Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hanging With The Big Boys

Throughout this year’s Islanders training camp the players have been split in two groups, A and B. Group A featured all the NHL regulars, while group B featured all the up and coming prospects, including Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Johan Sundstrom, and Griffin Reinhart. Yesterday, however, changes were made and the aforementioned prospects were moved into the majors group. 

With Cal Clutterbuck out for 4-6 weeks with a skate laceration to his higher leg area, Strome, Nelson and Sundstrom will be battling to replace the hole he leaves on the third line. With Sundstrom being the obvious long shot, and Strome still adjusting to playing, Brock Nelson is the obvious favorite to be filling that role on opening night. With experience in playing left wing while playing in college, and a very physical style of play, Nelson should be the one filling in for Clutterbuck during his injury, while Strome will most likely start the year in Bridgeport awaiting for a chance that is certain to come. 

The players in the groups weren’t the only change made yesterday, as the addition of the new players led to the changing of lines. With Pierre-Marc Bouchard having been demoted to the third line during the Islanders’ last preseason game against Nashville, Josh Bailey was promoted to the first line with the new captain John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Michael Grabner was promoted from the third line to the second line to replace Grabner. Anyone surprised at Bailey’s promotion shouldn’t be, with experience in playing on Tavares’ wing during the playoffs and a playmaking ability unlike any other winger on the Islanders’ roster he was, in my opinion, the best fit to fill that first line hole from day one. 

With Mark Streit’s departure there’s been a hole on the Islanders’ defense that needs filling, and Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart are the only candidates left. Reinhart has been surprising coaches throughout camp and it’s not surprising that he’s in line to make his NHL debut come next Friday. At this point the most likely way to go from here is for the coaching staff to give Reinhart his 9 games to see how he handles NHL forwards, and if he proves less than capable Matt Donovan will be there to fill in the rest of the way. On a side note, the pairing of MacDonald and Hamonic made a return in camp yesterday, putting an end to the experiment that was the Hamonic-Strait pairing.

The last big change to take place was the moving of goaltender Anders Nilsson from group A to group B, setting the stage for Kevin Poulin to take the reigns as the backup to Evgeni Nabokov for the 13-14 season. At the end of the day, this was the best decision for all involved. Poulin is past the point of playing in the AHL, he’s gaining comfort in an NHL crease and should only get better with every game he plays. Nilsson on the other hand, who missed the large majority of last season with an infection to gluten that affected just about every part of his body. An entire season as an AHL starter, playing 50-60 games optimally, will be what’s best for him and his development into a full-time NHL starter at some point in the not too distant future. 

As of right now I believe the Islanders’ opening night  roster should look something like this:




Scratches: Matt Donovan, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Islanders Free Agency Day 1 Review

The New York Islanders came into the first day of free agency with three main roles to fill, a center, a right wing, and a goaltender. The Islanders managed to fill all three of those roles, whether they managed to improve their team in the meantime is something that remains to be seen.

The free agency frenzy began with the Islanders re-signing goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to a one year deal worth $3.25 million. The veteran goaltender comes back for his third season as an Islander, and will try to make up to fans for his lackluster performance in the playoffs. The 37 year old is a good option for the Islanders as he’s a veteran presence and very much so a leader in the locker room. Nabokov’s return disappointed some fans who were expecting a trade for a Ryan Miller, or Jonas Hiller, to lead the team between the pipes next season. However, it seems to me that Snow is going to look to give Kevin Poulin a legitimate chance at making his case to be the starter of the future before looking elsewhere. Reports are suggesting that the Islanders will be looking to give Poulin 20+ games next season, his first real elongated stunt in the NHL, and his first chance to fight for a starting role in the near future. 

The second signing for the Islanders was ex-Minnesota Wild Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who signed a one year deal worth $2 million. Bouchard is second in scoring in Minnesota Wild history, and the playmaker is noted for his passing and vision on the ice. Although Bouchard has a history of concussions, last year he was relatively healthy playing 43 of 48 games, and posting 8 goals and 12 assists in the process. Although Bouchard is expected to be playing on Tavares’ wing next season, one of the things that make this signing good is his versatility in being able to play center effectively as well. Expectations are that Bouchard could post over 60 points if he plays on the first line aside Tavares, and can stay healthy. 

