You might see a five-game losing streak -- with a 9-2 drubbing the latest wound -- and think, "Yeesh, rooting on a losing team is misery." And it is, in a sense. But in another sense, the fun is just beginning for this Islanders season. Once any remnant hopes of playoff contention are exorcised, the real experiment can begin.
The real question is why the Islanders have given up at least four goals in each of the seven losses in the past eight games and 37 overall not counting two empty-netters in those seven losses. It appears the system is deeply flawed, at least the way the Islanders play it, as DiPietro is destined to discover soon enough.
>>Greg Logan, On the Islanders Beat
From the beginning, we've known deep in our hockey souls that this season is a laboratory experiment: An experiment to evaluate what the Islanders have in their younger players and Bridgeport prospects (alas, two brighter ones in Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo now have long-term injuries, but the Sound Tigers are 17-6-1 in the AHL). An experiment with a new, young coach who offers an interesting approach and a theoretically entertaining style of play. An experiment to see if old dogs like Doug Weight and Bill Guerin -- holding the fort until the lottery cavalry arrives -- can learn Gordon's new tricks.
No matter the injuries, roster moves, ups or downs, two underlying questions will remain throughout this whole season: 1) Is Gordon's system sustainable (i.e. Does it increase fatigue? Can it protect leads? etc.), and 2) When the record inevitably turns south, is it the lack of talent undermining the system, or is it a lack of will among players to keep on keepin' on in this energy-demanding system amid their descent through the standings?
Or, as Logan so succinctly put it: Is the system flawed, or is the flaw in the way these underskilled Islanders play it?
In the last 8 games (7 of them losses), the Islanders have given up the following shot totals: 30, 39, 21 47, 17, 37, 25, 38. The "17" in that sequence was the 5-1 loss to Atlanta, which Gordon (alone) felt was a fluke.
So, are the Islanders giving up too many chances? Does the aggressive forecheck allow for too many breakdowns? Note, the range in leaguewide shots against per game currently goes from 25.7 to 35.2. Two .500 teams are at those extremes, in Los Angeles (low) and Florida (high).
This is what I mean by "fun." We knew that, productivity-wise, this would be a lost season -- but also a necessary painful step in the long-term plan. In the meantime, though, there are a lot of variables to watch as adjustments and different parts are plugged in and out of this experiment. Bringing up prospects, the growth of Josh Bailey, the return (some day) of Rick DiPietro, Okposo and Nielsen.
While injuries have helped sink the club in the standings -- and I include in that Brendan Witt, who still doesn't look right -- they've also provided a game-by-game opportunity to observe these experimental variables in action. And in hockey, the best time to experiment is when there's nothing to lose. The only time losing can be stomached like this is when expectations are already low, and yet a chance of light gleams at the end of the tunnel.