New York Islanders: 10 Steps They Need to Take to Fix Their Problems

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIDecember 23, 2011

New York Islanders: 10 Steps They Need to Take to Fix Their Problems

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    The New York Islanders find themselves in a familiar position at this point in the season: near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in the NHL and struggling to string wins together.

    Despite recent pulse-pounding shootout wins during their two-game winning streak, the Isles have some serious work to do if they’re going to make the playoffs this year.

    It’s a difficult task, like being able to straddle the line between sounding ironic or sounding self-pitying when writing about the Islanders as a fan.

    The good news is that the problems on Long Island are fixable and are by no means out of reach for this young team. Assuming veteran leadership and youthful excitement can coalesce over the next few weeks, the Islanders have the pieces to make a postseason run.

    Wishful thinking? Maybe. But here I’ll lay the groundwork for a turnaround in Uniondale if the Isles are willing to follow these guidelines. And, appropriately enough, it’s a 10-step program for the team to adhere to.

    If that reminds you of a rehab program, that's because it is one.

1. Stop Losing One-Goal Games

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    Okay, you could argue that, to solve their problems, the New York Islanders should just stop losing in general. But I’m attempting to be somewhat realistic in my analysis of how they can turn things around.

    Let’s face it: The Isles aren’t going to coast to the top of the Eastern Conference and a top seed in the playoffs this year.

    Of their 20 losses on the season, eight of them have been by a single goal. If you’re looking for the reason behind an Islander fan’s frustration, you’re best served by starting with the team’s knack for losing close games.

    What’s more, of those eight one-goal losses, six of them have come in overtime or via the shootout. Nothing is more frustrating to players and fans alike than a loss in heartbreaking fashion (read: overtime or shootout).

    By exchanging half of those single-goal losses for single-goal victories, the Isles would be above .500 with a 15-12-4 record.

    They wouldn’t exactly be world-beaters, but the Islanders would be headed in the right direction.

2. Stop Conceding Late-Period Goals

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    After working hard for 20 minutes to build a lead or grind out a tough period, nothing is more disheartening for a team than giving up a late goal.

    As far as momentum goes, there’s nothing bigger over the course of a game.

    The New York Islanders have made giving up late-period goals a hallmark of their season so far. It doesn’t take an analyst of Barry Melrose’s quality to break down the film and tell Isles fans that their team simply cannot continue to allow the opposition to score in the final two minutes of the period.

    The NHL season itself is about momentum; the Islanders can’t build momentum from game to game if they can’t carry it throughout the course of three consecutive periods.

    The Isles are averaging 2.62 goals per game this season, bad enough for 29th in the league (It doesn’t seem right to say “good for 29th” in that sentence. No NHL team dreams of being 29th in the league in any category). They can’t afford to give up many goals at all, but it’s most important that they limit their late-period goals against.

    Baby steps: carry momentum through an entire period, then build on that from one game to the next. If the Islanders can head to the room at intermission with their heads up instead of down, the feeling around this team should start to change.

3. Score on the Power Play

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    This can generally be applied to any NHL team, but it especially holds true for the New York Islanders.

    It's no coincidence that the teams ranked in the upper echelon of power play percentage are often found at the top of the standings.

    By contrast, the Isles are ranked 21st in the league at 15.9 percent on the power play, only percentage points above three other teams in the 15 percent range (Dallas, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay).

    The Islanders have only tallied 17 power-play goals this season. Compared to the league-leading Vancouver Canucks (35 power play goals), the Isles clearly have some work to do in that department.

    When given the opportunity to play with a man advantage, the Isles need to make the most of it. Power play goals count twice—once on the stat sheet and once in the minds of the opposing players.

    Knowing that a team is capable of punishing you on the power play will make you think twice before committing a penalty. By increasing their power play effectiveness, the Islanders can change the complexion of a game, and not only on the scoreboard.

4. Work on Zone-Entry Plays

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    The New York Islanders don’t have that Alex Ovechkin-type player who makes opposing defenders back off of the blue line when he’s advancing the puck. As a result, many of the zone-entry plays the New York Islanders generally run are, well…ineffective (to put it lightly).

    More often than not, the Isles tend to slow up and skate horizontally when they hit the offensive blue line, which takes the aggressiveness out of their attack. When that fails, they resort to a dump-and-chase style of offense.

    Neither option is very intimidating.

    Head coach Jack Capuano needs to make better use of the offensive talent on his team with regards to puck carriers. Especially on power play opportunities, the Islanders rely on Mark Streit—and Mark Streit only—to bring the puck up ice and start the attack. Opposing teams know this and key on Streit as a result.

    The Islanders are, in essence, forced to kill their own power plays, as Streit often has to mount a slower attack while wasting precious power play time.

    John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner should be utilized to run some form of one-two or give-and-go passing combination in the neutral zone to free up space and add speed to the Islanders attack.

    By forcing opposing teams to respect multiple puck handlers and a high-pressure form of offense, the Islanders can start to regain credibility as a team that scores goals.

5. Stop Relying on the Young Talent

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    Believe me, I’ve been one of the fans who’s enjoyed the hype surrounding the young talent the New York Islanders have drafted in recent years. Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter were all billed as the core of a future Islanders powerhouse.

    But at some point, “up-and-coming” has to give way to winning here and now.

    This isn’t to say that I think the window has closed for this young core of players, not by a long shot. However, the Islanders have to consider themselves positioned to win soon, if not now. No longer should players or fans buy into the hype without seeing results.

    It’s fine to be excited about the future, but the Islanders have been looking to the future seemingly for the last fifteen years.

    The shift in thinking should come from the top; owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow have to make it known to the team that winning is expected. Along with head coach Jack Capuano, management can change the culture of the organization for the better.

    It’s better for the Islanders to expect to win now rather than view winning as a nice surprise.

6. Announce a Move to Brooklyn

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    Since the proposal to build a new arena was easily voted down by the taxpayers in August, the New York Islanders have found themselves in limbo regarding the organization’s future on Long Island.

    Without knowing where or if the team will relocate in 2015—when the current lease at the Nassau Coliseum expires—players and fans are left wondering if the once-proud franchise will soon be a thing of the past.

    A move to Brooklyn would revitalize the Islanders as both a team and a brand. Period.

    With the hype surrounding the impending move of the New Jersey Nets to a new arena in Brooklyn, it makes sense that the Islanders would want to steal some of the limelight.

    Besides, does a potential relocation to Kansas City seem enticing from a revenue—or hockey—standpoint? The options other than Brooklyn are bleak, at best.

    By moving the team to Brooklyn in 2015, team owner Charles Wang would be able to keep his team’s roots in New York, gain a share of the world’s largest media and sports market and piggyback on the excitement around a “new” NBA franchise.

    Not to mention the fact that he’d be solving his current problem of finding his team a modern arena to call home.

    I can already see the “Subway Series” moniker being applied to the rivalry between the New York Rangers and the Islanders. You can’t tell me that’s not an exciting thought.

7. Get Rid of the Third (Alternate) Jerseys

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    First things first.

    I’ll be the first one to give the Islanders credit for bringing back the traditional jerseys from their heyday. The orange and blue bring back memories of back-to-back-to-back-to-back Stanley Cup titles and 19 consecutive playoff series victories in the early 1980s.

    And I understand that it’s a team’s prerogative to run out a new design or template for its jersey from time to time, but the marketing team for the New York Islanders must’ve lost a bet with their counterparts from the New York Rangers or something.

    What else could explain the new look of the alternate uniforms? Seriously, did the Isles steal those from the New York Mets?

    The black third jersey is boring at best and unsightly at worst.

    Didn’t the team learn from its failed experiment with the infamous “Gorton’s Fisherman” unis? It’s like 1996 all over again; opposing teams can laugh at the Isles for their jerseys and their position in the Eastern Conference standings at the same time.

    This edition of the third jersey has only been around for a few weeks, but it's already outlived it's shelf life. If the Islanders want to be taken seriously around the league, those jerseys have to go.

8. Make the Coliseum Feel Like Home

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    If the New York Islanders want to turn things around this season, they can start by creating a home-ice advantage for themselves. More specifically, they can start drawing fans to the Coliseum by offering discounted tickets or other promotions.

    How can the Isles—in good faith—claim that they have a home-ice advantage if fans of the visiting team often outnumber fans wearing orange and blue in Uniondale?

    It’s embarrassing to Islanders players and fans alike when, after a goal by the away team, the crowd reaction makes it sound like the goal was scored in their home barn. Based on the crowd noise, you’d think the Islanders were playing on the road when they’re actually at the Coliseum.

    It’s not like the Islanders have a reputation as being an overpriced ticket—they have nothing to lose by offering discount ticket plans or even giving tickets away to certain big-name matchups, if only to fill the seats.

    By getting more home fans to the Coliseum, it would bring a higher level of excitement to the games on Long Island.

    If nothing else, Isles management should at least allow the fans who do show up to move from the upper tier into the lower bowl at the Coliseum. That way, the fans are happy and the television viewers don’t have to watch a game that looks like it’s being played in an empty arena.

9. Stay off the Injured List

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    To date, the New York Islanders have lost 140 man-games due to injury this season. No matter what a particular team's level of skill is, it's nearly impossible to win games consistently when players keep finding their way onto the injury report.

    Players can't help the team if they're watching games from the press box.

    Concussions have been the biggest culprit in terms of sidelining various Islanders players this season. Wingers Brian Rolston and David Ullstrom, defenseman Steve Staios and—most recently—goaltender Al Montoya have all suffered concussions and aren't expected back any time soon.

    And with the recent publicity and increased awareness around concussions in the NHL, there's no incentive for the Islanders to rush them back to action.

    I understand that it's no one's fault that the Islanders' players have been bitten by the injury bug this year, but it's certainly impacted the overall effectiveness of the team.

    If the Isles can get—and keep—their players healthy, they stand a better chance at developing team chemistry and possibly making a playoff push as the season wears on.

10. Ride the Momentum of Recent Wins

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    The New York Islanders showed they have heart, winning consecutive road games—both of them in shootouts. And despite their most recent loss to the rival New York Rangers, the Isles can build on the success they've had on the road recently.

    The Islanders are 5-2-1 in their last eight games away from the Coliseum. The exciting fashion in which they went into Minnesota and Winnipeg—which are not easy places to play as the visitors—and won games proves that this team isn't ready to roll over and die.

    If the Isles can carry that kind of heart and emotion into successive games, they can close out the calendar year on a high note. Their New Year's resolution should be to post an above-.500 record in the second half of the season. The way to do that is by stringing together a few good periods. Eventually, a few good consecutive 20-minute segments turn into a few good games in a row.

    We know the Isles aren't going to blow their opponents away night in and night out; they'll have to grind out some tough wins, but that's the way this team was built.

    The Isles have the veterans to help the younger players weather the storm, the grinders to work in the dirty areas of the ice and a proven star in John Tavares. They'd be best served by remembering these things and playing to their strengths.

    Carrying momentum from one game to the next will be the key to the rest of the Islanders' season.