In the first two months of this season, a lot has become apparent in the make up of this Islanders team. From management, to their young core's ability to handle coming up big key in situations. This year was supposed to be the breakout year for the team, but so far it hasn't come to fruition as a whole yet.
Without a doubt we can see glimpses of the future, though, with the team coming off a solid three-game road trip, one in which they gained seven of eight points, Moulson scored four goals in a game, Al Montoya stayed hot and DiPietro hurt himself again (which may be more of a blessing than the usual occurrence).
He has continued to be the bright spot of the Islander's team. As a whole, he's carried most of the weight of the team almost solely on his back. Coming out of Juniors, we all expected big things from the young man, who for the most part has delivered. He's second on the team in goals scored with eight, second in assists and tied for first in points with 21.
Already since last season, fans can see his raised level of strength, determination and comfort with playing at the NHL level.
It has become apparent, though, that John lacks some of the support he needs to truly excel. Yes, he has become the star the Islanders needed, but sometimes you get the feeling that if he had some secondary players of his caliber on the team, he would dominate.
This season has shown perhaps what seemed to be on the contrary to what we all thought at the onset—there is a lack of depth on the team. The first-line players have done the bulk of all the scoring for the team. Besides Michael Grabner, John Tavares and Matt Moulson, the next leader in goals is Frans Nielsen with four.
Josh Bailey had an off season last year. The standards were set rather high for him at the beginning of this one to have a rebounded season. That has not been the case. It seems the young man has had a difficult time finding the confidence he needs to do the most important part of being a forward—shooting the puck.
Kyle Okposo has recently turned his game around. We've seen more of his trademark, hard-charging, power-forward style of play. He was pretty much AWOL during the first month or so of the season, but after a short stint of being a healthy scratch, he has re-emerged. All that he needs now is to put up a few more numbers in the points department.
To be a competitive team in this league, everyone must contribute. Secondary scoring is a must—a single line can't bring a team to the playoffs.
**Note: We have seen a turnaround in the last few games of second and third lines getting some pucks into the net. If this trend continues, it will greatly help the team.
DiPietro came into training camp and the season completely healthy. However, it's been another tumultuous season for the former first overall pick in the 2000 draft. His GAA is 3.44 and he has a sub-.900 save percentage.
No one questions Rick's desire to play and compete, or his dedication for that matter. It's visible on his face when things don't go the right way for the team or if he fails to make a stop. But one must question if his body still can compete at the highest level, especially after suffering a groin injury during their 5-4 win over Dallas.
No doubt his injury during that game affected his play, but instead of signaling to the bench that he needed to be switched and was injured, he opted to let up three goals in just over two minutes...why?
Now with Rick injured again, we will see the team remain in the traditional two-goalie system. Nabakov is projected to return in the next few weeks, giving the Islanders two fantastic goaltenders who will receive full practices to themselves instead of net time being split up between the three of them.
The worst part of all is that the team seems to exhibit little confidence when playing with him in net. The fans as well have lost almost all faith in Rick DiPietro to come up with the saves he was drafted to stop nearly 11 years ago. And attitude towards him in general is that of worry, when remembering that if Rick can't turn it around, the team is stuck with him until 2022.
If any of the three goalies in the lineup have shown they're ready to be the starting netminder, it's Al Montoya. Every night he's played has been a solid showing, and he has provided the team with the peace of mind needed to win hockey games. The confidence shows throughout every player on the team in every game he's been between the pipes.
In two stellar games this season, he cemented his position as the No. 1 goalie: an away game in Colorado, which he stopped 47-of-51 shots in an eventual overtime loss (this was solely a defensive lapse) that saw him post a career high in saves; the other against Buffalo, where, coming off the heels of an injury, he stopped 30-of-31 shots and posted a .968 save percentage en route to a 2-1 victory.
This last road trip he has proven even more so of his ability to be the starter. He came in late for the injured Rick DiPietro during their game against Dallas and shut the door, ensuring the Islanders of an important victory.
Streit was named the new captain this offseason and was given a daunting task: attempt to lead the young team from the bottom of the league to the playoffs.
After coming off two of the best seasons of his NHL career, Streit was greeted with a season-long injury he suffered in training camp prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season. Being the obvious chose, he was then asked to captain the team, being a points leader and one of the more seasoned players on the team.
