoring, especially from the defensemen. Through the first four games of the series, Mark Streit is the Isles leading scorer with five points, including three in the game four win. Lubomir Visnovsky and Travis Hamonic have each added two assists. An unlikely source, former Penguin Brian Strait, opened game four's scoring with a seeing-eye wrist shot from just inside the blue line. The goal was Strait's first NHL goal, playoffs or regular season. Casey Cizikas, who barely made the team out of training camp in January, has more points in the first four games than John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Don't forget about Tavares though, as he scored the tying goal in game three and got the winner in game four.Evgeni Nabokov has been a little shaky in net, but he has made the saves he has needed to with the game on the line.

 Right now, the series is heading back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal game five in what has turned into a best two out of three series. The madhouse off the Meadowbrook has been rocking, and the old barn will be rocking again for Saturday's game 6.  Are the Islanders for real? Can they knock off the mighty Penguins?  We'll see soon.

Why not us? beLIeve
Lets Go Islanders!!!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Keys to the Playoffs

Enough hoping for the future. Enough waiting for prospects. Enough complaining about the past.
As I write this entry, the New York Islanders sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, tied with the rival Rangers in points, although the Rangers have one more game left than the Islanders. The Islanders are right on the cusp of their first playoff birth since 2007. Is this what we have been waiting six years for?

Throughout all of the third period collapses, the Islanders have been resilient. They have gotten contributions from everyone, and they will need to keep that up if they want to play in May.

Here are three keys to the Islanders success that they will need to get if they want to play in the playoffs.

Credit: Getty Images

1. Strong Goaltending
Every playoff team has a great goaltender. The Islanders have one in Evgeni Nabokov. He is tied for fourth in the NHL with 16 wins. He has been in net for every single one of the Islanders wins. Out of all of the Islanders, Nabokov is the one who knows exactly what it takes to make, and win, the playoffs. He has played in 80 playoff games with the San Jose Sharks over a decade, winning half of them and recording seven shutouts. Nabokov should start every game for the Islanders down the stretch of the season, unless they are playing games on consecutive days, which only happens twice for the rest of the year. Kevin Poulin should start at least once, but no more than twice if the Isles stick around in the race.

Credit: Newsday
2. Contributions from the D
The Lubomir Visnovsky saga is over, he is an Islander, and he is a very good hockey player. He, along with Mark Streit, have been in command of the Islanders powerplay from the time Visnovsky arrived on Long Island. If the Islanders are going to win, they are going to need to get the contributions from the point, especially by Visnovsky and Streit. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald have been solid as the Isles top defensive defensemen the entire year, and they will continue to go up against the other team's top lines. If the Islanders are to win, the D is going to have to be up in the rush creating offense, as well as shutting down opponents.

New York Islanders' Colin McDonald (13); Lubomir Visnovsky (11), of Slovakia; and Thomas Hickey (14) celebrate after a goal by McDonald during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Philadelphia. New York won 4-3 in a shootout
Credit: Associated Press
3. Be the Road Warriors
The Islanders are an NHL worst 6-11-2 at Nassau Coliseum. Outside of the Coliseum, the Isles are 10-5-1. Luckily, they only play five more games at the Coliseum the rest of the way, while eight games are played on the road, including a five game road trip to end the season. I really can't explain why the Islanders have been so bad at home, but the schedule is in their benefit going down the stretch. The Islanders have been great on the road, and if they keep that up,  they not only will make the playoffs, but may have a chance to shock the NHL.

Those are the three keys to the Islanders success down the rest of the season. I don't expect the Islanders to make any big moves at the deadline. I do expect the Islanders to sign one of their top prospects, Anders Lee, and for him to play at least some NHL games by the end of the season

I fully believe this is the year the Islanders take the step into the playoffs. Will they make it? We'll find out in a month.

Lets Go Islanders!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New York Islanders: Circus or Contender?

Oh what a difference a week makes.
Going into last Sunday afternoon's home game against the Devils, the Islanders were 4-2-1, and atop the Atlantic Division. They were the owners of the league's top ranked penalty kill, as well as the number one ranked power-play.

Fast forward one week.

Now, the Islanders are 4-6-1, and in the Atlantic Division basement. The power-play has slipped to 14th in the NHL. The penalty kill has also slightly dipped, it is now 5th in the league.

We have all seen this happen before, the Islanders get off to a hot start then fade quickly in the middle of the season. Is it happening again? Maybe. Is there reason to believe that this year may be different?

The past week has been a nightmare. The Islanders constantly coming out sloppy, only to fight back and come just a little bit short. Either that or they would just not show up at all. During the Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Devils, the Islanders played well for the first 56 minutes, then the Devils broke through for a power-play goal, and added two more for a 3-0 final. Then, they played Pittsburgh two days later. Again, the visitors opened the scoring with a power-play goal. And again, the Isles could not come back. After falling down 3-0 in the third period, the Islanders ended their goalless drought at just over 103 minutes. The next goalless drought was only 35 seconds. The two quick tallies were enough to give Islander fans hope. But, as it is with the Islanders, the defeat had to be slow and painful. They never quite got over the hump, and fell to Pittsburgh 4-2. This defeat came one week after they dominated the Penguins from start to finish for a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh.