Travis Hamonic
The third signing, and quite certainly the least important one, was center Peter Regin. The 27 year old has been with the Senators since being drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft, making his debut in 2008. One would expect that the Regin signing was a depth signing to replace Keith Aucoin, giving competition to Brock Nelson for the third line center role. Having watched clips of Regin, he’s definitely shown flashes of brilliance, and possesses a good shot with which he usually hits his target.

Although not quite a free agency signing, the biggest signing of the day was without a doubt the seven year extension given to RFA defenseman Travis Hamonic worth a total of $27 million. Newsday reporter, Arthur Staple, quoted Hamonic as saying “we’re building something special with the Isles. I would never have signed this long if I didn’t truly believe that. Sever years is a long time – to me, that’s enough time to win a couple Stanley Cups…This is where I want to be.” 

Although this is definitely quite early into the offseason, taking into account the signings of the day this is what the Islanders lineup would look like if the status quo remains as such:

Moulson-Tavares-Bouchard                                        Moulson-Tavares-Clutterbuck
Bailey-Nielsen-Okposo                                              Bailey-Bouchard-Okposo
Grabner-Nelson-Clutterbuck                 OR                 Regin-Nielsen-Grabner
Martin-Cizikas-McDonald                                          Martin-Cizikas-McDonald
(Regin, Boulton as scratches)                                    (Boulton as scratch)
(Carkner as scratch)


Friday, June 1, 2012

Islanders Sign Riley

The Islanders made their second signing of the summer today as they signed forward Blair Riley to a one year, two-way deal.

The Ferris State graduate spent the 2011-12 season up and down from the AHL and the ECHL, and impressed the Islander organization with his grit. In the 55 games he’s played for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Riley had seven goals and four assists for a total of eleven points on the season, with a -3 +/- and 77 PIMS.

While the signing isn’t exactly the biggest signing of the market, it’s good to remember that a team isn’t solely made up of superstars and depth signings are also necessary to a good team.

When interviewed about his first professional contract by the Connecticut Post, Riley had this to say:
“I got an opportunity there to show what I could do at the American League level, an opportunity to take a step forward… I’m very comfortable going to camp, knowing a bunch of the guys, and with the staff. They know what to expect from me.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Islanders Fall to Senators

The Islanders didn’t get the start they were looking for in their current 4 game road trip, as they lost their first game 5-2 against the Ottawa Senators. The road only gets harder for the Isles as they must now head to Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston, and can’t truly afford to get another regulation loss if they are to count this road trip a success.

The game started out on a good note as not even a minute in, a bad pinch by Erik Karlsson, led to the Islanders getting a 2-on-1 rush and finished with John Tavares going five hole on, Senator goaltender, Robin Lehner to give the Islanders an early 1-0 lead. The Islanders would continue their pressure throughout the first, but just failed to get anything else past Lehner, and as is so often the case in hockey, the lack of ability to finish off their opponent only ended up giving the Senators life in the second period.

Fast forward a couple of penalties and the Senators come out of the second period with a 2-1 lead, off goals by Milan Michalek, a result of a stupid penalty in the faceoff circle by recent call-up David Ullstrom, and Jason Spezza, who was given way too much space by Milan Jurcina and took advantage of it by firing a bullet past Nabokov.

Although down by one, the Islanders entered the third period with belief that they could come back… cue Mike Mottau. Coming from behind the net, the returnee made a blind pass to Nielsen, which very quickly turned into a turnover right on O’Brien’s stick in the slot and right past Nabokov. 

However, the Islanders simply refused to go down without a fight, and a little bit under five minutes later a great keep in by Andrew MacDonald turned into PA Parenteau carrying the puck down the slot and putting it past Lehner to keep the Islanders in the game. 

The Islanders continued to battle and battle, but tonight just wasn’t their night. Two scoring chances, one after another, turned into an Ottawa goal as Mark Streit broke his stick on a shot and was caught helpless on an Ottawa rush going the other way. Chris Neil deflected a puck midair and past Nabokov and basically ending the game. Kyle Turris would bury an empty netter, and close the game at 5-2.

While in the middle of a playoff race, the Islanders simply can’t afford to lose games that they should have in the bag after the first period. They can’t afford to not bury scoring chance after scoring chance, and keep teams around, simply because it will come back to haunt you as it did tonight. The Islanders need to fix their penalty kill, which has been a huge problem the past 2 games, as they allowed 4 PPG. Capuano mentioned the issue in his post game interview, “That’s an issue right now. It’s something that we really have to take a look at. We aren’t the highest scoring team in the league so our PK has to be good.”

