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Islanders Q1 Report Cards: Defense & Goalies

News from yesterday included Bruno Gervais' broken cheekbone (from the Colin White one-punch TKO) and his plan to work out today and practice Wednesday with Jackman-style cage. That may or may not matter because the team reports Jack Hillen (concussion) and Andrew MacDonald (hand) are both ever closer to coming back, though the return date is still in the hands of the doctors. Also, two Isles prospects got WJC camp invites for Canada. Elsewhere, the first domino in the Bruins' coming cap crunch fell in a bit of a surprise (to me): They dealt defenseman Matt Hunwick to Colorado.

Meanwhile, we had first-quarter report cards for the Islanders forwards (as well as a fun post-and-discussion from JPinVA on the assembly of talent throughout the organization and whether it fits one coach more). Today come the report cards for the defense and goaltenders. Power rankings come later; grades are here after the jump.

Again, the following letter grades are curved based on preseason expectations, and are meant to prompt you to think about how well these players are measuring up to what you expected in training camp.


2010 - Rick DiPietro 10 612 3 3 36 3.53 307 271 .883 1

Rick DiPietro: Some shaky showings early, even in victories. (Don't tell me the lateral movement and recovery from sprawling on the ice we saw in the opening weeks was normal. Whether it was rust or post-injury hesitation, it was an alarming tick that was notably reduced in the last two games, which came about six weeks later.) Some horrific showings followed in blowouts that were made worse by costly overplays of the puck early in those games. Then came the last three starts, where he resembled a solid NHL goalie in positioning, recovery, reflex and conservative puckhandling.

Despite the shutout of the Devils, DiPietro's .883 save percentage ranks him 43rd among the 46 goaltenders who have played this season. To tell you what I think of the mystique of "Cup-winner" goalies in this day and age, I'll note that two of the three goaltenders below him in that category started for Cup champions in the last six seasons (and neither is Marc-Andre Fleury). The fact is, goalies who reach the NHL are all pretty good these days: Technique has become largely standardized, and any goalies is capable of a hot month or hot season. You just need a solid performer capable of stealing games here and there. If DiPietro can regain that, it's one less worry the Isles have to deal with. People seem to take extremes on this player, but I'd think the majority of us could agree that a quality, healthy goalie is all we're hoping for here. Incomplete due to injury recovery, but suddenly on an upward swing (F early on, B+ lately, but only 10 games to go on).


2010 - Dwayne Roloson 12 721 2 9 31 2.58 354 323 .912 0

Dwayne Roloson: He's been typical Rollie: Capable of stealing wins outright, like the OT win in Toronto. Capable of being average at other times (like in Ottawa), where a few more early saves would have kept the undermanned Isles from having to chase the score all game. His .912 save % has him ranked 26th currently, about where I'd expect him in both categories. His best work may have been wasted on the 14-game winless streak where the Isles could not score and the coach lost his job. B



The number of incompletes here is a reflection of how injury battered this blueline has been...

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG Hits TOI PKtoi SOG Bks
2010 - Mark Eaton 22 0 0 0 -4 6 0 18 20:45 3:11 19 51

Mark Eaton: I've mentioned my theory before that every non-elite defenseman when he hits the NHL (usually after having been elite at most lower levels throughout his life) has to face that moment where he realizes he's only going to stick if he evolves his game to some form of Keep It Simple, Stupid. Eaton personifies this. There is nothing about his game that is remarkable -- he doesn't even shoot or hit much. But there is something to be said for minding the store without succumbing to the temptation to pretend you're Bobby Orr like you were as a kid. That's what Eaton does, and it's why the Isles brought him in. B-

Bruno Gervais: His averages are out of whack because been in 13 games and the first one was as a spare wing while the next few were with limited ice time. Tough to give you big honors when you're eight on a still-thin depth chart, but Gervais bided his time and has stepped in surprisingly well given expectations. The radio announcers last week said it must be frustrating what he's been through this season; but he was a teammate of Freddy Meyer IV long enough to know that there is always a chance for a depth defenseman to rally, and Bruno has done that so far.  B

Travis Hamonic: Solid in his first two games. Very nearly gave his NHL debut a storybook ending with that rush to the net in OT. We may only see him a few games, but his performance in Bridgeport and initial game on Long Island does not shake confidence, and even has conservative me wondering if the kid might be ready to stick around a while right now. Returning players probably make that question moot soon. Incomplete, but on schedule.

