Taking Stock: Islanders Risers and Fallers through 10 Games

Ten games is too early for report cards but not too early for general temperature checks. With the Islanders at 3-5-1 and struggling for goals -- last night's shutout dropped them to the bottom of the league at 1.8 GF/GP -- this is a quick look at who's tending upward and who's trending downward since before the preseason.

Some are obvious, some not so much, some probably sound crazy. As always, offer your own in comments.

Fallers

Michael Grabner -- Slow starts and streaky scoring is an expected part of the package with Grabner. Even with the new contract, that's tolerable. Importantly, he's continued to force turnovers and be a wonder on the PK. But the team needs more than a 24-goal pace from its 34-goal scorer.

Andrew MacDonald -- This is unfair for a player coming off hip surgery and requiring frequent rest days. But MacDonald and his partner have not been quite what they were last year. More mistakes, more average nights so far.

Travis Hamonic -- Last night was a rough game and fresh on the mind. A-Mac's recovery could be slowing him down by proxy, too. Probably not a "sophomore slump." Regardless, the top pair hasn't been what it was last season -- but that's more a reflection of high expectations coming into the season. They need to be a great pair for this season to work.

Those first three are "fallers" by virtue of high expectations for them. Now...

Kyle Okposo -- Has not been himself, not the Okposo Islanders fans fell in love with -- the Tazmanian devil who inserts himself into every boards battle, and gets shots off from dangerous areas. He has 20 shots on goal, but too few have been threatening. His is an example of being both a consequence and a cause of the Islanders' offensive slump.

Josh Bailey -- Paradoxically, his line with Blake Comeau has finally shown signs of improvement just as the Islanders winless streak has extended to five and now six. But zero points is zero points. Some defensive roles in the season's opening games doesn't excuse at times lost and maddening play. Line changes may be coming Saturday against the Capitals. Change or not, we'll see which way he's headed after 10 more games.

Blake Comeau -- Equally lost as his linemate in the early going, he's likewise started to turn things around. But that's qualified praise for a 24-goal scorer who has zero points through 10 games, isn't it?

Brian Rolston -- Brought in to be an upgrade over injury-challenged Trent Hunter, he may be that but not by much. (Hunter has appeared in five games for the Kings.) Hasn't been a difference-maker on the powerplay, and deserves at least equal parts blame in the struggles of the third line.

Kevin Poulin -- A rough start in Bridgeport so far for the promising goalkeeper. This is a small sample deal that's likely to change. But most probably figured him to be top of the pecking order there.

 

Risers

John Tavares -- His team has scored only 17 goals and he has seven of them. A point-per-game player and 50% on the faceoff dot, Tavares has answered every offseason question so far. I'm one of the more guarded Islanders fans when it comes to expectations for Tavares: Is he very good? Yes. Will he be truly special? I don't know. But the difference in his skating this year is stunning, and Tavares's most admirable strength -- his desire to keep improving -- has served him well. Even if he never becomes a true power vs. power top center, he is unquestionably a game changer who can strike at any moment. Meanwhile, Matt Duchene has been moved to wing in Colorado.

Evgeni Nabokov -- No goalie has had enough reps to prove much of anything, but Nabby's starts have all been strong, and he's done a lot to soothe wounds from last season. He's part of a surprisingly functional goaltending trio right now, and he even got hurt at the right time to give DiPietro his first reps.

Rick DiPietro -- Again, no goalie has had enough reps to prove a thing, and DiPietro has had the fewest reps of all. But he's done fine in both starts (don't tell Puck Daddy) and looked healthier than he's been in years. That said, the movement still bears watching, and seeing him handle the puck is like watching my six-year-old nephew drive the mini-Jeep go-kart around the yard: Well yeah, he's having fun -- but also taking crazy risks for the sake of the journey.

Marty Reasoner -- He has been as advertised, but I think more skeptical Islanders fans are seeing the value he brings. He has stabilized the center depth and the fourth line.

Matt Martin -- In an overzealous hitting role last year, this season he's picked his spots wisely and, just as importantly, he's avoided dangerous hits and provided sound work on the 4th line's wing.

Steve Staios and Jay Pandolfo -- If Grabner, MacDonald and Hamonic are a victim of high expectation, these two are beneficiaries of low ones, coming in on training camp tryouts. Not exactly "risers," but holding up their end of the veterans' bargain when I wasn't sure either would even make it this far. Their presence may be a sign of the depth challenges that still ail the Islanders, but their play has not been the source of the team's problems through 10 games. With the Islanders on a losing streak, if these two can help in the nebulous "veteran leadership" category, that'd be great.

 

Bonus Risers

Casey Cizikas, Justin DiBenedetto, Tim Wallace -- The refreshingly productive top line at Bridgeport is off to a nice start and probably contains the Islanders' first AHL call-up of the season. When that happens is Fortune's guess.

 

Additions? Rebuttals? OT comments about Project Runway? Have at it.

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