Defenseman Travis Hamonic, who had 2 assists on the night, said the game was lost after Ottawa cashed in on their two power plays during the second period. “It’s frustrating trying to play catch up in the rest of the game,” Hamonic said. “When you have to play catch up like that, it’s unfortunate.”

The Islanders head to Washington on Tuesday night next, and can hardly afford another regulation loss to another team in the playoff hunt with them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tim Wallace Picked Up Off Waivers by Tampa Bay

With the intention of sending forward Tim Wallace back to Bridgeport, the New York Islanders placed him on waivers and ended up having him picked up by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 27 year old was signed by the Islanders during the off-season, and although productive in the AHL, never really got going during his days with the big club. His only point came during his first game, and his game has been on a decline since.

Through 31 games played, Wallace has only one point, a -7 rating, and only 16 shots on goal. Statistics showing that he's clearly been far from the player the Islanders were hoping him to be when they called him up in early December.

Wallace has been the healthy scratch at the last few Islander games, and has rarely played anywhere north of nine minutes, so the sending down was well on its way once Reasoner returned from his injury.

The University of Notre Dame graduate will look to get his career going with the Tampa Bay Lightning, as other past Islanders have done. Islanders like forward Nate Thompson, defensemen, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Eric Brewer, and Bruno Gervais, and lastly goaltender Dwayne Roloson who have found homes in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

UPDATE: Islanders have also sent down goaltender Kevin Poulin, recall forward Casey Cizikas, and activate Travis Hamonic off IR. Hamonic and Nabokov are both expected to play against the Rangers tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blues Rock the Islanders

Ugly. That’s the only word that really comes to mind when it comes to describing this game. In what was supposed to be a great test for a rising Islander team, the result came as a huge F.

The news came around 6 that Nabokov and Staios weren’t going to play in the game, due to the flu, and that Montoya would be starting and Wishart would be making his season debut. It wasn’t the best turn of events against an almost unbeatable St. Louis Blues team at home, but there was still hope. The hope seemed to climb almost right away, less than a minute into the first two blocked shots left the puck right on Nielsen’s stick who beat Elliot stick side and right away made the game 1-0. Two lucky bounces, an early lead against the Blues at home, and the hope rose, only to drop at a deadly rate.

Five minutes before the end of the first the Blues started to take control. Vladimir Sobotka came from behind the net into the wing, and, Islander defenseman, Mark Eaton decided to go to him instead of rightfully marking his own man Jason Arnott who was positioned in front of the net. Sobotka threw it in front, Arnott slapped it down and being left all alone was more than able to position it as he wished and roof it to tie the game.
Blown defensive coverages would continue all game. On a power play at the end of the first, the Blues would take the lead after Backes was left all alone in front of Montoya and screened him on a Shattenkirk shot which found its way into the end of the net. 

There was still hope though for Islander fans, as the team was only down by one, and a comeback was completely possible. However, that too was shut down very early in the second, as a big rebound from Montoya and fully blown coverage by Jurcina allowed Andy McDonald to push the Blues’ lead to two.
Things would only get worst from there as David Perron’s deflection on a Pietrangelo shot would make the score 4-1 and push the Blues’ power play to a perfect 2-for-2, impressive for a team whose only weakness is their special teams. Later in the second, T.J. Oshie would wrap up the scoring with yet another deflection, and make it 5-1 Blues. 

That was the game for the most part, the Islanders came out firing and got the lead, but they realistically played about 10 or 15 minutes of the full 60. There were a few power plays, and scoring chances, but the team just didn’t play like a team that wanted the win as much as they should’ve. All five goals were goals that should be completely preventable from good defense as the Islanders should in no way be leaving men open in any position to deflect shots. The difference was clear in Matt Moulson’s eyes, “they just capitalized their chances”, and he was right as Elliot came up big on the Islanders’ chances, and Montoya just didn’t seem to be able to make the important saves to keep the Islanders in the game.

The Islanders are very clearly moving on however, and focusing on Saturday’s game. Capuano made it obvious during his post game interview, stating that “obviously there’s things we can take from this game, but we gotta get ready for Saturday night” when the Islanders will take on the Carolina Hurricanes. The game on Saturday will be huge, and the urgency is present in the locker room as portrayed by PA Parenteau’s post game interview, where he said “we can’t afford to lose two in a row, we all know that as a group. We absolutely have to win Saturday’s game”.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Islanders Rise Above Jets

In as important a game as they’ve had in the last couple of years, the New York Islanders wouldn’t be held down as they obtained a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, cutting the deficit from the 8th place in the Eastern Conference to 6 points with one game in hand. The win also gave the Islanders their first four game road winning streak since January 2008.

