I know that Isles fans, especially those of us on Twitter, often get labeled as being a bit, shall we say, reactionary? Either this team is awesome or it’s worse than it’s ever been and there’s not a lot of in between.
Given that, and at the risk of being labeled a reactionary, I do think this 1-3 start falls directly on the makeup of this team, and I do believe it’s all wrong.
In fact, I even said it after game 1, a 5-3 loss to the Rangers.
The reason I said that had everything to do with the decisions that we made leading up to opening night, and what I’ve seen since then only seems to play into that fear.
Case in point. Isles fans were excited that Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier made the team, but thus far Barzal has played in one game, and while Beauvillier did get his first NHL goal last night, he’s currently playing 8-9 minutes per game in the 3 he has played. Seems to me that both of them are really only here temporarily and will be heading back to juniors shortly. You can’t keep them here and not give them ice time, that’s not how you develop young players. But, by keeping both of them on the roster, the Islanders had to jettison P.A. Parenteau, and keep only 6 defensemen. Those choices seem to be impacting what is going on with the team. First, on defense, instead of Seidenberg being a 7th D, he’s playing in the third pair with Thomas Hickey, and Calvin deHaan is playing on the 2nd pair with Johnny Boychuk. I haven’t really been impressed with those pairings, let alone the top pair of Hamonic and Leddy. How different would the matchups be in they could play Pulock with Hamonic and deHaan with Hickey? We don’t know, because there’s no roster spot available.
Up front, you would think that after John Tavares spent almost all of the preseason at the World Cup, that you’d maybe start the season playing him with someone he already knows, Strome, Lee, Nelson, etc. (Or even, you know the guy who was signed for that very purpose?) Instead we were “treated” to a line of Ladd-Tavares-Chimera in game one. Three guys who have never played together. It’s probably not surprising that the Isles have gotten nothing from their top line thus far.
Meanwhile if you look at the ice time, it would appear that the Isles 4th line is their second line, Josh Bailey is playing more than anyone, and the guys getting the least ice time are the ones this team desperately needs more production from, but it’s hard to get much when they play 10 minutes and under per game.
In short, the Islanders let a bunch of free agents walk away, only partially replaced them (Ladd, Chimera, Seidenberg in, Martin. Okposo, Neilsen, Strait out), find themselves wholly dependent on getting more consistency and production from their young players, who aren’t getting much ice time at all in order to produce those numbers.
And, of course, the Islanders also have a roster spot in use by their third string goalie, again.
This is not a plan. The team is 1-3, already falling behind in a highly competitive division. Instead of stringing along the roster, it’s time to get it to the point you would play out the season. That means, if Barzal and Beauvillier are destined for juniors, go ahead and send at least Barzal instead of sitting him. If Beauvillier is going to stay, go ahead and play he and Lee on the wings on the first two lines. Look, I like josh Bailey, he brings a lot to the game, but he’s a 3rd line guy at best offensively. If he’s going to play 22-23 minutes, we know where this goes, and it’s mediocre. I’d rather see the team live and die with one their young guns playing alongside Tavares, whether that is Lee, Beauvillier, Ho Sang, etc. They have more upside for scoring than the guys playing there now, and maybe, just maybe, their play-making ability will help get Ladd going, because he seems kind of lost out there.
On defense, the same holds true. Jack Capuano can talk about wanting his d more involved offensively, but look at those 6 again. Where is that going to come from? We know what this group can do, there’s not much room to grow with that group. There are, however, guys like Pulock who could bring some of that to the table.
Yes, it’s a risk, but let’s face facts here. The Islanders, on paper, are not as good as they were last season. The only way they get better is by improvement from within, which comes from young players stepping into new, expanded, roles. Look around the league at the teams who have some real young talent coming to the forefront early in the season, while the Islanders roll out Jason Chimera or Josh Bailey on their top line. Not much to get excited about there.
Brand me a negative nelly if you will, but I just don’t see how this team competes as it is currently constructed. It’s back to being a borderline playoff team instead of one taking the next step toward competing for a Stanley Cup. That’s not good enough.