With just 18 games remaining in the New York Islanders season, are there roles to be won for next year as 2011-12 winds down? [NOTE: If you're watching or following Bridgeport tonight, check the FanShots in case there is a FanShot/game thread as threatened. Otherwise, you can talk it up here.]
That's been a frequent -- and obvious -- topic in several of our initial video posts on our Lighthouse Hockey YouTube channel [shameless cross-platform plug], but with the 8th seed nine points and six teams away it's one that will stay on the radar. Fortunately, it's one where the possible answers can change day by day.
And to add to the theater, it's also one where the so-called answers, as we've learned from fourth-quarters past, can be misleading.
In our latest "Three Minute Island" clip, we go down a list of possible jobs and identities to be won. Apologies for breaking our three-minutes-or-less rule, but this one required some running down ... and a punchline at the end:
What to Watch For: Islanders Rookies, RFAs, 'Core' Roles Down the Stretch
Some expanded ideas on that, in text form,
stolen from inspired by LHH reader Frabtraption's comment in the OzzyFan FanPost on what fans want out of the season's final quarter:
Josh Bailey: Is He a Wing? I don't know who made the decision or what organizational discussions arrived at trying Bailey at wing again, but I'm glad it's happening. Not just for his sake, but to determine the 3C and 4C roles of the future. As discussed earlier this week, if Bailey is a productive wing, that's an important answer for this roster. Meanwhile, Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas and other prospects that see time at wing and center are knocking on the door.
Kyle Okposo: What's Up? Not even getting into what fan expectations have been for Okposo -- rather, they just need to know how he fits. On one hand, he's contributed both on the first and second line. On the other, he's also disappeared for stretches in both roles. His 14 goals are close to his career average in 61 games, but his all-around decision-making and engagement have been in question. If you think about it, Bailey is in some ways auditioning for Okposo's former role next to Nielsen. Speaking of which...
Michael Grabner: Which Way? I'm not as worried about Grabner as many fans are, because his PK work and constant scoring threat is an important contribution to the team. But snakebitten and scoring-poor seems to affect the rest of his game, and it'd sure be nice to have all those attributes plus a guy who can convert more often. With 15 goals, will he get hot in the last 18 games?
Al Montoya: Ship has Sailed? Is Al Montoya going to see some work again, or are all the eggs in the Re-Sign Evgeni Nabokov, Promote A Prospect basket? Odd, familiar turn for Montoya, who finished last season hot, started this season hot, but ran into injury troubles and did not look sharp in his brief return.
A Partner, A Partner: The original comment brought up whether and which of the Bridgeport blueline prospects like Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness and Calvin De Haan -- not to mention Ty Wishart, who's almost been Montoya'd -- might get an audition. A priority I see: Identify a partner for Mark Streit. Because Steve Staios may be a gamer, but the isles need better in their top 4.
Nino: Throw Him a Bone? I think Nino Niederreiter's been overmatched this season, justifying his limited ice time. But that doesn't mean now, with the playoffs out of reach, that he doesn't deserve a little time on an offensive line, or even the powerplay, just to remember what it's like to play with some guys who are out there to score. Will he get that look, or is it 10-minutes, fourth-line (outside of scratches) from here on out?
Goal Song: What's It Gonna Be? Kidding. Mostly.
Micheal Haley: When Will He Be in Islanders Hall of Fame? Also kidding ... I think.
With Clear Day on the horizon for AHL Bridgeport, things should get a little clearer (no pun intended) on Monday. But injuries (will we see any "shut downs" this year?) and other maneuvers are likely to alter things through the end of the season in April.
What are you looking for down the stretch? If you didn't already in the original FanPost, let us know what you expect to see. Aside from 18 consecutive wins, obviously.