Credit: Getty Images
Then something unexpected happened, this time off the ice. Garth Snow, never one to shock the hockey world, made a trade. Tim Thomas, former Vezina Trophy winner in Boston, would be a New York Islander, at least in theory. Thomas is taking this year off from the NHL. He is 38 years old, and not getting any younger. He hasn't played a game this season, and that isn't likely to change. The Islanders would send Boston a 2nd round draft pick, in either 2014 or 2015. That pick will only go to Boston if Thomas plays this season. So, the Islanders practically got Thomas for free. You are probably wondering why would the Islanders do this. Thomas' salary for this season is $5 million. He isn't getting paid by Boston because he is suspended, and he isn't getting paid by the Islanders either. However, his salary will count towards the Islanders this year, and they need the $5 million to reach the cap floor, or minimum salary. The Islanders pretty much traded for a phantom $5 million. The Islanders could do what they did to Evgeni Nabokov a few years ago, and toll his contract so he would have to honor it next year. That option is unlikely, but not impossible knowing the Islanders. Thomas is a free agent at the end of this season, and I'm guessing the Islanders would love to have him on the roster next season as a short term solution, and if Thomas doesn't want to be an Islander, then Garth Snow would have made a good financial move to help his team in the lockout shortened season.

Hours after that trade was announced, the Islanders took the ice at Madison Square Garden to play the rival Rangers, who were also struggling, for the first time this season. They once again came out flatfooted. The Rangers scored on Evgeni Nabokov on the first shot he faced all night. After one period, the Isles were down 2-0, and they looked out of it after that. The one bright spot throughout this whole ordeal, John Tavares, got the Islanders to within one, but they never got any closer than that. The penalty kill allowed another goal, and the Islanders left MSG without a point. They head right back there this Thursday.

Credit: Getty Images
The past game this Saturday was the tip of the iceberg of Islanders frustration. They finally got two players into the lineup for the first time this season. Josh Bailey made his long awaited return from an injury he got playing overseas during the lockout. Lubomir Visnovsky made his long awaited Islanders debut after the whole fiasco he had with the KHL and his family issues in Slovakia. Both played well. Bailey registered seven shots on goal, while Visnovsky looked good with Mark Streit on the power-play and had no trouble getting the puck on net himself. The Islanders fell behind twice, but rebounded each time, as John Tavares scored in the first and Colin McDonald tallied his first as an Islander in the 2nd. After two periods, the Islanders had outshot the Sabres 29-11. The Sabres once again took the lead, but there wound be no charm for the Islanders on the third time they fell behind. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller stood on his head, made 41 saves, not including the two that the post made on John Tavares in the 3rd period, and the Islanders lost 3-2.

Tomorrow, the Islanders host the Carolina Hurricanes. For the first time, I am hoping that Rick DiPietro starts in net. Evgeni Nabokov looks tired in net, and Ricky at least deserves a chance.

Now you decide, are the Islanders a circus or a contender? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments.

Lets go Islanders!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 Line Combinations

Earlier this morning, the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Yes, there is still work to be done. All the details need to be looked at, players need to get back to their teams from all around the world. Then, after all of that, only one week of training camp will  take place before the NHL season finally gets under way. Take note, NHL rosters have 20 players including 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies.

Photo Credit: espn.com
Head coach Jack Capuano is going to have many tough decisions to make. There are a few new Islanders that will need to get used to their new surroundings quickly. Players have been playing on the other side of the world, and some haven't been playing at all. After all is said and done, the season will start. Putting all of the many details aside for now, here are the lines that I think the Islanders will yield when they hit the ice in about two weeks.

Forward Line 1: Matt Moulson---John Tavares---Brad Boyes
Tavares and Moulson have been together since Tavares' rookie season. Since them, they have became one of the best scoring duos in the entire NHL. Tavares has been busy this season, playing on the same team as Mark Streit in the Swiss league. (Click on his name to see a highlight._ Hopefully he won't have any problems adjusting back to New York time. For the past few years, they have usually had PA Parenteau flanking them. However, Parenteau left the Islanders and went to Colorado. Now, the Islanders have Brad Boyes. In 2008-09 with the Blues, Boyes scored 43 goals. The next season, he had 72 points.  Unfortunately, over the last two seasons in Buffalo, he has just a combined 13 goals. Boyes has prove he can score at an elite level in the NHL, and I think that playing with the two best offensive weapons on the team will boost Boyes back to relevance.

Forward Line 2: Michael Grabner---Frans Nielsen---Kyle Okposo
This line is almost guaranteed to be together. They have been for the past few years, and I don't see anything that will separate them. Although Grabner may have had a sophomore slump, he picked it up toward the end of last season to reach the 20 goal mark. Nielsen is by far the best defensive forward on the team, and combined with his dominance in the shootout, he is the easy pick for the number two center. Kyle Okposo got off to a very slow start last season, not scoring until a month into the season, yet he finished with a career high 24 goals last season, and with a shortened season, I can't see him surpassing the mark. These three will be together, as they have one thing the Isles have lacked over the past few years, chemistry.

