Isles Report: It’s Now or Never. By Tony Stabile
It’s Now or Never – Isles Report
It’s December and the Islanders are 2 points out of the bottom of the conference, and 6 points out of a playoff spot. So which team are they? Are they the team that just took points in 6 straight games? (including the Blackhawks twice, Buffalo and Dallas) or are they the lowest scoring team in the NHL with a -26 goal differential?
The Islanders stand at a critical crossroads, they have a tough schedule the rest of December but a few timely wins can put them either right in the thick of the playoff hunt, or back in contention for Nail Yakupov (the projected #1 overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft).
After a very rough November which saw the team score on 25 goals in their 13 games, they seemed have turned it around in December having put in 19 goals already in their first 5 games (which they are 2-1-2). So is this a sign of things to come, or just the usual inconsistency of a young team trying to find their way? I think it’s a sign of things to come.
With the very consistent play of Al Montoya and the now awakening of the secondary scoring, I think the Islanders are going to be a very tough team to play going forward. Kyle Okposo has his game back on track, the re-emergence of Josh Bailey and the amazing scoring of Matt Moulson has the Islanders were they thought they would be in training camp, hanging with the top teams in the NHL. After playing 2 wildly entertaining games against the Blackhawks (both of which netted a point but eventually an overtime loss), the Isles came up with a stinker against the Penguins Saturday night. After losing top pairing defenseman Travis Hamonic to a ridiculous call early in the game, the Isles were shorthanded on the blue line and eventually the Pens made them pay with a 6-3 loss. It was the first time since Thanksgiving weekend they didn’t earn a point and it’s been even longer then that since they were out of a game in the 3rd period. Even with the setback against Pittsburgh, I think the Islanders are primed for a good month and have the opportunity to vault themselves back into playoff contention.
With games against Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton coming up, and a huge 2 games against the arch rival New York Rangers, the Islanders have to continue to do what has worked for them the past few weeks, keep putting pucks on net, and ride the outstanding play of Al Montoya. Even with Evgeni Nabokov back from IR, I would continue to ride Montoya. It’s obvious the team is extremely comfortable having him back there and it’s very obvious with their play. It’s not as if the team doesn’t play well in front of Nabokov (except for that game up in Boston), but I can’t see Coach Capuano going away from what’s been working. He’s a play the hot hand kind of coach and with how well the team has played the past few weeks, it should be an easy decision.
- On the injury front, Evgeni Nabokov has been activated off of IR and Kevin Poulin has been returned to Bridgeport. Expect Nabokov to get a start this week to get his feet wet. At this point, with Rick DiPietro again on the shelf, I would look for the Islanders to hold on to Nabokov for the foreseeable future. Nino Niederreiter, who is working his way back from the concussion he suffered in Dallas, has been skating with the team and is probably a few weeks away from returning.
- I don’t know who designed the NHL schedule this year but how can the Islanders play at MSG twice in 4 days? I mean come on, isn’t that a little ridiculous?
- Speaking of schedules, the team will make a visit up north later this week, first to Saint Paul and then a bit farther north to Winnipeg to face off against the Jets. It will be the Islanders first trip to Winnipeg since the return of the Jets.
- Checking in on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, defenseman Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness have 10 points and Calvin de Haan and Ty Wishart have 8 points. Considering all 4 are offensive minded defenseman, it’s good to see each of them playing well. Forward prospect Casey Cizikis leads the team with a +6 and also has 16 points in 26 games. Some good news, Rhett Rakhshani has returned from his concussion and has 5 points in his first 9 games back with the team.
Don’t forget the Hockey This Week Holiday/Viewing Party Thursday December 22 when the Islanders will take on the New York Rangers. We will be broadcasting live from Champions at the Long Island Marriott. So come and hang out with Sean, Paul, Mike and Me Thursday the 22nd and watch the Islanders take on the Rangers.
For Hockey This Week….I’m Tony Stabile
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonystabile