It has been a rough season for Islander fans. At one point in the season, they were among the dozen other teams fighting for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. In late January, the Islanders were only a scant four points out of eighth place in the conference and third place in the Metropolitan division. Thomas Vanek and franchise forward John Tavares were lighting up the scoresheet, showing unreal chemistry with each other on the ice. But after last night’s loss to the Calgary Flames, the Islanders find themselves dead last in the division by a fair margin and thirteenth in the conference. A look back at the New York Islanders woes gives a good idea at how they ended up with such a fate.
The Islanders’ struggle started in October, when New York general manager Garth Snow made a surprising move in an attempt to build on the playoff success the Islanders had last year. Snow traded upcoming free agent Matt Moulson and two draft picks, a first and a second round pick, to the Buffalo Sabres for elite winger Thomas Vanek. It seemed like a strange move at the time, given how early in the season it was done. The assumption was that Vanek was an upgrade over Moulson, thereby making the team better for this season, even if it meant sacrificing some pieces for the future. And if the Islanders did not have a successful season, Vanek could be moved at the trade deadline for a high price. It did not work out that way, as Vanek was moved for just a second round pick and a mid-level prospect at the deadline, a big downgrade in price for what Snow paid to acquire him originally.
January was New York’s best month of the season, earning eight wins in their first 11 games of the month. It allowed the team to come within a stone’s throw of a playoff spot and they seemed poised to overtake a few teams ahead of them in the standings before the Olympic break. However, the hockey gods had other plans. The New York Islanders lost seven of their last eight games before the Olympic break, twice to their rivals across the bay, the New York Rangers. The losses turned a good month into a disaster. There was hope that the Olympic break would allow the team to regroup, but instead, it just extended the woes of the New York Islanders.
Going into the Olympic break, Islanders captain John Tavares was third in NHL scoring with 66 points in 59 games. Tavares is the most dangerous forward for the team and has been for years. His stellar play this year and in years past earned him the chance to represent Team Canada in Sochi in these past Olympic games. Unfortunately for the Islanders, during one of the last games for Team Canada, Tavares suffered an injury, tearing his MCL and tearing a meniscus in his knee. The injuries would keep him out for the remainder of the tournament and out for the remainder of the New York Islanders’ season.
The Islanders have understandably struggled since that point. They have won just two games since returning from the Olympic break, but what is most concerning is not the losses that keep piling up, but rather how the losses are happening. In last night’s loss against the Calgary Flames, the Islanders held a 3-1 lead going into the third period. The Flames scored three unanswered goals in that period, winning the game in regulation and extended the numbers of a very disturbing pattern for New York fans. The loss of a two-goal lead against the Flames was the fourteenth time the Islanders have blown such a lead this season and the twelfth time that the blown lead has led to a loss. In fact, the last three losses for the team have come when the Islanders held a two-goal lead going into the final period. More disturbing is that the players do not seem to know how to prevent the pattern from continuing.
“I’m not sure what it is to be honest,” said Islander forward Colin McDonald “it’s happened a lot this year.”
Shifty forward Kyle Okposo echoed McDonald’s statements.
“It’s mental at this point. We give up one and we just sit back and we let them back in the game,” Okposo said.
The mental aspect of the game can be both the best friend and the worst enemy of NHL players, but for the New York Islanders this season, it is working against them and extending their woes.
Three Stars of the Night:
Johan Franzen – “The Mule”, as Franzen is known, ran wild against the New Jersey Devils, scoring two goals and picking up assists on two more in the Detroit Red Wings 7-4 victory. His slapshot midway through the second period was an absolute bullet over the shoulder of Devils’ goaltender Cory Schneider.
Roberto Luongo – It was just like old times for Luongo. Just days after being traded to his previous team, Luongo picked him his 66th career shutout in the Florida Panthers 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The shutout moved Luongo into a tie with legendary goaltender, Patrick Roy, for career shutouts.
Anton Khudobin – Not a lot has gone right for the Carolina Hurricanes this year, as their most recent loss to the New York Rangers has likely ended any realistic shot at a playoff berth. One of the few bright spots on the team has been the play of Khudobin, who stopped 41 shots in the 4-2 loss. And most, like the one below, were some doozies.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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