Zero offense and an already weak D thinned by injuries: Presenting your five-game losing streak.
I don't want to say "I told you so," but this is why my joy in the Islanders' post-Christmas winning ways is frequently couched with self-admonitions to enjoy it while it lasts. This payroll-floor squad's margin of error is and has always been thin; when they don't come out in peak Gordon Laboratory form, when they fail to get the first lead, when their talent lacks the ability to regularly mount comebacks (see: Special Teams failure), they fall prey to a team that can sit on a 2-0 lead and watch the Islanders hang themselves.
Streaks are misleading in many ways. Take a typical winning streak and a typical losing streak, and you can likely pick a quarter to a half of the games that could have gone either way, undermining the human tendency to fit often random events into uniform categories. But while I'd put much of the Islanders' recent winning run in that category (the five shootout "wins," for starters), I wouldn't say the same of any of these five losses in a row.
We can talk about the coaching not getting the same effort from the players as they displayed in December and early January, and there is merit in that. But to me, 100% effort is never there for any coach, for any humans -- and the way an under-skilled team covers warts is by using its best players to achieve above average results on special teams. Yet the Islanders, despite having enough talent to make a good first powerplay unit and competent penalty kill, continue to wallow in the bottom five of the league -- and now bottom three -- in both phases (75.1 and 15.7 percent).
I know I harp on it in most game previews, but right now would be a great time to get answers from the coaching staff about why the special teams have struggled all season and what is being done to correct it.
Today produced another 0-for-4 by the Islanders PP. One was canceled by a Kyle Okposo high-sticking penalty, but a late 4-on-3 -- otherwise well run -- was sabotaged by repeated shots that missed the net. At least two opportunities to beat Tomas Vokoun on that pivotal powerplay were spoiled not by lack of opportunity but by lack of finish. In Vokoun's growing cabinet of shutouts, he'll file this one under "Rather Relaxing, Actually."
Meanwhile, the Panthers' PP goal happened after Bruno Gervais made a shorthanded push that created a (unsuccessful) scoring chance, and the Islanders never recovered on the counter-attack, allowing Jordon Leopold to convert a nice setup after David Booth's speed created chaos.
And that's when the Islanders' thin roster stuck out. Having conceded the lead (it was made 2-0 by a back-breaking Keith Ballard goal with 10 seconds left in the 2nd), even the Islanders' best third-period effort and pressure could not beat Vokoun.
- Credit to Freddy Meyer for keeping the fire burning, repeatedly pinching in to try to force a comeback. His goal was disallowed only by a millisecond of poor timing (the net going off just before the puck trickled over the line). Andrew MacDonald also had another game of mostly smart plays in 22:58.
- New Lines: Rob Schremp, Okposo and Josh Bailey made a nice combination, probably the Islanders' best line. I'm not sure what, if anything, will get John Tavares better production, but it made sense to mix it up that way. Schremp playing with two high-end talents works; Tavares with Blake Comeau and Sean Bergenheim provides a different look.
- Sell-off time? It's often speculated that a few other teams covet Trent Hunter. He's a nice veteran who fills a role and sometimes scores in spurts. But his bally-hood shot has been unthreatening lately (including today), and his once-legendary approach to delivering hits has fallen away. As one of the few players who might -- stress might -- attract interest at the deadline, Hunter offers would be worth a listen. That and plenty of other trade deadline speculation will occupy from here through early March.
- Goaltending: Rick DiPietro again went fairly untested. With 25 shots total and a 2-0 lead, the Panthers only pressed when offensive opportunities were handed to them. DiPietro's aggressive puckhandling helped a couple of times, and it also cost the Isles a trapezoid penalty early in the first.
- Good Guy Dept.: As a hockey fan, it was great to see David Booth back and almost not missing a beat. He was flying. He was everywhere. He gave the Islanders fits.
Islanders January Totals: 7-7-0, also known as: 3 reg. wins, 4 SO wins, 7 reg. losses | 38 GF, 42 GA
Bleak as January has closed, as ineffective as some on this team appear lately (Where have you gone lately, my dear Frans Nielsen?), I still expect the parity and mediocrity of this conference to keep the Islanders within a streak's distance of the playoff bubble through the deadline.
The key will be whether Garth Snow sees that for what it is or is misled into thinking his deadline moves should be made with an eye toward getting into the playoffs. Given Snow's approach the last few years, I trust he will take the cold, calculating, long-term approach at the risk of ticking off any veterans who want to "win now."
Wishing for some recuperative relaxation in Florida, and some real answers on display by Thursday in Tampa...