New York Islanders: 5 Simple Changes Needed to Salvage This Season
While the list of things that need to be changed during this upcoming offseason seems to be tremendous, there are some small things that can be addressed now so that the season doesn't end up with the Islanders finishing in last again.
The fans have grown impatient yet again, with a season looking a lot like last year's at times: Inconsistent, flat, and sometimes generally poor play have Long Island in an uproar for something to be done right now.
But with a dried up free agency market since the beginning of the season, and little value to trade with the exception of the core players that are indispensable to this team, in short, are stuck with what they have until this off season.
This is not one of those, fire everyone, trade core players and move to some other city articles, but rather more focused on the simple things this team needs to work towards so it doesn't finish in the bottom of the league again this year.
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Work, Work and More Work on Offensive Zone Entry
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This team has consistently all season long had some of the poorest entry into the offensive zone in perhaps the league.
The terrible habit of hitting the blue line and dumping the puck into the end boards, then going softly after it has been the source of their offensive woes for the longest time now. Part of this may stem from a lack of confidence in their ability to hold onto the puck, but this is a rather poor excuse.
When the Isles have held the puck and gone low instead of a lazy dump and chase, the results have been day and night. John Tavares and Michael Grabner have been two of the most consistent players in good zone entry, the rest of them not so much.
Fact of the matter is, this team gets intimidated at the blue line, dumps it in, then chases, but is intimidated by getting into the end board battles. This leaves absolutely no options for offense then, as no one will carry it in and work to setup, and no one will work hard to win the puck back after a dump and chase play.
Capuano needs to adjust for this, and we haven't seen it. Despite him stating that they have worked on their entry numerous times, it has yielded no results.
It must be a staple for Captain Jack to make this team play with good entry.
He will not and should not be blamed in entirety, for the results of this season so far, but if the systems aren't working it is his job to adjust them, and this hasn't been done.
And that is his and Doug Weight's job.
Stay with the Traditional Two Goalie System
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If anything has hurt goal-tending more this season (besides literal injuries), it has been the three goalie system we saw at the beginning of the season.
Yes, it has proven useful (due to the lack of consistency in the health of their mainstay goaltender) that this club pretty much needs three NHL level goaltenders ready to play, but besides that it has been a bit of a headache.
None of the three net-minders were given a real chance in practice and game time to get into a real rhythm. With time being split in net during practice, and three different goalies starting based on that short practice time, it's a wonder any of them were able to earn a start.
With the team in its current two goalie system, we've seen much more consistent play out of the net-minders, Nabakov and Montoya have been steady and reliable nearly every night, recently we've seen Nabakov be the only player keeping the Islander's in the game enough to allow them to be within winning.
The sore spot of all this is, one of the goalies is going to have to sit...
And unfortunately the goalie who has been least consistent and most frequently injured is Rick DiPietro. If Rick is to return from his injury soon, he should be the one to sit. Montoya has solidified his spot as No. 1 starter and Nabakov has proved he can start as well.
Some may argue that RDP hasn't been given the chance to prove he can play, but honestly, the times he has played have been sub-par, and once again he has fallen to injuries after starting only six games. But if Capuano was true to his word and started players based on their performance in practice, then it warrants that Rick's play in practice wasn't up to par either.
There is no need to hurt the consistency of the goal-tending and confidence of this team any more this season with having no faith in their goalie to make the stops needed, the defensive unit isn't strong enough to be counted on for 60 minutes a game to bail out the goalie, and going back to the three goalie system will certainly just cause just as much a problem as it did at the start of the season.
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With Calvin De Haan and Dylan Reese being returned to the Sound Tigers and the return of the older defenseman, keeping it simple is probably the best method of playing.
Keep it mistake-free, push play to the outside, reduce the turn overs in the nuetral and defensive zone and avoid getting beat.
In other words, play solid defense and don't take unnecessary risks which have been devastating to the team earlier this season. Perhaps making De Haan or Wishart a permanent call up wouldn't be a bad idea if the coaching staff thinks it wouldn't be detrimental to their growth as a player.
Streit has been struggling some as of late and needs to calm it down alittle. He's a very capable player, but with so much pressure being placed on him to not only perform every night, but also lead this team. One must wonder if he's feeling a little drained and is playing too uptight.
We've seen alot of times where the defense has tried to be alittle too fancy and have gotten themselves into some trouble. If the older players aren't able to transition and move as quickly to cover on a lapse, it'd be better they played safe instead of allowing poor goals, such as the short-handed goal in their last game versus Toronto.
Maintain and Increase Scoring Depth
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With an uptrend of players scoring outside the first line we've seen the Islanders winning more games, it's nearly a fact.
It cannot be stressed anymore that a team cannot play with the best if only the first line is able to produce, and that it must be a complete 60 minutes of play, with every line doing their best to score.
Bailey has looked tenfold more confident in playing and shooting, and his stick handling (which is some of the best we see on the team) has returned. With those kinds of hands and a bit more confidence and perhaps a bump up to the second line occasionally could see Josh scoring even more, which in all the kid does have to score more.
Kyle Okposo has returned to his play from last year, he's a bull and definitely one of the strongest players on the team.He works hard and puts in a solid effort every night.
For some reason short-handed goals are hard to come by this year, with a measly one short-handed goal scored by Grabner. Last year our PK was feared, teams were afraid to move the puck close to Nielsen and Grabner, they forced mistakes and created opportunities. It'd be good if those two could return the team to that status. Nothing demoralizes a team's power play more than giving up a short-handed goal.
The first line continues to flourish as it has done all season long.
Matt Martin even got in on the scoring the other day, but we have seen an absence of Nino Niederreiter, who was supposed to be a huge piece of the offensive puzzle. Granted he was out with a concussion for a bit, but even before that he has yet to become the offensive threat he was claimed to be, it's time for him to make his presence on the ice felt.
A Total Team Effort
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Too often have we seen this team stop playing after being scored upon. As of recently the ability to bounce back and work hard to even the game up or come within a goal of tying it up has increased.
Although this is a huge positive instead of giving up in the first period, the Isles still come out flat at times (i.e. the last time they played the Rangers) and then play for the last three minutes of the third period in a desperate effort to even up the score.
Coming back from being down as of late is good, coming out and playing for 10 minutes in total must stop. The coaches and captain of this team must learn how to get their team to play every night.
It must be a 60-minute effort from every player, every night.
The Islanders are a capable team. We've seen it many times during this season how good this squad can play, defend and score with the best teams in the league, but they get intimidated to easily. The leaders of this club must provide the support these young guys need to not get so down on themselves and not be afraid to work for their wins.