A week ago it seemed as if the New York Islanders were dragging themselves out of the morass that was an unsightly 6-10-4 start to the 2016-17 season. A six-game stretch in which New York captured at least one point (5-0-1) and included wins over three division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, raised hope that the Islanders were pulling out of their funk and quite possibly finding a way to contend for a playoff spot.
Two frustrating losses within the Metropolitan Division have followed and once again zapped the good feelings which were building in Brooklyn.
It’s not that the Islanders did not play well, or have extended stretches of strong play, in their 6-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday or 4-2 home-ice defeat at the hands of the Capitals on Tuesday. On the contrary, the Islanders were tied in each game, 2-2, after two periods of play and had the chance to win both. However, they melted down over the final twenty minutes in Columbus, surrendering four goals in any ugly finish; and on Tuesday a pair of mistakes led to consecutive goals by Washington’s Matt Niskanen.
Plain and simple, the Islanders found ways to lose at a time when they absolutely can not afford to lose these close games any more, especially ones within the division where they sit in last place.
“These ones suck,” an angry, and honest, Casey Cizikas told The Hockey Writers following Tuesday’s loss. “I thought we played well enough to win (Tuesday), but we have to find a way to get points. Two games in a row now, tied 2-2 going into the third, we’ve got to find a way.”
Added goaltender Jaroslav Halak, “These games, we find ways to lose them. I don’t know what’s going. We just need to find a way to win these games. That’s the bottom line.”
Where’s the Poise?
Islanders head coach Jack Capuano was very calm Tuesday night in detailing the biggest issue with his club. He did not display anger, per se, in breaking down why the Isles lost another game they could have won. Instead he delivered the same message repeatedly over his five-minute post game press conference.
“We have some guys that are playing hard…but there are some guys that are not having any impact,” stated Capuano. “We’ve always been the type of team that needs all 20 guys going if we’re going to have success. We’re trying to show confidence in those guys that are struggling, but maybe it’s best to have them sit back and watch a game. We have some decisions we need to make.”
Capuano said that “not enough guys have that grind in their game…nor the consistency” for the team to have success.
The coach then shared the questions that have perplexed him in regards to certain players all season long.
“Where’s the poise? Where’s the confidence? Some guys are working, maybe not working smart, but they’re working, giving effort. There needs to be a method in how you’re going about your business. I think our guys care. I think they work hard. It’s more about, you have the puck on your stick and you give it right back to the other team. Things like that. Where’s the poise? Where’s the confidence?”
Time for Changes
Capuano never named names Tuesday night. He did applaud the play and effort of forwards Cal Clutterbuck, Nikolay Kulemin and Cizikas, and that of John Tavares and wingers Anders Lee and Josh Bailey.
So that would leave Ryan Strome, he of the two goals this season, none in his last twenty; big-ticket free agent Andrew Ladd, who has one goal in his last 14 and just three on the season; fellow free agent signee Jason Chimera, who at 4-5-9 is three points up on both Ladd and Strome; Alan Quine and Shane Prince likely fit into this grouping; and perhaps Brock Nelson, despite being second on the club in scoring, could be a part of this mix, too.
“I’m losing my patience a little bit with the guys and you have to hold guys accountable,” stated Capuano, who added that he planned to speak with management about some possible personnel moves, before concluding, “there’s not a lot of guys in the bullpen here.”
Former New Jersey Devils winger Steve Bernier, who played some with the Islanders a year ago, has scored five goals in his last five games for New York’s minor league affiliate in Bridgeport. He has always been a high-character player, which, along with his 633 games of NHL experience, makes him the most likely call up.
First rounders Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang are young first-year pros not ready for the NHL just yet; and Bridgeport’s leading scorer, Bracken Kearns, is a 35 year-old career minor leaguer.
Like the coach said, not much in the bullpen.
What the Fans Say
When some of Capuano’s post game comments posted on social media Tuesday night, Islanders fans reacted quickly and sharply against the head coach. A majority blamed Capuano for the team’s struggles.
General manager Garth Snow took his share of slings and arrows, as well.
Bottom line: the Islanders are struggling mightily, and their fans are simply not happy about it.
— Scott Clinco (@ScottClinco) December 14, 2016
Jim Cerny has covered the National Hockey League for more than two decades. He has handled play by play duties for the New York Islanders, hosted the NHL Live talk show, been a hockey writer for The New York Times, and spent the previous nine years as the Digital Content Producer for the New York Rangers offical team web sites and social media accounts.