It’s not late, but it’s not exactly early anymore.
The New York Islanders are 4-6-1 and four points back of the last wild card spot after losing a shootout — and not really deserving even that point — against that wild card holder from Philadelphia.
It’s only (only?) 11 games into the season, but the Islanders have not looked very good for more than a sustained period even in their wins, and their control of play as measured by any number of possession stats puts them in the bottom fifth of the league.
Slumps and tough starts happen — the Isles have overcome a couple even under this regime — but this one has lacked any of the signs that suggest there is a strong team waiting to come out.
Still, we wait. There are several new players. They’ve had a ridiculous number of home games on bad ice. Perhaps the proverbial “time to gel” is just around the corner. But these next couple of weeks are where that would need to happen. Otherwise you figure a major change or two will loom for a team expected to make the playoffs.
There is an air of exasperation among fans, a look of almost helplessness among the forwards as they fail to generate sustained offense, and all sorts of signs of frustration from Jack Capuano as he juggles lines, six defensemen (he evidently prefers to have an extra option) a trio of goalies and two 19-year-olds.
The League of Young People
One of those 19-year-olds, Anthony Beauvillier, appears in his 10th game of the season tonight, a sign that if nothing else, he’s making NHL money for the foreseeable future as the first year of his ELC fully kicks in, and likely means he’s here for good.
On the other side the Islanders face another youngster who is, well, he’s already captain and vying for status among the league’s most dominant players. It seems trite at age 26 for people to keep querying John Tavares each time a new #1 overall pick comes through town, but Connor McDavid did follow the same OHL “exceptional player” status that Tavares carved before him.
McDavid is tied for second in the league with 13 points thus far, and a season without a broken collarbone should mean he’s up there by year’s end. For his sake hopefully the Barclays ice doesn’t eat him.
The Oilers are atop their division and tied for the points lead in the Western Conference. Even if that’s a little inflated by good early-season circumstances, these are not the laughingstock #herecometheOilers of the last decade (though they did blow multiple leads in losing at the Garden this week). Their defense is still a sore point, though Adam Larsson -- whatever you think of the trade itself — at least improves the unit there.
Lines: Clutterbuck to the Top
To counter, yet another line shuffle for the Isles: Beauvillier is back in for Alan Quine, and Cal Clutterbuck joins John Tavares on the top line. That might actually work, since Clutterbuck actually shoots, drives north, and has enough talent to convert an afterthought into what was once called “Best Fourth Line in Hockey.”
In Clutterbuck’s place on the “fourth” (but really third) line is Shane Prince, who also has speed and the ability to create.
Andrew Ladd still has just one assist to his name, so Beauvillier and Ryan Strome get to carry him and soak up Veteran Leadership(TM).
Jaroslav Halak, who faced a barrage and stopped most of it against the Flyers, starts in goal.
Check Copper & Blue for Oilers lines and notes, including Kris Russell sitting with an injury and replaced by Eric Gryba.
How to Watch/Listen
TV: MSG+, Radio: AM 570 WMCA, 88.7 WRHU, WRCN 103.9 FM
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here by game time. (They will score, right?)