A source also said that the team's performance has been hindered by the undesirable dynamic with three goaltenders in play.
"Look at where we were at, we had a playoff spot," said a player who requested anonymity. "Then we went on a losing streak and now we're on the outside looking in."
>>Newsday [sub.], quoting some Quixote who thought five shootout wins means you're a playoff team
Let it never be said that carrying three goalies doesn't pose problems, both logistical and psychological: From practice to game time to the delicate rhythm of crazy goalies, it certainly does. Yet let it also never be said that a player seeking excuses will have trouble finding them -- and anonymously venting them when things go bad.
The Rick DiPietro situation is far from ideal, yet at least this year the Islanders finally entered the 12-step program to address it. First step: Admit that you have a problem. They drafted goalies in the 2nd and 3rd rounds last summer, they signed two established NHL starters for this season, and they had a plan for re-introducing the man on the 15-year contract when ready to be tested. It was never going to be graceful, but it had to be done for this franchise to move forward. Everyone knew that evaluating DiPietro was an uncomfortable but necessary step for the franchise's long-term planning. ("Can he be healthy again? If healthy, can he regain his form?" etc. Necessary questions, all.)
I understand players being bummed that it hasn't worked out to perfection for the eminently likable Martin Biron: He overpriced himself last summer, ended up with this 1C situation as a last alternative, never played well enough to wrest the starting reins from Dwayne Roloson, and thus wasn't a desirable commodity at the trade deadline. That's a shame.
And this is just Newsday's first "controversial" locker room story of the season, so I don't want to blow it up; I welcome more locker room insight. But what alarms me as a fan is the stipulation from a player that this is why the team started losing and lost its ever-tenuous, incredibly brief, shootout- and extra-games-played-aided January hold on "a playoff spot." And not, you know, the entire roster's inherent deficiencies. Let's review the facts, shall we?
The Shootout: Putting Lipstick on a Pig Since 2005
On Jan. 21, the Islanders had just completed an unsustainable 10-3-1 run -- a streak that, importantly, included five shootout wins, which is the NHL's version of a coin flip even when you have Frans Nielsen on your side. Shootout-aided or not, it was easily their best streak of the season. The surge mitigated a December losing streak (seven losses in nine games) and put them at 23-20-8, good for 8th place in the mediocre East, one point ahead of the ninth-place Flyers, who had two games in hand. That's right: The Islanders' best run of the season was not only heavily shootout-dependent, but it elevated them to all of 8th place by one point, thanks to extra games played.
Two of the wins on that streak (one regulation shutout of New Jersey, one shootout win) went to Rick DiPietro, though even at the time many of us noted that DiPietro didn't look to be match fit.
Immediately after that date, the Islanders went on the aforementioned losing streak -- seven regulation losses in a row -- during which they scored nine goals. Nine. A pox on those three goalies for holding back the Islanders offense!
Now, during that streak, DiPietro took three of the seven losses, allowing three goals twice and two goals once. Roloson took the other four. I'm sure DP's re-introduction to the squad created empathy for Biron, who immediately became the odd man out and did not play between Dec. 27 and Feb. 9. But this was always going to be the case. It wasn't a question of if, but when, DiPietro returned -- and every goalie and player knew it coming into the season. Every player signed up for this. Uncomfortable, hardly ideal, but necessary.
To that point, returning to the Newsday article:
Those unhappy with the current circumstances believe that the organization's efforts to get DiPietro back into the lineup have resulted in a difficult situation for all parties involved.
"If that continues, the organization will never improve," a source said. "Things will only continue to plummet."
Yes, it's difficult. But the previous mistake of a 15-year commitment to a goaltender necessitates the difficult situation of figuring out what they have, the sooner the better. There's really no way around it.
Bigger Problems than a Crowded Crease
Regardless, then as now, this team is still not very good. They're in the second year of a franchise restart, on a cap floor budget (itself inflated by the Yashin buyout), with their three most talented forwards at age 21 or younger, each experiencing the slumps and flashes that young forwards go through.
That winning streak did not alter several underlying problems: that the Islanders have the NHL's 27th-ranked offense (currently 2.5 GF/GP), the 29th-ranked powerplay (currently 15.3%), and the 28th-ranked 5-on-5 goal differential (currently 0.82). The penalty kill is also 29th, at 75.3%.
If a player wants to blame all of the above on the discomfort of three goalies' presence at practice, he is in need of a bigger mirror, and he probably believes in the Church of Momentum.
* * *
I may be making a little too much out of a few (anonymous) quotes that are likely born out of frustration over losing. And any "source said, anonymous player said" story like this is carefully worded and pieced together by a beat reporter to convey a mood without betraying a trust or risking players freezing you out of further access. Statements in print require context we just can't grab.
It's just that this team certainly has problems -- other, immediate problems -- so I'd hate to see players or management sweep their own failings under the rug in the name of a convenient scapegoat: Oh, it's the presence of three goaltenders; "it's just not good for anyone." Here, have a tissue.
No, for the current squad and their professed playoff aspirations, there are greater things to figure out: There's the matter of bad special teams, of the curious balance of ice time for underachieving youth versus aging (and likewise underachieving) UFAs, the thin blueline Garth Snow seems to continually overvalue, and ... well what is to come of DiPietro, anyway?
DiPietro is an issue that will resolve itself one way or another on the ice and in the doctor's office. It sucks, but that's the problem they gave themselves in 2006, which the hockey gods have tortured them with ever since. I'm more concerned about the constitution of this team's roster going forward, and how it's handled. How the players handle themselves.
'Cause the way they're scoring, right now Terry Sawchuk couldn't get this team in a playoff spot.