Our latest edition of a new weekly column here at SNY's Islanders Point Blank, as Andy Graziano and Brian Erni will trade opinions on two of the hot topics working their way around the Islanders and give their two cents.
It never is dull in Islanders land... This week saw two huge divisional victories, 6-4 over the Rangers and 2-1 over the Penguins, followed by terrible news involving starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a disappointing shootout loss in Toronto against the league's worst team. Can the Islanders survive down the stretch here and into the playoffs without Halak?
Andy Graziano: Craziness. The Islanders got caught in a wacky first period Sunday at Madison Square Garden before settling down and grinding out a tremendous road win. They battled the Penguins Tuesday for every square inch, kept them to the outside mostly and Anders Lee was in beast mode, shoving Kris Letang aside like a rag doll on the game winning goal. And then? Boom. Halak news (out 6-8 weeks with groin injury) and a letdown game that maybe some saw coming in Toronto.
All told, two back with two in hand on the Rangers, six up with a game in hand on the Pens (who play Columbus tonight) is a position New York is not unhappy to be in, as they are in full control of their own destiny. And they are fortunate enough to have the league save percentage leader to fall back on. Thomas Greiss has been remarkable (18-6-0, 2.23, .929) and looked the part against the Maple Leafs in his first start as the unchallenged go-to guy. Whether the Islanders 'survive' might be up to J.F Berube and how he performs in the inevitable starts he has to get to keep Greiss fresh for the playoffs. They will be going to the playoffs, barring an EPIC collapse, but at what seed? Lots of big points still on the table down the stretch.
Brian Erni: I don't think this is the season-wrecking injury it would have been last year. And we've heard all season from a section of the fan base that believes Greiss is the real number one goaltender. Now he gets to prove his mettle.
I think you're right, Andy. More than Greiss' performance, I think where the Isles end up in the playoffs. How far they go may just rest on the shoulders of J.F. Berube. From glancing at the schedule, I assume Berube will get at least five starts, maybe more. Those 10 points are going to loom large in seeding. And if Berube can keep New York afloat in those games, they'll be fine. If he exceeds expectations, maybe they can afford to give Greiss more of a breather down the stretch ahead of the playoffs. Either way, you're going to see what this team is truly made of in the next six-to-eight weeks.
Darren Dreger of TSN this week was commenting on the Kyle Okposo negotiations - or better said, lack thereof - and once again, mentioned about Barclays Center being a possible consideration in any decision by Okposo or any other free agent, from signing with the Islanders. Do you think there really is any fire to match the smoke here?
Graziano: Honestly, I don't. Pierre LeBrun followed suit by posting a video blog on ESPN addressing the exact same thing. It's comical for any 'insider' to make such outlandish claims when there is no way he could reasonably know anyway and further, fans and most likely, even management, would never know that was a reason or consideration. So why speculate and continue to throw cold water on what has already been a season of tough adjustments, both for players and fans? Besides, the New York Rangers play home games in Manhattan yet practice in Tarrytown, NY - some 30 miles away. Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center? 28 miles.
Enough with this silliness already. Kyle Okposo might leave. Travis Hamonic is almost assured of leaving. But it's not because of Barclays.
Erni: I guess I could see how Barclays Center might be a bit of a nuisance, but certainly not enough of an annoyance that it would be the sole reason you'd move to an entirely different city. I would think the inconvenience of picking up your life and going elsewhere might outweigh the occasional trip on the LIRR. So I agree that it's kind of silly.
That said, who knows? Okposo is human just like we are. Maybe he has read reports of the opt out clause in the Islanders lease and worries that if he signs he long term, there's a chance of the franchise going through another move sometime during the contract. I think that's doubtful, but who knows. Ultimately, I think it's going to be more about who values Okposo close enough to that $8 million AAV he has reportedly been seeking, but I've seen people cite a lot crazier reasons (I'm looking at you, Mike Hampton and your Colorado schools).