The Islanders' last 10 games have been an aesthetically balanced -- if you're into form over function -- but competitively ugly sequence of win-loss, win-loss, though all 10.
That includes one shootout loss (so hey, a point salvaged from Buffalo last meeting) that helped ensure they linger around NHL quasi-.500, which is a fool's gold of our era, or more plainly: well below the level they'd need for a compelling playoff push. (Though if you could only exclude those first 20 games...)
Islanders (25-26-8, 12th/E) @ Sabres (25-27-7, 14th/E)
MSG+ | Audio: NHL - WRHU
[as if there's a second Niagara] Center/Place/Whatever
Face of the Buffalo: Die by the Blade
The NHL trade deadline is now six days and three games away. What happens on the ice and in the standings between now and then shouldn't impact decision-making very much, but it might frame the headlines on Feb. 27's TSN-apalooza. In that sense, yesterday's 6-0 fail at home against the Senators screams, "Team not ready. Sell extraneous parts as market demand dictates."
Which is fine. Well, not "fine" in an acceptable sort of way, but "fine" in a way that the future, in at least one more February, can be allowed to outweigh the present. Because this year's team should be the kind that can talk of playoffs, and they kind of are, but ultimately fall short barring a miracle. Six points behind and too many teams between them and eighth means miracle-or-bust territory.
So all of the ambiguous "veteran" intangibles and "how to be a pro" lessons should be in the bag by Feb. 27. If the near-sage Evgeni Nabokov is agreeable to staying and settling the young folks, so be it -- the goalie market is bollocks even for the teams who probably do need goaltending. But aside from that always shaky crease situation, the time to evaluate Aaron Nesses of the world is soon upon us.
While the Islanders and Nabokov's mutual stance appears to be looking toward continuing their relationship rather than parting for whatever a goalie fetches these days, it's impossible to avoid seeing the trade deadline shape the next week of competition.
Yesterday, P.A. Parenteau had one frustrating game -- earning misconducts from the refs (who, in the legal tradition of our times, saw zero infractions when he was hauled down and slashed, his stick turned into mince meat before their eyes). Parenteau is one of the more vocal Isles on the ice and that was one awful blowout, but it's hard not to speculate and see his frustration in the the context of an uncertain future.
He's on a team that isn't quite there yet but which has gotten where it is in part thanks to his work in an important role. If he joins another team or tests the market this summer, despite his 41 assists (now 5th in the NHL) his money and term and role on a potential new team are all unclear.
All of Walsh's horses and all of Walsh's tweets cannot change that uncertainty.
You would think these two sides would be able to come to an agreement -- and hey, maybe they're the rare pair that truly will agree to revisit after the season or after the deadline -- but with Walsh doing his "now is the time to play hockey" drill it looks less likely. Rumors of a Parenteau move have yet to take off (ah, yet sometimes the fire erupts where it's quietest), but the logic is there if he can't be signed now.
For Buffalo, tonight's opponent, pending UFA Paul Gaustad is one of the names with a bigger deadline shadow looming. The Sabres are but one point behind the Islanders, but the contrast in expectations means they're obviously disappointed sellers while the Islanders are at least in name, and at for perhaps three more games, aspirational non-sellers.
Although after yesterday, expect sales at any moment. Here's looking at you, Mark Eaton.
Isles Notes and General Links of Diversion
- Newsday reports Evgeni Nabokov did not make this trip, not having skated yesterday with his flu symptoms. Travis Hamonic did skate at least (as did Mike Mottau), so the blueline is in the vicinity of getting some bodies back -- which is timely, should any be sent packing as deadline rentals.
The Isles official site on Aaron Ness after eight games. One thing we know is that he caught their eye in training camp -- surprising to some, including yours truly -- and he's turned out to be the Bridgeport guy who's gotten the longest look so far this year.
- Michael Fornabaio has the details of the Sound Tigers' domination yesterday, as well as the location for his 1:30 p.m. chat today. Some of our LHH readers discussed that game and the state of the prospects in this FanPost.
- On that note, here's Mark's weekly prospect report from Sunday.
- Mike Farber of SI talks to Hall Gill and Chris Campoli about being trade deadline meat.
- Speaking of the trade deadline, now is the perfect time of year where you too can become a self-proclaimed NHL Insider by using the E.K.L.U.N.D. System.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight's game in this thread.