Islanders minute munchers, bench bums

It's still quite early; we shouldn't be using averages to read much into anything. But some of the Islanders' numbers after three games give me a few things to keep an eye on -- both in how Scott Gordon is using certain players and how the Islanders have achieved three regulation ties thus far.

First, the alarming thing (if you're into alarm at this early stage): 8 goals for, 9 goals against. Not the what, but the how: Half of their goals have come on the powerplay (4 for 17), including one successful 5-on-3. Meanwhile, all of their goals against have come at 5-on-5 (except for the 4-on-4 OT goal in Ottawa) -- which is great news for the penalty kill (10 for 10 so far), but not for a team's sustainable long-term success. Obviously the PK is going to lose 13-20% of its chances over the long haul. You don't want the team's day-to-day chances to depend on insane special teams and good refereeing. The ratio of PP/PK chances will likely level out a bit, even if Gordon's aggressive system should theoretically draw infractions from the other team.

Again, it's early, and I only bring this up because 5-on-5 was such a glaring weakness last year. But that's also to be expected of a developing team of thin or unproven depth. The Islanders have the horses to deliver effective special teams. The question is can they go 9-12 deep up front -- or, more worryingly, 4-6 deep on the blueline -- to keep the tables even at 5-on-5?

Meanwhile, 2-3 games is nothing, but I think we already see what Gordon intends for players like Rob Schremp, Jeff Tambellini, Sean Bergenheim and others.

It should be no surprise that Mark Streit leads the team in TOI with 26:52 per game. At forward, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo are both around 21 minutes. As the team's three best players, those guys are going to get the biggest minutes (in all three phases for Streit and Okposo).

Further down the minutes played list are some other things to watch:

The Shremp/Tambellini Duality

I've argued that Schremp and Tambellini, yet to appear in the same lineup, are vying for the same spot (2nd-line wing), but that's not exactly so. Understandably, Schremp thus far has been an all-or-nothing proposition: Either he becomes a 2nd-line scorer and powerplay specialist, or there may be no role for him. In two games, Schremp's had 3:15 of PP time per game -- not bad for the 2nd unit. Tambellini, on the other hand, got just 1:06 of scrap PP time in the opener, yet also 1:03 on the penalty kill -- again, we have a ridiculously small sample, but that continues a trend from last season's second half. As Gordon has talked in the past about Tambellini becoming a more complete player, I think Gordon sees a more versatile role for him. Perhaps a general plug-in on the PP and PK, but not a featured member of either unit.

Incidentally, Katie Strang had quotes from Gordon on Tambellini Sunday afternoon:

I asked  Gordon what Jeff Tambellini must show him to get back in the lineup, and he said that he doesn't have to show him anything. Gordon said he knows what Tambellini can do, and although he must still prove himself a goalscorer, he's been the odd man out because of the numbers game. Since plucking Schremp off waivers, Gordon wants to see what he can do and help him assimilate to the system.

I think that, plus the need for physicality, tells us why Tambellini didn't fill in when Trent Hunter and Doug Weight were injured yesterday: They'd already decided to dress Joel Rechlicz, and with Rechlicz being a three-minute guy, that opens a lot of non-powerplay minutes. They probably wanted someone who could take faceoffs and be a dedicated defensive forward; thus, re-enter Nate Thompson.

But About That Fourth Line

As he was all last year, Tim Jackman appears to be the guy who will get the least minutes (or second-least whenever a pure enforcer is in the lineup). He's averaged 7:30 per game in three games so far, the only man besides Rechlicz who's under 13 minutes. Thompson, on the other hand, is a go-to penalty killer when he's in the lineup, and he's averaged nearly three minutes on that unit in his two games.

Sean Bergenheim: The Other 'What's My Role?' Guy

And who's had the smallest dose of ice time outside of Rechlicz, Jackman and Thompson? The enigmatic Sean Bergenheim. Last year, it was pretty clear Bergenheim fancied a more offensive role for himself. At times, he showed he can do that, but his penchant for bad penalties undermined that. This season, if he's playing with the slick-passing Doug Weight, I can see some offensive moments opening up for him. But as he did last season, Gordon appears to value Bergenheim more for his workhorse attitude than for his still-debatable hands: In three games, he's averaged 4:11 per game on the PK unit, plus only a minimal appearance (44 seconds total) on the powerplay, where he's behind several other guys with hands.

Again, it's three games, it may not mean a thing. But one week into the season, it gives us a few things to keep an eye on going forward.

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