Exactly a month ago, I likened the Islanders’ style of play to The Walking Dead, a TV show about a zombie apocalypse that, like its characters, refuses to die quietly.
In the interim, it occurred to me that the season has now morphed into another sci-fi horror classic, John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing, in which Kurt Russell, Keith David and a bunch of grizzled researchers brave deadly arctic isolation while an even more deadly shape-shifting alien monster picks them off one by one.
The Thing is filled with gore and suspense and cursing and old character actors having their guts explode. Kind of like what watching an Islanders game feels like. That’s great for a movie, not so much for a hockey team.
So how the hell did this thing get here? It wasn’t a spaceship crash from millions of years ago.
After putting together a little points streak that netted them more piece of mind than movement in the standings, the Islanders got blown out of Columbus thanks to a sloppy, turnover-packed third period that brought out some harsh words from coach Jack Capuano.
“You’re not going to win when you make dumb decisions with the puck,” the coach said after his Islanders took a 2-2 game early in the third and ended up on the wrong end of a 6-2 thrashing by the Blue Jackets, one of the hottest teams in the league.
One of the main culprits was defenseman Nick Leddy, whose giveaway to Columbus’ Josh Anderson early in the third opened the flood gates. A day later, Leddy’s D partner Travis Hamonic was asked about some of the grotesque numbers the pair have put up this season. The always honest Hamonic sounded like he’d rather not talk about this voodoo bullshit, Blair.
Both are around 43 percent in even-strength Corsi For, or the percentage of shots the Isles generate while those two are on the ice. That 43 percent is among the bottom 25 players in the league.
“Do I know it’s there? Sure,” Hamonic said of the plus-minus number. “Sometimes things are your fault, but I can’t change it. Fresh slate, play better. It’s a tough question to answer. I can’t go online and remove it. You’re stupid if you don’t see it, but like any stat, there’s a lot that goes into it.”
And how did the Islanders respond to that third period meltdown in Columbus? By staging another, albeit less extreme third period meltdown in Brooklyn on Tuesday against the Capitals. Matt Niskanen scored twice to break a 2-2 tie after two periods and give Washington a 4-2 win.
Afterwards, Capuano sounded even more upset that something is literally eating away at his players:
"I'm losing my patience with some of these guys, and you have to hold guys accountable," Capuano said postgame. "We got some decisions that we need to make. We don't have a lot of guys in the bullpen, but we will talk with management and see where we go from here".
Capuano never sells out players by name to the press and did not last night when asked. But you have to think he was talking about Strome and Ladd, especially first and foremost, when he uttered these lines in his press conference. "It's frustrating, because you know the ability is there. I don't know where it's gone," he said. "I'm talking about keeping the puck on your stick, possessing the puck, just not throwing it away. Getting the puck and just handing it back to the other team? Where's the poise, where's the confidence? Those are the things I'm talking about."
Now, the tension is spreading across the roster as that monster keeps snatching bodies all over the camp. The latest victim, goalie Jaroslav Halak:
"Turnovers right now, last couple of games, are killing us," [Halak] said. "It's frustrating to keep losing games the same way. We're in game after second period, go into the third and find a way to lose the game. I don't know what's going on. Everyone has to come out more ready, I guess, and create our own luck. We have to go the net, throw it at the net, might go off a shinpad, skate, and could be a huge goal for us. Bottom line, we just need to find a way."
Finally, we get a mailbag column from Newsday’s Arthur Staple that paints a picture of an Islanders locker room that, while not necessarily bleak, is rife with confusion and tension.
From who’s really in charge of this outpost:
Just as Snow must be feeling a little put out by his new bosses’ search for a team president, Capuano is on the hot seat for his team’s play so he’s not happy with the roster he’s been given.
...to who is and who isn’t an imposter:
I’m sure there’s some genuine surprise at Andrew Ladd’s lousy start and how that may be impacting his demeanor in the room.
...to alien fighting tactics that backfired and made things worse:
The Islanders are coached to cede some possession in the defensive zone and keep players and shots to the outside of the hash marks, but they don’t seem to be able to retrieve pucks well and that leads to more time chasing in the defensive zone, which means once they get the puck out they’re dumping it in and changing.
...to the reality that reinforcements might not be on the way as quickly as we hope:
When you’ve fallen down a hole like the Isles have, you’re either a seller or you take your lumps and wait until the offseason. Not what the fans like to hear, but that’s how it’s worked in recent years.
So, are the new owners ready to throw a stick of dynamite into the camp and blow the monster sky high? From today’s edition of Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts, it sounds like co-owner Jon Ledecky is taking his time to test everyone’s blood and figure out who is actually human.
I’d heard [Ledecky] went to the NHL’s alumni dinner earlier this year and took notes, which impressed a few people who’d never seen that before. After the BoG meetings on Friday, I walked by him sitting in the lobby with former Islanders GM Bill Torrey. And he was taking notes.
Well, what do we do?
All we can do. Wait here for a little while, see what happens and pass the brandy.