He has shown his presence in every game, having a point in nearly every other meeting, and he's second on the team in assists. His prowess as a quarterback for the power play was seen early in the season, but the Isle's power play overall has been rather lacking this season.
Overall, the Swiss native has done a good job of attempting to bring the team together.
Michael Grabner has pretty much resumed his ways of last season. He single-handedly stole the game quite literally off of Ilya Kovalchuck's stick to deliver a 3-2 win over New Jersey last week.
After claiming Grabner off of waivers last season from Florida, the young man has taken Long Island and the Islanders by storm, becoming a huge fan favorite for his lightening-fast speed, usually giving the fans at least one breakaway per game. Also, his ability to produce on a first line was shown for a few weeks when he was moved up a line; his move back to the second line seems more of a chemistry move than due to a lock of scoring.
As expected, he was a little slow out of the gates scoring-wise, but he has been steadily posting points throughout the season. He brings a dangerous element to each game, and he's exceedingly efficient on the penalty kill with Frans Nielsen.
Signing him to a five-year extension was an excellent move by Garth Snow, and Grabner has delivered.
Murmurs of the Islanders' apparent lack of defensive support were resounding all over during the offseason. Proof of this was the Islanders' attempt to sign Christian Ehrhoff by trading a fourth-round draft pick to Vancouver for exclusive negotiating rights.
Unable to sign Ehrhoff, the Isles added Steven Staios to the lineup in hope of rounding out the defense with some more experience.
In short, the largest glaring hole in their team right now is still their defense; it has cost them quite a few games now. The away game at Colorado is perhaps the best example. Up 3-0 in the second period, the defense completely fell apart and let up three goals in just over 20 minutes. The Isles eventually lost the game in overtime.
Lapses have plagued this team all season long and something must be done to bolster the Islanders' defense.
It should be noted that Mark Streit has continued to be their best defenseman up until this point, and Dylan Reese has done a very good job of working with a lacking Mike Mottau. Reese had his first NHL goal of the season against Dallas, and it would end up being the game-winning goal.
The Islanders upped their team age with the addition of some more seasoned players in the offseason, but its core remains a young team, and confidence comes with time. At times, we've seen the team struggle mightily to shoot the puck. This hesitancy has cost them games.
Too often they are caught trying to get in the extra pass to find an easy empty net, but that is hardly the case when you have the world's best goalies between the pipes. They now how the lowest GPG average in the NHL. However, we've seen a huge turnaround in the last three games, with some solid effort from all lines to get the puck in, forecheck and bury the biscuit.
While age has its faults, it allows the team to grow together and become one solid group on the ice, where the players know each other and know what to expect of one another.
Garth Snow failed to attract any upper-level free agents during the offseason—most notably, a solid defensive player (i.e., Christian Ehrhoff). Granted, attracting an older player looking for a Stanley Cup ring to come and play for a young team without much hope in making a Stanley Cup this run year is quite a task. To add to that, the free agency pool this year was particularly shallow.
Yes, Garth allowed for a few more seasoned players (Reasoner/Staios) to try out for the team and he eventually signed them, and while trading Trent Hunter for Brian Rolston proved to be a good move, it didn't provide real blue-line support and scoring strength the team needs.
If the Isles are able to acquire a player of some stature on the blue line at the trade deadline by trading a first-round pick, Snow should most definitely make the move. Yes, the rebuild will bring a good team in the next few years, but there is some patch work to be done on the blue line that needs attention sooner rather than later.
This past road trip has shown something the team and the fans both desperately needed: they can win. If they all put the effort in, the team has the talent to compete and be successful. They were un-beaten in regulation against two of the best teams in the league (Dallas and Chicago) and against a top-tier team in Buffalo...all on the road.
The Isles need to carry over this effort and attitude. They have the next three games at home against some tough teams yet again, but two of them they've beaten before, so there's no reason for not having a repeat performance and continue on track to improve their season.
The sky if the limit for this young team. Although fans have grown impatient with the slowness of a rebuilding process, you need to look no further than the four goals scored by Moulson in Dallas Saturday night—or the seven out of eight possible points in games everyone counted the Isles out of—to see the progress being made.
We've heard it for awhile now, but if fans stay patient, they will see what all the waiting and hard work was for.