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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!!