Three Thoughts: Schedule, Goaltending, Prospect Depth Chart?

Bruce Bennett

Quick hits on burning topics coming 'round the bend.

No rest here; the Islanders are back at it tonight with a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who haven't lost in March. They're on a 10-game run that's benefited from extra time wins only twice (one OT, one shootout).

But more on them later in the day. Here are three topics looking forward:

1. Remaining Schedule

Last night was Game 30 for the isles. That means 18 more to go. This week aside, there are winnable games ahead, including a run of three against the Panthers, Capitals and Flyers. After the Panthers, the Isles have a four-game road string in Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.

Of course, in theory the road is where the heart is this year for the Isles, who are 8-4-1 on the road and just 5-10-2 at the Coliseum. But hanging over their head since the schedule was announced is a five-game road trip to finish out the season, including visits to Winnipeg and Toronto. If the Islanders need points at the end of the season -- and it's pretty clear there's no way they make the playoffs without needing such -- that road trip may need Dubie-level miracles.

2. What of the Goaltending?

Goalies, particularly sporadically used ones, deserve mulligans. Kevin Poulin's five goals against last night were exacerbated by a good Brian Gionta deflection and two essentially own goals. But he wasn't exactly sharp, and he admitted to feeling rusty after weeks in between starts.

But there's just no way to sugarcoat the Islanders goaltending this season being bottom third of the league by any measure. Evgeni Nabokov's even strength save percentage of .904 is Peter Budaj territory. It's .900 overall. If the Isles are serious about re-signing him, they need assurances about who his running mate will be. If it's Poulin? He needs some more work to show it. The Isles may need to look outside for a long-term solution.

In brighter news, Anders Nilsson is back skating with the Sound Tigers and appears to have identified his mysterious malady as a vitamin B deficiency. Organizationally, however, it sure looks like Nabokov and Rick DiPietro (AHL) will get the majority of the starts down the stretch.

3. Where Would Lee Fit?

In his Newsday chat and on Twitter yesterday, Isles beatwriter Arthur Staple sure sounded convinced that Anders Lee would sign after his NCAA season with Notre Dame ends. The incentive is clear: If he's ready to leave school after three years, it's still easiest to do it with his drafting team now -- maybe even trigger the first year of his first contract to make up for lost time -- rather than wait until after June 1 and sign with any team for likely the same terms beginning next season.

But if both parties went that route, how would the Isles try him out?

His skating has improved, but he still looks like a center who would convert back to a winger at the pro level. (Besides that, the Isles are deep at center through their prospect pool.) But he would be a power forward who you'd hope could fill a middle six role eventually. If the Isles re-sign Brad Boyes (an if, for sure), that means a lot of winger bodies competing for few openings.

Even if Boyes is flipped or allowed to walk, the Isles would be looking at wingers like Matt Moulson, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Martin as locks for next year. Perhaps Casey Cizikas (who has played both center and wing) and Nino Niederreiter too, to say nothing of how Jesse Joensuu performs when he returns.

It makes for some interesting competition, and some interesting decisions based on whatever the team can glean over the final 18 games.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight in this thread.

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