24 December 2011
Last night loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was the latest blow to the Islanders hopes of gaining ground in the Eastern Conference standings. The Islanders sit 14th in conference and 11 points out a playoff spot with 49 games left to play. Though they’re not out of it by any means that could change quickly if they don’t turn things around when the NHL starts back up following the winter recess.
The 5-3 loss was a microcosm of the Islanders struggles all season; bad defensive play and an inability to find the back of the net. Throw in poor call by the officials and you may have found a theme for Islander games this season.
It’s safe to say that everyone watching the game was flabbergasted by the diving penalty assessed to John Tavares in a crucial juncture in the game. The penalty took the Islanders best player off the ice and killed the momentum the Islanders had at that point.
Of course this hasn’t been the only time the Islanders have been given the short end of the stick when it comes to penalties.
While poor officiating has played a factor in the past, it is in no way an excuse for why the Islanders have struggled.
33 games into the season the Islanders have been one of the worst teams when it comes to goal scoring. They’ve scored 75 goals as a team up to this point and are only averaging 2.27 goals for per game. The only team worse than them in that department is the Los Angeles Kings. To exacerbate the problem, Islander goal scoring has been limited to a select few players with others contributing on an inconsistent basis.
The Islanders top line of John Tavares, PA Parenteau and Matt Moulson have accounted for a majority of the teams goals this season. Moulson leads the team with 16 goals with Tavares second on the team with 11. The only other player to hit double digits for the Islanders is Michael Grabner with 10 goals so far.Defensively the Islanders have struggled. The poor play of Mark Streit has not helped the cause and has earned him some ire from the frustrated fanbase. The Islanders captain is a minus-13 on the season and has not played up to the caliber he became known for following the 08-09 season. It’s hard to say what has hindered the former all-star’s play this season, though missing all of last season with an injury probably has something to do with it, but there is still plenty of time for Streit to still find his game.
You would hope it comes sooner rather than later because he isn’t the only player who’s struggles on defense have hurt the Islanders. Veteran defenseman Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton and Steve Staios, though Staios is on IR at the moment, have also had their struggles this season. Eaton and Staios have both missed defensive assignments that resulted in goals and made costly turnovers in their own zone. However, Eaton has been player that hasn’t been afraid to block shots for the Islanders. A skill that has been quite beneficial at times.
Mottau has been the defensemen that has struggled the most this season. Bad turnovers, missed defensive coverage and getting caught behind plays are a few examples of mistakes made by Mottau. His play has improved slightly as of late. Last night he made a great pass up the ice to Kyle Okposo to score the Islanders first point of the night.
Through all of the negatives this season, there are positives and hope for a run at the playoffs.
Rookies Nino Niederreiter and David Ullstrom have played well in their short time on Long Island. Niederreiter, who averaged around 9:41 in his last four games, already has a goal on the season and, despite missing time due to injury, has maintained a steady level of play through ten games. Ullstrom also has been impressive through his first 14 games in the NHL. Although he is currently out of the lineup with a concussion Ullstrom is a plus-1 with two goals and two assists for four points. Ullstrom’s strong play early on can only mean more good things to come from Swedish rookie.
The Islanders are finally seeing production out of struggling players like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo. After not scoring until Thanksgiving eve, Okposo has netted six goals and added seven assists for 13 points. Bailey has seemingly regained his confidence after a slow start. He has become more aggressive with the puck, throwing his body around and creating scoring chances.
In goal, Al Montoya has been strong for the Islanders, as everyone already knows. Through 17 appearances in net he has posted a 6-5-3 record, a 2.46 goals against average, and .917 save percentage. His strong play has made up for mistakes perpetrated by the guys in front of him and given the Islanders a chance to win every night he’s out there.
The Islanders still have 49 more games to get back in the hunt for the post season and their next stretch of games will be crucial in reaching that goal. Only time will tell if this Islanders team has it in them to make that push.
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