After a very rough night against Florida on Sunday, the Islanders weren’t about to let up another huge game slip by their fingers. The first period was a rough one, as Winnipeg outshot and for the most part outplayed the Islanders, obtaining the lead after a bad rebound from Nabokov and worst defensive coverage from Staios gave Thorburn all he needed to give the Jets the lead late in the first. However, although the Islanders didn’t start out the game they were necessarily hoping to, they rebounded early in the second after a one-two between Matt Moulson and John Tavares ended in a power play goal for the Islanders, tying the game at 1. The rest of a second was a battle throughout and would end tied at 1, as both teams refused to give up in the slightest way in a battle for a spot in the playoffs. This would change however early in the third, as a heads up play by Milan Jurcina enabled a tip in the slot by PA Parenteau giving the Islanders a 2-1 lead. The battle would continue for the remainder of a game, but the defense and Nabokov refused to give up absolutely anything, and an empty netter from Martin would close the game at 3-1. 

Capuano described the first period as one that they had to battle through, and that “it was gut wrench time for us, and I thought we played much better in the second and third period”. The Islanders certainly did that, blocking shots throughout, skating harder and plain out wanting the game more than the Jets tonight. 

Every game is huge at this point in the season for the Islanders, but games against teams in the race with them are even bigger, as they can hardly afford to give up opportunities to jump up in the standings. Andrew MacDonald definitely noticed that, “everyone tried to do a little bit extra tonight, cause there was a lot on the line.”

The Islanders now look to St. Louis on Thursday, who’s seemed to be almost impossible to beat in their own building, but Capuano thinks of it as a “good test”. It certainly would be as a win against a team that has only lost 3 games in regulation in their own building would go a long way as far as confidence goes.

A few other quick points about tonight’s game:

-Refereeing almost cost the Islanders again, as the referees made 3 bad calls which could’ve easily cost the Islanders had it not been for Reasoner, Pandolfo, and MacDonald’s work on the PK.

-Staios had a rough night at the office. Bad coverage led to first goal, and almost cost the Islanders on the PK when a failed attempt at clearing the puck led to Byfuglien hitting the crossbar on a slapshot. Possibility of Wishart making season debut on Thursday, but only a possibility as Capuano said Wishart call up was more for insurance purposes.

-Bailey had another great game. He’s really impressed me this season, points may not show a lot, but he’s been playing with as much confidence as anybody, and is single handedly making that 3rd line dangerous. The Parenteau goal was a result of his refusal to give up the puck in the boards, and turned in yet another goal in which he was crucial but was given no credit.

-Aaron Ness has been excellent the past few games. He’s been the best defenseman for the Islanders after MacDonald, and is definitely making a case to stick around after Hamonic returns. Look for Snow to be more open to trading a defenseman following his recent play.

-Pandolfo was probably the hardest worker on the ice tonight, killing penalties and skating as hard as anybody.

-Wishart’s call up seemed to give Jurcina a bit of a wake-up call. Jurcina was probably the worst defenseman for the Islanders the last few games, and now that there’s a chance of him being a healthy scratch, he made very few mistakes in his own zone and was the main contributor to the Parenteau goal.

-Nabokov was huge for the Islanders tonight. He let up a bad rebound on the first goal but was lights out the rest of the way through. 37 saves tonight, probably the best player on the Islanders the past few weeks.

-Parenteau was huge as well tonight. If you thought his goal was impressive take a closer look at the empty net goal by Martin. PA was in the middle of a long shift, and after the puck was dumped in the Winnipeg zone everyone skated for a change, everyone except PA that is. Instead he outskated the Jet defenseman, got the puck, waited and dangled the puck in the corner for the Islanders to change and basically handed Martin a goal.

-Reasoner was a very respectable 55% on faceoffs in his return; covering up a hole he left when he broke his hand, and which was only partially covered by Pandolfo.

- I saved the best for last. Pat Flatley was once again between the benches for the Islanders tonight, and at one point during the third period, he started talking about how John Tavares’ work ethic and pure determination would one day push him to being the best player in the NHL. Couldn’t agree more with Flatley on that one.