Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The New York Islanders limp into the final game before the league-mandated five-day bye with questions being asked of them by head coach Doug Weight and the entire fanbase about their heart, grit, and battle level.
Their unconventional style of play has now become unsustainable, as the team has gone 5-11-2 in their last 18 games, allowing 79 goals in the process (4.39 goals against per game). They had jumped out to a 15-7-2 start after beating the Vancouver Canucks on November 28.
Their latest setback, a 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night at Barclays Center, was their fifth straight defeat in regulation, a streak during which they have been outscored 25-8. Combined with the Philadelphia Flyers' win today, the Islanders have now dropped to last in the Metropolitan division, an epic fall forged on insufficient defensive responsibility.
"Um, we have to stop making unprofessional mistakes. We had a good first period, and then make a mistake that you just can't make at this level. By the time you realize it, it's 2-0 and we're chasing the game again, the storyline a lot lately" Cal Clutterbuck said last night in a somber locker room. "If we continue, we will see the same results, if we fix them, we'll get back on track. Good teams in the NHL make these kinds of mistakes once in a while, we're making them often. I really don't know what else to say."
With Johnny Boychuk still on the shelf nursing a lower body injury and Calvin de Haan out for the season after shoulder surgery, the Islanders' beleaguered and under-siege defense sees no help on the horizon. Ryan Pulock left last night's game with a lower body injury and Arthur Staple of Newsday today reported Devon Toews would also undergo shoulder surgery, ending his 2017-18 season.
Add to that injuries to Josh Bailey (lower body) and Andrew Ladd (upper body), all occurring in last night's loss, and you have a tsunami of bad news surrounding a franchise that just recently received a huge shot in the arm with news of the arena at Belmont Park. Their record of 20-18-4 puts them at a .524 points percentage and ever-so-slightly ahead of last years pace, a pace which cost them a playoff spot. It's play that Weight has been worried about for some time now.
"I've been concerned for a few weeks (sigh)," Weight said in his post-game press conference. "At the same time, we watch teams like Carolina and the Rangers, who got off to slow starts, and everyone is panicked, saying it can't be fixed. It's a crazy, long year. Worse on the players, who are trying to figure it out. It's a concerning time, we look tired, scoring has dried out."
General manager Garth Snow, who deserves plenty of blame for what has occurred over the last decade of this organization, bears the ultimate responsibility of figuring out what he can do to this roster, if anything, to inject some life and energy. There are no top-four defensemen on the market to be had, and even if there were, it would cost a lot more than what the Islanders have to offer, since Mathew Barzal is obviously a non-starter in all conversations. Not to mention, it's hard to see one player changing around an entire defense that has struggled all season, even before the injuries hit.
As far as struggling offensive players go, anyone on the Islanders bottom six has seen their stock plummet over the course of the 2017-18 season and that's taking Casey Cizikas, who you aren't dealing, out of that equation. Josh Ho-Sang is languishing in Bridgeport, still struggling for consistency, according to some reports, and Michael Dal Colle is crawling in his development instead of running. Who, in terms of worth and impact, are the Islanders getting for Brock Nelson, exactly?
It's easy to sit back and scream for a deal to be made, believe me, I get it. But, at the end of the day, there just doesn't seem a logical one out there to be made, short of an earth-shattering bomb of a move involving captain John Tavares. And we all know, that isn't happening.
In the off-season, there were some questions about the defense in the wake of the Travis Hamonic trade, but let's be completely honest here. Did anyone think they would be this bad and porous? Did anyone think the goaltending would regress to an NHL-low .895 save percentage? If you did, you're either Nostradamus or a liar.
Tavares and Anders Lee both mimicked each other last night, saying the team must "stick together, fight through the bad results as a group. We've played some real good hockey this season". Yes, they have….offensively. Defensively, they have not played their best hockey since training camp. When they were playing each other.
Unfortunately, what you see is likely what you get for a while. What that ultimately means is the current roster will be liable for digging itself out of a hole that threatens to derail a once promising season. A hole that they created.