Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Just a Matter of Time

It's just a matter of time. Not until the Islanders break out of this funk and win a game. Not until they manage to score a goal. It's just a matter of time is how I feel while watching them play any game lately. They can play any opponent close through the first period. They can kill off a bunch of penalties and be in position to force a change in momentum. But it's just a matter of time. It's just a matter of time before Scott Niedermayer threads one through on the power play. Just a matter of time before Todd Marchant and Doug Weight find enough room to put the game out of reach. Just a matter of time before the weaknesses in the structure are exposed and the inner wall is breached. It's not a fun way to watch a hockey game.

If you snap your head around very quickly, I swear you can still see the headline stating that the Islanders are going for six games over .500. It was that recent. Now, that team sits right at that delicate balancing point between unlikely and a lot of we-told-you-so's. And that's only if you discount the NHL's consolation-prize standings (just for appearing on our show today, you've won this valuable 1-point jar of Turtle Wax). Otherwise, they're really 24-30. But even at 24-24-6, they're looking at having to play at a clip they haven't achieved all season in order to qualify for the playoffs. This, at a time when winning with any kind of consistency seems unlikely. Right now, it feels like disaster. It feels like this team could struggle to win 30 games. And that's the doom and gloom report for February 6, 2008.

Let's look at the situation from a more practical perspective. There was a time when the lack of goal scoring was an annoyance, a mere impediment to the eventual playoff appearance that this team seemed likely to make. Now, it is the fatal flaw. How envious are you of Anaheim's lineup, despite their own recent slump? That lineup is stacked in comparison. Getzlaf, Perry, Kunitz, Selanne, Bertuzzi, Weight. I'm jealous of Ducks fans for just those six, and two of them are nowhere near what they once were. Weight is a complementary player on the Ducks at this point, but I see that he has nine goals and wonder, why can't we have a Doug Weight? I guess the algae is always greener on the other side of the pond.

The Islanders displayed an utter lack of discipline in this game. In what has become a trend, they took three more minors in the first period, which prevented them from getting their forward lines any kind of consistent flow. With new faces in the lineup and new combinations, this was especially damaging. Jeff Tambellini hopped over the boards for his first shift, but then had to circle right back to the bench because the Islanders had been whistled for another too-many-men bench minor. Fortunately for the Isles, through twenty minutes the Ducks were as off kilter as the Isles were undisciplined.

The management of the lineup is surely open to debate. I wanted to see Frans Nielsen center the third line in place of Andy Hilbert instead of starting on the fourth line. Hilbert hasn't done anything to distinguish himself as deserving of those minutes. He'll still get plenty of minutes on the penalty kill (seriously, plenty) where he really has distinguished himself and plays a key role. Why not give Nielsen, who has been every bit the impact setup man at Bridgeport, the opportunity to make something happen?

Then there is Tambellini. Early on, Howie Rose (along with Islanders fans everywhere) basically implored Ted Nolan to give Tambellini at least 15 minutes of ice time on one of the top two lines. It didn't happen. The AHL's leading goal scorer finished with 17 shifts covering 13:56. Nielsen was sent out 13 times for 9:01. Sean Bergenheim, who started on the fourth line with Nielsen, was entrusted with 7 shifts and 4:56 of ice time for his night's work. So much for the injection of youth. I don't want to ignore the fact that the Islanders were shorthanded six times, which obviously cuts into the ice time available to young players who do not have PK duties. But there was no concerted effort to see what these kids could do.

Finally, I'm not sure that the power play is being done any favors by scratching Bergeron AND Berard. You could argue that the power play hasn't been any good with them. I don't want to see both of them out there. However, the power play isn't going anywhere with Witt, Martinek, and Meyer as point men. Having one of Bergeron or Berard out there at least gives the opposing PK something to worry about. Perhaps we've reached the point where neither player is in the team's plans for next year, and so it's time to see what Aaron Johnson can do. If that's the case, the same could be said for some forwards who aren't pulling their weight. Did you catch the graphic on FSN before the game that detailed the scoring drought player by player? I'll have to see if I can reproduce it. It's truly sad to see how many players have scored 0, 1, or 2 goals over stretches ranging from two weeks to two months.


Dominik said...

True, true, true Ken.

Since the PP is one of the few things that can steal us a win, it seems silly to scratch Berard and MAB.

As for the other vets ... I wonder if Nolan's "player's coach" approach is keeping him from dealing cold justice to some of these guys? (He seems to be inching toward it, but sl-o-o-o-wly.) When no one is producing for this long, I think you *have* to give more minutes to Tambellini, etc., at the expense of any other vet (*cough* Comrie) who's slumping.

Ken said...

I think Nolan really wants to be loyal to the guys he deemed worthy of making the team out of camp. He wants to give them every chance to succeed, and give himself every chance to succeed with them. Loyalty seems to be a major theme in this organization, which certainly isn't a bad thing. But like you said, it may keep Nolan from making changes as quickly as many coaches would.