Isles’ Woes Carry On

The New York Islanders have had nothing but bad luck come their way since they’ve been on the West coast. Actually, that’s not true. While they’ve lost a bunch of hockey games, luck hasn’t had much to do with it. Lack of skill has. Or perhaps lack of cohesiveness as a team. The other night when they lost to the LA Kings, they were apparently read the riot act after the game. Their coach came out for his comments quite even-keel, but in the room just before that, the major voices including Kyle Okposo had said that they’d discussed their play and that the “answer is in here.”

One might have said Monday night with the team in Anaheim that they shouldn’t have left the answer in LA. Then again, maybe the Ducks have been reading too many news accounts. The knowledge they gained was that the Isles are a crummy team. Fair enough if you consider that in the game against the Kings, the New York team made at least four or five mistakes so awful that you don’t usually see that many in two weeks watching an NHL team play. They gave the puck away, passed it to open areas, and generally looked less like NHL players than novices learning the game.

Monday night, the Ducks probably expected to see that team, and so they came out entirely flat. In the first five minutes of the game, they didn’t register a shot. The Isles had five before the Ducks had one. Their first real sniff at the net came halfway through the period with the Islanders already up a goal. The Ducks, meanwhile, too two penalties, including one for too many men. By period’s end, they had been outshot, 13-7. They had managed to score a goal to even it.

The second period was more of the same, with the Isles subtly surging ahead in the area of puck control and getting an early goal to be at 2-1 by midperiod. The Ducks were being outshot at this point also, but not as badly. It was 19-15 when they started to put some pressure on, with Getzlaf’s line having an excellent shift. That energy was not sustained. And the Isles countered with puck possession by Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, and Brock Nelson, who had a shift where they pressed Anaheim and held the puck for a long while.

But the Ducks got the goal back to make the period 2-2.

You tell me whether this is bad play or bad luck: the Ducks’ second goal happened when Allen put the puck low to Winnik. He spun and did a no-look behind-the-back pass across the crease. It went through Andrew MacDonald, then Thomas Hickey, the two defensemen. Then it went under the reaching stick of John Tavares.

Three guys. Nobody could touch it. Winnik can pass the puck, but he’s no Wayne Gretzky.

And just when things were starting to look not so bad, the Isles keeping it close to near the end of the second period, they let the Ducks get out three-on-one while shorthanded. Beleskey shot the puck and Fowler followed up to put in the rebound. There were just 33 seconds left.

They did it again with two seconds left in the frame. Winnik, who might in fact be more Gretzky-like than I gave him credit for above, made a behind-the-back pass that Corey Perry picked up going to the slot. He went down on his knees, shot the puck anyway, and found the only teeny tiny hole that existed between himself and the net. It hit the reaching edge of the goalie’s mitt and went in, bouncing just barely up and over him.

The thing is, once again on the play, a single player made a terrible mistake. Perry beat Calvin De Haan like he was a kid, ending up with De Haan backing up, reaching, and spinning around, trying to check Perry with his butt. He looked sick. Perry’s good, naturally, and this is not the only time this year that he’ll embarrass a defenseman, but it’s far too often that the Isles seem to be in situations where they are victimized like this.

Each team got 12 shots in the period. The Ducks turned three of them into goals, New York one, and the frame ended up 4-2. Most fans probably went to the beer stands thinking that the Isles were lying down for dead. They were now on the losing end of a game that they easily should have led early. This game was, after all, the tenth in a row that the team was on the way to losing. Of those, they had managed to squeak out two 3-2 OT losses, so two points out of a possible 18 coming into the night, and two leaving it. The final outcome was 5-2 on Monday evening.

So what gives with the Islanders?

They end up with guys isolated and forced to make plays that should not be the individual’s responsibility. Why do they do stuff you’re taught not to do as a peewee? Because they’ve often got no help. In period three, Lindholm burst to the net between three Islanders. All of them, Aaron Ness, MacDonald, and Colin McDonald, reached and strained but watched him go right by to the net. The check would have been easy had they worked together, even two of them. But they tried to do it alone, and it didn’t work.

They make half-hearted plays that don’t work, and they end up getting bitten for it. For instance, the goal just cited had MacDonald with lots of time to reach in and strip the puck from Winnik. He didn’t get position, stretched out instead of taking the body, and just missed the strip. The result was the goal.

They don’t have much power on their breakouts, and so often the puck is shallow out of the zone and right back in. Of course, that doesn’t make as much difference when the opposition takes the ease of a potential win for granted as the Ducks did on this night. The score, in fact, was closer than what the game should have been.

Their attempts to intimidate are ill-timed and ineffective. Matt Carkner is a tough customer. But he has no business fighting or trying to fight Saku Koivu, as he did in period three. He got a two-minute minor and ten-minute misconduct for his trouble and spent the time taking the first shower of the night. It was for nothing, and while the Ducks didn’t do much with their power play, they at least had the puck for two minutes and thus killed off any last slim chance the Isles might have had to at least make the game appear respectable.

John Tavares tried to explain the problems after the game. “We have to get a hold of some of our breakdowns,” he began. “There are times when you think things can kind of go your way, but they’re just not. We did some good things, but like I’ve said in the past few weeks, good things aren’t what we want. We want wins. . . . It was disappointing once again.”

The Isles locker room after the game was a picture of pathetic. Many players just sat in their stalls, equipment on, staring straight in front of them. You have to think that they’re coming apart at the seams, but this tableau seemed to say otherwise—each player is still thinking that it’s him. That something could be done, if just bit by bit, to dig them out of their mess. Thomas Hickey said after, “You’ve just gotta win. It’s no longer what you did. You gotta win. It’s frustrating as hell. We’ve got to play sixty perfect minutes, and then we’ll win one, and it will get easier.” When asked about facing the tough teams in the West, he said, “If you can’t beat these teams, and they’re all playoff teams, you can’t be in the playoffs. It’s not really who we’re playing right now. We have to put together sixty minutes and we’ll win a hockey game.”

When you hear that repetition, you know he’s on script. This must have been the coach’s speech after the game. On the opposite side, Bruce Boudreau admitted that his team came out slowly, but he said he was happy with the outcome. “You’re always pleased when you get two points, whether you play good or not,” he started. “Points are important. They came out and played really hard, and we weren’t ready for them, for whatever reason.” He then backtracked a bit, but said that the Islanders came out hard, but that “it seemed like every time they were outplaying us, then we get a goal. We just hung around long enough to get our legs, and then once we got to 3-2 and then 4-2 on the same shift, I think it took the heart out of them a little bit.”

In the end, perhaps the Islanders aren’t all that bad a team after all, just as Charlie Brown’s little tree wasn’t so bad as it first looked. It, and they, just need a little love, a little polishing, a little help from a few concerned friends. Whether that comes in the form of a trade, especially since they’ve already made one this year, or some other method, like firing the coach or turfing out the GM, is to be seen. My bet? You’ll get the answer sooner rather than later.

As if things weren’t bad enough, they are still on the West coast for a few more days, playing the Sharks Tuesday and the Coyotes Thursday.

Notes
The Ducks are filling the same lineup consistently, with the exception that Emerson Etem has come back up and in his place out of the lineup is Kyle Palmieri. Also with the team but not playing Monday were Alex Grant and Patrick Maroon.

The Ducks lost Mark Fistric to injury. No word other than “upper body, day to day.”

Please read my book Pond Hockey. It’s a novel.

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