Will Goalie Rick DiPietro Save the Islanders?
The most telling Islanders statistic is 2-6. That's their overtime/loss record, meaning eight of their first 18 games have gone into extra periods, with six of them losses.
That tells us a lot about the young Islanders. They're good. They're good enough to hang with most opponents for 60 minutes. They just run into problems after the end of regulation.
A lot of this is a symptom of their age. Their three leading point-earners were all born after 1983. John Tavares went straight from the draft to the Isles' top line.
A lot of the overtime trouble is also a symptom of coach Scott Gordon's offense. It's a relentlessly attacking style that has players converging on the net. There's not much backchecking, or defense. It's all about skaters converging on the opposing goalie.
So basically, unless the Islanders get a sudden influx of experienced NHL players, or Gordon decides to alter his coaching philosophy, it's looking like the Islanders are going to continue to survive off of the charity point.
But there is one factor that could prove to be game-changing for the Isles.
The variable that just might change their fortunes?
The return of goalie Rick DiPietro.
DiPietro is the team's star player, signed to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract. He played just eight games last season, and has yet to play this season, as he recovers, very slowly, from knee surgeries.
He's been practicing with the team, and could be just a few weeks away from an NHL return. And he'll be returning to a very different Islanders team. Previous coach Ted Nolan used a methodical, defensive system that never took advantage of DiPietro's two greatest attributes—his athleticism, and his ability to play the puck.
DiPietro is a courageous, occasionally reckless puck handler, unafraid to play the puck, and often brilliant with a stretch pass. A goalie like DiPietro, assuming he's returning in relatively peak condition, could spring the Islanders offense constantly, giving the team more of a lead to work with.
Instead of the forwards waiting for the defense to settle the puck, and then send it out into the neutral zone, DiPietro would allow everyone to take off out of the zone early, waiting for him to hit them before the opposing blue line.
Now the Islanders shouldn't get too excited about DiPietro's potential value. His health has always been questionable, and assuming he'll return relatively healthy is a relatively huge mental leap. Plus, his high-risk style often leads to his creating scoring opportunities for opposing teams.
Forwards and defensemen could end up spending a lot of time, and energy, trying to cover up his mistakes. And with defenseman Radek Martinek, the team's steadiest blueliner, out for the rest of the season, there won't be much of a safety net for DiPietro's puck-playing explorations.
DiPietro's return is by no way guaranteed to make the Islanders a better team, but for a team that really has no other prospects (they're already talking about trading Doug Weight ), DiPietro could be the team's only chance to start winning games in regulation.
Or at least not losing in overtime.
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