The easy answer to the headline -- is: "Duh! John Tavares and Matt Moulson."
That's the issue of the moment: That these two childhood friends and 2009 newcomers are the only ones scoring for the Islanders. Outside of Richard Park's tally in a 6-1 loss in New Jersey, no Islander besides JT and Mighty Matt has scored a goal since Nov. 27, a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh six games ago.
But when we jump on guys for not scoring, it's good to remember a huge chunk of scoring comes from the powerplay. Of the Islanders' 79 goals so far, 22 (28%) have come via that route. Eight of Tavares's 15 goals have come with the man advantage. If you're not on the powerplay, it's that much harder to wrack up points. Worse, if most of your ice time is spent killing penalties or carrying subpar wingers at 5-on-5, then you're spending most of the time just fighting to keep the puck out of your own net.
So one way to look at this issue: Take the powerplay out of the equation. Who are the Islanders' best scorers at 5-on-5?
One metric, with the aid of Gabe at Behind the Net: Who is scoring the most goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time?
As you'll see below [Warning: Table ahead!], the answers are ... the usual suspects. However, the order has been shuffled a bit, making Matt Moulson look even better than you might already think. And by this metric at least, one much-debated streaky forward still looks pretty good -- even though he has scored exactly one goal since his October hat trick.
|Goals||PP Goals||ES Goals||G/60min. 5on5|
Matt Moulson, with 11 even-strength goals, is the team's 5-on-5 king to this point. [Video fun: His recent natural hat trick in Atlanta, captured below, featured two even-strength goals and one powerplay goal that wasn't even a traditional setup-in-the-zone PP play]:
But back to that table: Other than Jeff Tambellini at the high end and Kyle Okposo at the low end, where everyone ranks isn't too shocking. Okposo gets a lot of minutes, period, so his low goal total thus far makes him stand out (in a bad way), even though he's still been generating a lot of chances. Tambellini, who scored once in November, is (numerically at least) living off that October hot streak.
Okposo's experience -- clanging shots off crossbars, yet setting Tavares up in his office -- tells us that even after 30 games and good linemates, your numbers won't always reflect the work that you've been doing. Meanwhile, the two young centers we're hoping will be two-way producers, Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen, each have fewer even-strength points (7 each) than Richard Park and Sean Bergenheim (9 each), who are hardly looked at as scorers.
Of Course I Will Find a Way to Blame This on the Blueline
There are a hundred ways to try to get a handle on what's happening in hockey's flowing, chaotic, difficult-to-encapsulate game -- both in strictly numeric terms and in nebulous descriptive terms. (Who's been playing with better linemates? Who's been playing against tougher competition? Who's been fatigued from playing so much PK? Who can't find a groove because they're never on a consistent line and they never get more than 11 paltry minutes? And of course the tried-and-true: Who suffers because the coach just hates him, I know it, I can see it in his eyes?) Everything is a cascade of factors, from the goalie behind you to the health of the lineup to the luck of the schedule.
So subjectively, I look at the names on that table and see the makings of a passable "top six" forward corps that ought to put up decent numbers over the long haul. And if that supposition is true (you may easily disagree), you know what I keep coming back to as a reason it's not happening? The blueline. The transition game. Aside from Jack Hillen, probably Andy Sutton (who's frankly been good this year by any measure), and certainly Mark Streit (who has not been as dominating as he was last year, in part because partner Bruno Gervais has not replicated last year's growth), this group isn't fit to consistently get the puck out and supply the Islanders forwards at 5-on-5.
As has been the issue since Scott Gordon arrived, the group as a whole cannot consistently deliver the promise of Gordon's scheme, so we're going to get fits and starts. We're going to get glimpses of the excitement the future will bring, mixed with doses of reality about the blueline Garth Snow has gone with and the below-average forwards who remain.
Until the cavalry of better defensemen arrive. I think.
That's one round-about theory. With the given that the eternal answer is "The Islanders need better players," I'm curious to hear yours.