Forward Line 3: Matt Martin---Josh Bailey---David Ullstrom
This line is one that that is not even close to set in stone. Matt Martin signed a new contract minutes before the lockout got underway. He has become a fan favorite for his big hits, and last year he proved that he can score more than just one goal. Martin was never afraid to take contact, or initiate it. He proved even more valuable when he drove to the net and got good shots. Josh Bailey has been playing in the German league, where he had seven points in his first four games. It is doubtful, but if Bailey can keep up a good pace on the Island, the sky is the limit for the former 9th overall pick in the 2008 draft. David Ullstrom is as big a question mark as any on the Islanders. He has been playing with the Isles AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. He was great last year in his time on Long Island, but he may not be completely healthy. He has missed 11 games for the Sound Tigers. However, if he is healthy, he should be in the NHL. These three players, all very young, can be a good line to turn to late in games when Tavares and co. need some rest.

Forward Line 4: Jesse Joensuu---Marty Reasoner---Eric Boulton
Guess how many goals the three of these players combined for in the NHL last season? One. One single goal. It was scored by Marty Reasoner. (See link on his name.) Marty Reasoner was a complete bust last season for the Islanders, but I can't see them getting rid of him until the end of his contract. Eric Boulton played in 51 games for the Devils last season, yet he didn't register a single point offensively. He did get 115 penalty minutes though. The Islanders got him because they want him to be the type of player that Zenon Konopka is. A tough, gritty forward, who isn't afraid to drop the gloves with anyone or stand up for a teammate. If you've been following the Islanders for a few years, you probably remember Jesse Joensuu, who played last season in the Swedish league. Joensuu should be on the NHL roster when the season begins, and hopefully his year in Sweden helped him become a better player. This line probably won't produce much offense, but they can change the momentum of the game, with a hit, fight, or big play.

Defense Pairing 1: Mark Streit---Lubomir Visnovsky
After missing all of the 2010-11 season due to a fluke injury during training camp, Mark Streit came back better than anyone expected him to. He was the leader of the Islanders power play, played in every game, and was by far the Islanders best d-man. Throughout last year, Streit didn't have a great defense partner, so the Islanders went out and got him one on draft day. Over the past decade, Lubomir Visnovsky has been one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. An All-Star back in 2007, Visnovsky spent last season with Anaheim where he got 27 points in 68 games. Shortly after he was traded in June, Lubomir filed a grievance with the NHL to have has trade to the Isles voided. Unfortunately for him, he lost that grievance. There are rumors that he may stay in the KHL this season, but if he does, don't be surprised if he gets the Evgeni Nabokov treatment. If he comes to the Island, the duo of Streit and Visnovsky could be one of the best offensively in the NHL, and they could lead the Islanders power play to the top.

Defense Pairing 2: Travis Hamonic---Andy MacDonald
More question marks with this pairing. Travis Hamonic has been with Bridgeport all season, but he has missed 15 games with an injury. He should be ready to skate next week, and if he is, that would be the best timing. Andy MacDonald has been playing in the Czech league, where he recorded five points ini 21 games. These two have been the best defensive pair for the Isles for the past two seasons. They will be on the Islanders for the next few years, and they are just starting to hit their stride. If healthy, this duo will be on the Island and doing what they've been doing for the past few years.

Defense Pairing 3: Matt Carkner---Matt Donovan
The Islanders signed Matt Carkner to a three year deal before the lockout. Matt Donovan has played in three NHL games. Unlikely pairing? Yes, they are one. After Carkner, the last defenseman spot is open for the taking, and I believe Donovan is going to take it. He should earn an invite to training camp, and work his way onto the roster. He has 17 points in Bridgeport this season, and he has been healthy for the whole season. Carkner is a very physical player, he had 190 penalty minutes a few seasons ago. Carkner, like Eric Boulton, will provide a physical presence the Islanders have lacked over the past few years. Together, the duo of Matts will be the Isles final pair of defensemen, but this is the one that could change very quickly.

Starting Goalie: Evgeni Nabokov
Backup Goalie: Rick DiPietro
Heading into this season, there is absolutely no question who is the starter and who is the backup. DiPietro is starting right bench, so Nabokov will start in goal. If there is one person who can single handedly lead the Islanders, it will be Evgeni Nabokov. He was 19-18-3 last season, ending any goalie controversies on Long Island. If Nabby plays like he did with the Sharks over the past decade, the Isles could be on their way to the playoffs. If I had anything to say about Rick DiPietro, other than a buyout would be a great idea, I would be happy to write it here. Just keep Nabby on the ice, DP on the bench, and I think the Isles should be fine in net this season if they both stay healthy.

I think such players like Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Griffen Reinhart, and Aaron Ness will not be on the NHL team to start the season. These combinations are based on what the Isles have now, if they make another move, that's out of my control.

If you are questioning any of these combinations, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. I can't wait for the season to start, and get back to the way things used to be.

Lets Go Islanders!!!