Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
When you awoke Thursday morning, it might have taken an extra brushing or two to get the bad taste out of your mouth from the previous two games the Islanders 'participated' in.
A sleepy 4-1 loss to the Panthers at Barclays Center, their third straight home defeat, was followed by a no-show in Toronto, losing 5-0 to the Maple Leafs, getting outshot in the process, 50-28.
If you bothered to even check the current NHL standings after Thursday night's games, you would see that New York is still well within striking distance of a playoff spot, trailing the Flyers by one point (giving two games in hand) and Blue Jackets by three points (also giving two games) for the final two wild card spots in the Eastern conference.
Problem number one with New York being "in the race" at this point is that, with 30 games remaining on the schedule, the Hurricanes are right on their heels (one point back with two games in hand), and should the Red Wings win their three games in hand, would be right back in the discussion as well -- only then trailing New York by one point. Let's not even bring up Florida yet, who own four games in hand and currently trail by nine points.
Problem number two comes in the form of the still-abysmal team defense being sent out every night. Of the teams in position for the final wild card spot, the closest to the Islanders in goals-against are those pesky Panthers at 159, with Carolina at 155. New York has allowed a ridiculous 189, which is the most in the league by a wide margin. Arizona, having played two fewer games, is second-worst at 172.
Sample size plays a huge role when breaking down these numbers, so let's widen the Isles' issue out to a healthy 32 games and you will see the predicament they find themselves in. Their record is 14-15-3 (48 percent of possible points), but only seven of those wins have come in regulation. The penalty kill is 60/87 over that span -- a horrendous 69 percent. And they have allowed 123 goals (3.8 per game) on 1175 shots (36.7 per game). Twice over the past eight games, they have allowed 50 or more shots and have only outshot their opponent twice in their past 14 games.
The issue simply isn't the losses to injury of Nikolay Kulemin, Calvin de Haan, and Johnny Boychuk. Or the mutual dysfunction that has become the Josh Ho-Sang saga. It comes down to trusting your defense to three, sometimes four rookies and hoping they play like seasoned veterans from the initial drop of the puck.
Now, that's not to place any undeserving blame on Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, and Sebastian Aho, but not replacing Travis Hamonic with the extensive, and now less valuable draft picks you acquired has turned out to be as risky as it sounded at the NHL draft table. The wide consensus is that Pulock, Pelech, Mayfield and Aho will be solid, dependable defensemen across their hopefully-long NHL careers. But to put them in this position in their first season is a bit shortsighted. Add a regressed Dennis Seidenberg and some of the worst hockey we've seen out of Nick Leddy and the problem is easy to see and difficult to fix.
The trade market is much more expensive than it was back in June, or even after de Haan suffered his season-ending shoulder injury -- two periods of time where GM Garth Snow failed to produce anything substantial with the assets he acquired. Instead, a team that was already struggling on defense was forced to go with half their dressed six, on most nights, playing in their first full NHL seasons. When Boychuk went down, that became four of six. It's difficult to comprehend what the thought process was that went into that decision, just as we said last year during the three-goaltender fiasco that had the team miss the postseason by one point.
If anything, the Islanders need to do three very important things, all of which were hard to consider back in November when the team was 15-7-2.
One is sit down with captain John Tavares and find out exactly what his thought process is. No more, 'we're giving him time and space to make the right decision for him and his family'. We get it, but what about the organization? What about their best interests? Is he waiting to see what happens at the trade deadline? If the team makes the playoffs? If Josh Bailey stays? What is it, exactly? If the answer is he's going to explore the market and a potential 15-million dollar payday, you have a pretty big and potentially, franchise-altering decision to make.
Two, figure out if you're going to be buyers, sellers, or idle when the deadline comes on Feb. 26. It's hard to fathom a team this bad defensively having sustained playoff success, especially when officials put their whistles away. So decide whether or not you want to start entertaining offers for players such as Brock Nelson, Jason Chimera, Josh Bailey, Jaroslav Halak, and Boychuk to teams that are close to contending for the ultimate prize.
Finally, ownership needs to decide if the current course of hockey management, from top down, is good enough. If it isn't, they need to move swiftly and decisively forward with a new plan.