That was an awfully short reprieve; but with how their season has gone so far, it comes as no surprise that the New York Islanders could not follow Monday’s uplifting 4-2 home-ice win over the Vancouver Canucks with another Thursday night in Tampa against the Lightning.
An inability to stay out of the penalty box against one of the league’s better power plays was the main culprit in the 4-1 loss to the Bolts. It didn’t help that an angry Jaroslav Halak was pulled from this game with the Islanders trailing 3-0 early in the second period either.
Thursday’s defeat drops the Isles to a dismal 5-7-2 on the season. Their 12 points are second-fewest in the Eastern Conference and places them 24th overall in the entire league. Not exactly what new ownership was counting on following back-to-back 100-point seasons and the franchise’s first playoff series win in 23 years last spring.
Their problems are multi-fold, but let’s take a look at what ails the Islanders most right now.
Not So Special
New York surrendered two more power play goals Thursday, and has now given up at least one in eight consecutive games. During this span the Islanders were shorthanded 32 times, allowing 12 power play goals. The Islanders penalty kill currently ranks 26th in the National Hockey League at 75.9 percent. A year ago it ranked fourth overall, nearly nine full percentage points higher than this season’s 14-game sample, so far.
Someone please page Frans Nielsen. Oh, right, he’s in Detroit now. Yikes.
What’s more damning than the numbers themselves is the timing of some of the power play goals the Islanders are giving up. Take Thursday night for example. After a relatively strong start to the first period, the Islanders allow a Steven Stamkos power play snipe at 8:03 with John Tavares in the box. A good start turns into a 1-0 road deficit.
Then trailing 2-0 early in the second period, Calvin De Haan took an interference penalty. Thirty-three seconds later Stamkos found Tyler Johnson for another power play tally. 3-0 Lightning. Game, set, and match.
It hasn’t been better by any stretch on the other side of the special teams for the Isles. They have scored just one power play goal of their own in the past six games and have a grand total of four so far on the season. Not surprisingly the Islanders are 27th in power play efficiency, converting at a paltry 10.5 percent.
Tavares has scored two of the team’s power play goals. Ryan Strome and Shane Prince have the others. That would be a sum total of zero power play goals for the team’s defensemen, and nada for the likes of Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and Anders Lee up front.
Captain My Captain
Tavares does lead the team with five goals and 11 points through 14 games, but the Islanders captain also needs to be better. He has more penalty minutes (16) than points this year, an equation that spells disaster for the team from Brooklyn.
It is not Tavares’ fault that yet again he does not have a true No. 1 winger riding shotgun on his line. Bailey has been the one consistent alongside Tavares this year, but he is not really a top line forward is he? Andrew Ladd started the season on the other wing, but dropped down to other lines after a 12-game scoring drought to begin his Islanders career. With goals in successive games, perhaps Ladd can now find some chemistry with the captain.
Tavares had recorded a point in five straight games before being blanked in Tampa. That’s nice, but when you are John Tavares, bona-fide National Hockey League superstar, you need to find ways to take over games and carry your team, when struggling, over the finish line. Perhaps that is an unfair burden, but one a great talent such as Tavares must bear even while facing double teams and the opposition’s top defensemen every shift.
The 26 year-old captain has had one of those games so far this season. In the Isles 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on October 23, Tavares scored a pair of goals and added an assist. After that game the Islanders have posted a 2-4-2 mark and Tavares has not had a similar virtuoso performance.
As John Tavares goes, so go the New York Islanders.
Who’s in Goal?
For the second straight season the Islanders are carrying three goaltenders on the roster, even though J.F. Berube has yet to play a single game after appearing in seven a year ago behind the veterans Halak and Thomas Greiss. Plain and simple this plan is not working.
Hard to figure out NY Islanders using 3 goalie system for 2nd year. Biggest issue is goalies don't get enough practice time to stay sharp.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) October 29, 2016
Halak, whose agent already went public with their displeasure of this situation, was furious upon being pulled by head coach Jack Capuano Thursday night. After allowing three goals on 16 shots in just under 23 minutes against the Lightning, the World Cup of Hockey hero for the European squad owns a 3-4-2 record, 3.03 GAA and .903 save percentage in ten appearances.
Greiss, last spring’s surprising post-season star, owns a somewhat pedestrian 2-3-0, 2.71, .909 ledger.
Oh, and was it mentioned that the 25 year-old Berube has yet to play?
It’s not just the goalies, of course, or their uncomfortable three-headed situation. It’s the team defense in front of them. Quite simply the Islanders have too often been running around, caught out of position, losing puck battles, and perhaps playing with less of an edge than has been a staple under Capuano for the past several years.
The goaltending questions need to be resolved; and the defense corps and forwards need to lend a stronger hand.
It wouldn’t hurt the team’s overall defense if the Islanders found a way to stay out of the box either.
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.