Hockey from the Blind Side, on the Edge of Concern

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How many Islander fans had to be shaken back to consciousness after the completely lackluster effort against the Philadelphia Flyers in their 4-0 loss yesterday? For the halfway point in the season, I don’t want to go as far as using the word, “disgrace” to describe yesterday’s 60 minutes of hockey demonstrated by the New York Islanders, but my personal feelings are that it was pretty darn close.

How does a team follow up a loss in a really big game against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in game 7 by with such a listless effort? Then again, how do you not mentally show up to said big game against the Washington Capitals at home? These are questions, among others, that I have been left pondering.

I am sitting here basically wondering what in the world is going on with this team? It is incredible for me to consider that this team that played with so much energy and excitement throughout most of last season, with virtually no changes to its roster, has not looked at all like they did just a year ago.You can take the position that they are still second in the Metro Division and are in pretty good shape in the overall Eastern Conference standings. To me, it’s been a lot of smoke and mirrors that has mainly come from the magic of Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak and a really solid stretch of 15 or so games from the penalty kill. Beyond that, 5-on-5 play, the power play, and secondary scoring has been as inconsistent as can be. Frankly, I have to be honest when I say that I am amazed the New York Islanders are where they are in the standings because they have literally stolen points they didn’t deserve to have. Maybe, this is balance being shown by the “hockey Gods”, but the reality is, the Isles are plain lucky to be where they are right now in the playoff picture.

As much as I often agree with the comments and observations made on the Islanders Point Blank podcast, I can’t agree with their recent statements about Isles fans showing too much concern over nothing. Yes, as fans, we do often expect the other shoe to drop, and we’ve definitely been subjected to a lot of reasons why we often do expect the worse. However, from game #1 to the present, this team has not played the same it did last year and things have been completely Off. I’ve spoken to enough Islander fans, including a conversation Gary and I had on a recent show in which we interviewed Dan Saraceni of Lighthouse Hockey, and he agreed with my thoughts about Something seeming to be missing from the team this year.

Yes, injuries to Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic aren’t going to help, but the team has enough defensive depth and I don’t think that certainly reflects at all on the overall scheme of things. . In no particular order, nor is this probably a complete rundown on the factors, here are some “blind observations” that sum up my opinions on the state of the New York Islanders as it stands today:

• When you have to rely on the fourth line to do much of the important scoring, there is a problem. This is not to take away from the Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck line at all, as I have been impressed and happy with those guys from day #1.

• What is going on with John Tavares? OK. I said it. People have been downplaying his lack of scoring this season, but to me, there is something wrong. Simply stated, JT is not playing like the JT we have seen in the past.

• Ryan STrome needs to step up his game. He is a much better and dynamic play maker and scorer then we have often seen this season. We’ve seen flashes of just how good he can be, but that needs to be an every night showing.

• Anders Lee needs to score more goals. He needs to be the dominating big, heavy body in front of the opposing net and get those “dirty goals” on a nightly basis.

• We need much more out of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin. Both are capable of Much more on the offensive end, and overpaid or not, as many say, they need to deliver the goods.

• The defense needs to contribute more on the offensive end of things.

• The power play needs to be a lot more consistent and actually look like an organize power play. Too many times, it just seems as if they are skating around or passing the puck around with little strategy involved.

• What happened to the days in which the Islanders outshot, out hit and out played opponents? Twenty shots on net yesterday against the Flyers? …

At the start of this season, I was a firm believer in the notion that Garth Snow didn’t need to do anything with this roster. I felt that if the Isles stayed the course, they would get better and better as the team they are and learn from last season’s playoff disappointment. However, at this moment, does Snow need to do something to shake up the locker room? Or will that only hurt the chemistry and do more damage as the moulson trade did?

All I know is Something needs to be done. Whether it’s a closed door meeting among the players or some serious lineup shuffling, things cannot be allowed to continue as they are. It’s certainly not a time to “panic”, and, fortunately, the Islanders are not in a position in which their lack of play has put them outside of the playoff picture. Nevertheless, it’s become obvious that Something is wrong with the team.

Whether you want to break it down to individual components, whether it’s the rumored difficulties adjusting to playing in Brooklyn, or there is something else going on, all I know is things need to change and change Soon. They cannot come out and play as they did in Philadelphia yesterday and expect to either make it to the playoffs or stick beyond the first round. That is the bottom line. Before it does get to be too late, we need to see this team play with the intensity, consistency and excitement that we witnessed throughout most of last season …