Jack Hillen: Started as a scratch after what was regarded as a poor camp, he finally entered the lineup to very limited minutes before settling down just in time to miss more time with a concussion. Very interesting time for Hillen as players like Hamonic push from below and Hillen is an RFA next summer. With just 11 games and 12:01 per game so far, it'll be interesting to see how (and if) he re-enters the lineup now that his old Bridgeport coach is at the helm. Incomplete, but has make-up work to do.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG Hits TOI PKtoi SOG Bks
2010 - Milan Jurcina 10 2 1 3 -1 4 0 22 16:40 3:12 12 18

Milan Jurcina: The subject of a wild swing of early fan opinion. Seeing that body with that style of play creates cognitive dissonance in the old-time hockey fan -- Why doesn't he crush someone? But upon further observation and a little adjustment, you can see where Jurcina can use his size to disrupt opposing offenses -- even without delivering many traditional checks. His Witt-ian two-goal game keyed an early victory over the Avalanche. His hamstring injury was untimely and prevents a confident read on how he fits.

The biggest wild card in that discussion: When he left the lineup, he was the team leader in PK time per game; when he returns, he'll be playing for a new coach who has seen several other defensemen in his absence. Incomplete.

Andrew MacDonald: Was curiously expected to be a powerplay guy by Gordon, when last season's promising debut probably called for sticking to basics first. In the seven games he saw before injury, the secondary powerplay role wasn't working, but his defensive play at times continued to impress. We may have exaggerated how much he was missed since his injury -- which happened to coincide perfectly with the 14-game winless streak -- but he's a solid defender with a smart first pass who rarely panics. Incomplete, but working on a B at the time of injury.


GP G A P +/- PIM TOI PKtoi PPtoi Hits SOG Bks
2010 - Radek Martinek 22 1 2 3 -2 7 21:58 3:11 0:57 26 32 39

Radek Martinek: For many, it's a victory just that Radek is still healthy {knocks on forest} 22 games into the season. Martinek's done a bit of everything this season, even called on to provide some stabilizing powerplay time. But mostly he's drawn the opponent's best or second-best line each night and come out looking fine. Despite more bionic parts than I can count at age 34, the defenseman whose middle name should be When Healthy still has it. A-

GP G A P +/- PIM TOI PPtoi PKtoi Hits SOG Bks
2010 - Mike Mottau 20 0 3 3 -12 8 20:20 2:06 2:03 0 21 0

Mike Mottau: Sometimes I'm thrilled the Isles grabbed the ex-Devils veteran cheap, and other times I get why he wasn't a priority for Lou Lamiorello. He can settle things down at times and even get into scoring position on the pinch (though not finish, yet), but he can also make puzzling decisions. Such is the lot of the depth defenseman, but I did expect more. It may be that frequent partnership with Wisniewski is bringing that plus/minus down, but he also hasn't looked great on his PP stints. The serious eye injury means he now moves to the back of the queue through the holidays. C-

Dylan Reese: A depth call-up due to all the injuries, I was intrigued by his play last year but knew enough not to trust my first impressions. So far he's only had 5 games and 14:00 per game. His first two games had some ugly plays that resulted in goals against, but his other games were better. Remains a nice older callup when you've run through your first eight or nine bodies. Incomplete.

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG Hits TOI PPtoi SOG Bks
2010 - James Wisniewski 20 2 12 14 -16 16 2 31 24:17 5:37 53 23

James Wisniewski: As advertised, we have seen his yin and his yang. (That sounds dirty.) Booming hits and booming powerplay shot and offensive creativity from the point, but a bit of wandering and curious decision-making defensively. This is the mixed package we bought over the summer, but the price was and remains right. The Isles will have a decision to make on whether to extend him or swap him for parts, and I suspect that will have everything to do with his asking price, as his performance has not changed this season from his career norm. It's just a shame they can't eval him next to Mark Streit on the powerplay.

Is it fair to give the highest blueline point-producer one of the lowest grades? It is when those points have come mostly (11) from ample PP time and the defense has been wanting despite not drawing the toughest assignments. B-

*  *  *

Overall, even given the injury parade this defense and goaltending (3.18 GAA, 28th) has not been great -- and those blowouts didn't help -- but they settled down even during the winless streak and are not this team's biggest weakness. It's all a bit chicken-or-egg -- Would the offense be better if it wasn't constantly chasing from behind? Or if the D were better at initiating the offense? -- but personally I think it's capable of treading water if the forwards can do their jobs and put in a few goals. And of course everything suffers mightily without Streit's 24 minutes per night to anchor them.

But we'll see what Capuano, who did nice things with A-Mac and Hillen in the AHL, can do with them here.

Thoughts? Corrections? Overrides from the principal's office?