Isles end preseason with question marks

First off, thoughts are with Chris Lee, removed from the ice on a stretcher tonight after being checked from behind by Rotislav Olesz. Lee was conscious and had movement in his extremities when he was taken off.

As for the game, a 6-0 loss to the Panthers ... yikes. Granted, it was the closeout of a preseason road trip, as well as the third game in four nights, but the Islanders didn't dress a patsy lineup of fill-ins, either -- although the top three defensemen were not in the lineup. Also, Lee's injury -- which you could understand sucking the air out of even a playoff game -- didn't happen until midway through the third, so it's not like the Isles were on autopilot for the whole game while their thoughts were with a friend.

First-rounder Josh Bailey returned to the lineup, playing 17+ minutes without registering a shot. And Rick DiPietro, facing live action for the first time in six months, shook the rust off for 60 minutes, although Bill Guerin says he wasn't worried about any of the goals DiPietro let up, and Botta described his play as strong.

Nonetheless, the Isles have closed out preseason play with some intriguing questions:

Is Josh Bailey ready for the big time?
Almost assuredly not, but perhaps they'll keep him around for a little more experience before shipping him to juniors for grooming. That's no disappointment, though. The kid impressed with his character and effort and won himself a contract. He's done nothing to cast doubt on GM Garth Snow's decision at the draft.

(Speaking of Bailey, Bob McKenzie notes that this year it looks like the top 5 picks from this summer will start the season on NHL rosters -- for the first time since 1990. What a class and what a sign, perhaps, of the ascendancy of youth in this league. As graybeard Doug Weight and others noted in Newsday the other day, this is ultimately a good thing: Players with skill are coming in more prepared than ever before, raising the level of play for the league.)

Will DiPietro be ready for the workload he wants right off the bat?
Considering his lack of work after finally being cleared to play, I wouldn't bet on it. On top of that, it's simply unwise to push a rehabbing guy that hard, that soon. Frankly, I'll be upset if he is carrying a 2007-08-like workload early on. This is the 15-year-deal guy here; we need to think long term. In my book, we're lucky if he's in passable form in his first regular season start. I wouldn't push it by giving him back-to-back season-opening starts like he wants.

Have the Islanders picked up Scott Gordon's system enough, given the compressed preseason timeline?
This is an interesting one. Ken at Islanders Outsider addressed this issue last week, after the Devils shutout (before the Isles beat the Devils in the return game):
The result only concerns me as a symptom of a larger problem—that the combination of a shortened training camp, a pile of injuries, and a new system to learn are conspiring to keep the Islanders from hitting their stride in time for the start of the season.

It really seems as though the team will have turn on like a switch in order to hit the ground running next Friday in New Jersey. With only three preseason games remaining, we hardly have a well oiled machine here. Maybe those three games will be sufficient to get enough players reasonably fit and comfortable with each other and the system. But, right now, I feel like they need more time.
Now that those three games have passed, I still wouldn't bet on the team being fully up to "overspeed" (sorry, bad pun), given their scoring struggles in preseason, which closed with another shutout. But, on the nights when they've been on their game, the reports have been encouraging. So we'll take some solace in that.

* * *
At this point, the beginning of the season looks like it will be a mixed bag, with nights where they tease us with what Gordon's system can do, interrupted by other nights that betray real growing pains. Considering where we were this summer, in coachless limbo, I can stomach that.

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