The New York Islanders are 3-3-0 on the young season and the difference between the games the Isles won and lost is easy to figure: when the Islanders can put the puck in the net, they win, when they can’t, they don’t. In their three wins, Ted Nolan’s club has 11 goals. In their three losses, they have scored only three times. Overall, scoring has been a struggle: the Isles have only seven even strength goals in six games.
The power play has also been inconsistent. When the Isles score with an extra man, they win. In the Islanders’ three wins, they are 5-of-15 with the man advantage good for 33.3%. In their three losses, the team is just 1-of-15 (6.7%) on the power play.
So far, the Isles are not getting consistent production from their second, third or fourth lines. The first line of Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin has been on the ice for eight of the 14 goals scored by the team this season. The other three lines have combined for a total of just six goals with only three of those coming at even strength. Simply put, if the top line doesn’t score, the Isles aren’t putting enough pucks in the net to win hockey games. Apart from the Guerin, Comrie and Fedotenko line, no Islanders’ forward has more than two points on the season.
Last year, scoring depth was one of the team’s strengths. The Islanders had five different players score 20 or more goals and then added Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline, giving them six players who were 20-goal scorers. Center Alexei Yashin also added 18 goals in only 58 games. Of that group, only Miro Satan, Mike Sillinger and Trent Hunter are still with the club but that trio has a total of one goal after six games.
Center Mike Sillinger was still confident the team has the ability to pick up their offense. “For this team to be successful, everyone has to play to their potential or about their potential,” he said. “Do we have the team in here to do what we did last year? I think we do.”
Coach Ted Nolan agreed but insisted that the team would have to work hard and get “ugly” goals. “Well, our offense is no secret,” Nolan told reporters after the Isles loss to Philadelphia. “It’s not going to come tic-tac-toe and fly down and score off the rush. We’re going to have to get a lot of those dirty goals. The way we played in the third period is the way we have to play.”
Nolan made some adjustments against Philadelphia, moving Sean Bergenheim up to the second line alongside Josef Vasicek and Miro Satan in the third period. The Islanders dominated play in the final stanza, outshooting the Flyers 16-5 but managed only one goal, a shorthanded tally by Vasicek.
“Right now, we seem a little hesitant. You’ve got to find those rebounds, really go to the net and be hungry,” Sillinger added. “It just seems to be the common denominator, not only with our line but with every line. We’re not scoring five-on-five…It’s like a snowball effect…What happens is contagious.”
The lineup remains unsettled. The return of veteran enforcer Chris Simon ended the seven defensemen experiment. Marc-Andre Bergeron was a healthy scratch against Philadelphia with Bryan Berard taking his place alongside Andy Sutton on a regular shift. Ultimately, the issue of who will play and who will sit on defense remains unresolved as the Isles have eight healthy defenseman for six or seven spots.
Chris Simon’s return to the lineup also means change. Simon will skate on the fourth line with Richard Park and one other forward. Shawn Bates, who has yet to play this season, should be back at any time, perhaps as soon as Thursday’s game in Washington. The Isles just returned Jeff Tambellini to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport to make room for Simon on the roster. Enforcer Darryl Bootland remains on the roster for now but that may change when Bates returns to the active list.
Right now, the team is struggling to score goals. That has to change if the Isles hope to qualify for the playoffs again this season.