Live Tweet of Islanders vs. Rangers 2/16/17

By Ethan Marshall

Twitter handle: Piazzafan1000

Scorching Hot Islanders Move to Within 3 Points of Wild Card Spot

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed as though the Islanders’ season was done.  They were in last place in the Metropolitan Division.  Their disappointing season seemed to culminate in the firing of head coach Jack Capuano.  It seems that his dismissal was a wake-up call to the players.  Since Doug Weight took over as head coach, the team has gone 5-0-1, putting them within reach of a playoff spot.

The only team to beat the Islanders under Doug Weight, the Philadelphia Flyers, currently hold the second wild card spot with 56 points.  While the Islanders are within reach of them, with 53 points and 3 games in hand, they would also have to leapfrog the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have 55 points, and the Florida Panthers, who have 54 points.  An advantage that the Islanders have on the Panthers is that they have 3 games in hand on them as well.

The key factors behind the team’s turnaround include the better play of the first line, including a red-hot John Tavares, Thomas Greiss’s continued solid goaltending, and the team’s new approach under Doug Weight.  Weight made small changes to Capuano’s system, moving the centers lower in the defensive zone to support the defensemen and allowing them to better gather speed for a rush.  He also wants his wingers to play a little less aggressively at the points in order to avoid allowing for an opening in the high slots for opposing teams.  Perhaps Weight’s best attribute as a coach is his strong communication with the players, an ability that also proved useful during his playing days.  According to Newsday, “Weight has displayed the standings on the smartboard in the team dressing room, he has been critical and direct when necessary, and he has remained a bit more stoic behind the bench than when he was an assistant.”

Another change by Weight is that he wants 19-year-old Anthony Beauvillier to play every game.  Despite playing very well with the Islanders early in the season, Jack Capuano didn’t want the top prospect to be an everyday player.  As a result, many felt he was being mishandled by the organization.  Since becoming a regular under Weight, Beauvillier has continued to play well and learn fast.  He could very well end up being a star player in the coming years if he isn’t mishandled.

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks whether or not the Islanders return to their poor play from the first half of the season.  This team looked like they had one foot in the grave in the beginning of January.  Now they have a chance to save their season and salvage a playoff spot.  How the team plays for the remainder of the season will likely determine the fate of Doug Weight as head coach.  Is the team on a hot streak, or have they finally figured themselves out?  We’ll find out in the coming weeks.

Isles Being Kicked Out of Barclays Center After 2018-19 Season

It was announced yesterday that the Barclays Center will be booting the Islanders out following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.  This leaves the Islanders with 2 years to find a new stadium to play in.  The owners of the Islanders, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, have been looking around for awhile for new potential stadium venues.  These include near Belmont Park, next to Citi Field, and even a return to Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the 2014-15 season was met with backlash by the fans as well as the players.  For the fans in Long Island, it’s very hard for them to get to the Barclays Center.  Many of the seats in the stadium have obstructed views.  Both home and visiting players have complained about the quality of the ice.  Despite being a playoff team last season, this season’s average attendance is ranked as the third-worst in the NHL.

At the moment, I’m happy to hear that the Islanders will be leaving the Barclays Center, but I’m also concerned about where they will end up playing.  During the all-star weekend, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman talked about the Islanders and the Barclays Center, saying “There are some issues about playing in Barclays, it may be fundamental to the ice system, and that’s something that cannot be fixed in the short term.  I think as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”  This statement was made shortly before it was announced that the Islanders would be leaving the Barclays Center.

According to a report from Newsday, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano had a meeting with co-owner Jon Ledecky last November to talk about the possibility of the Islanders returning to Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead.  When asked about the Islanders’ possible return to the Coliseum today, Mangano said that he is confident that the team would be satisfied with the newly renovated facility if they end up choosing to return.  Additionally, the Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony J. Santino issued a statement in which he said he would be happy to have the Islanders back and is willing to do whatever he can to make them happy.  Hopefully, the Islanders can once again call Nassau Coliseum their home following their departure from the Barclays Center.

Tavares Open to Extension Talks

During NHL All-Star weekend, Islanders captain John Tavares told reporters that he was open to discussing an extension with the Islanders beginning in the off-season.  Tavares has one more year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2018.  Currently playing in his 8th season in the NHL, Tavares has 226 career goals and 285 career assists, including 86 points during the 2014-15 season.

This is great news for the Islanders and their fans.  Tavares is arguably one of the best players in the league right now.  He is to the Islanders what Sidney Crosby is to the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin is to the Capitals.  The Islanders can’t afford to lose a player like Tavares.  Whether the general manager this off-season is still Garth Snow or somebody else, their first priority must be signing Tavares to an extension.  Tavares is a franchise player for the Islanders.  At the pace he is going, he could find himself in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

When Tavares stated that he wants to talk about an extension in the upcoming off-season, one of the reasons he gave as to why he wants to continue to play for the Islanders organization was because due to the new team owners, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky.  According to Tavares, “They’ve brought some real good commitment and show their vision for the future.  I’m excited about where the Islanders are headed, and hopefully we can work something out.”

Since making his debut in 2009 after being drafted 1st overall in that year’s draft, Tavares has been the face of the franchise.  He’s been around through some good years and many lousy years, but has always given his all.  He was named the captain of the team prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.  He led the Islanders to their first playoff series victory in 23 years last season when they defeated the Florida Panthers in 6 games.  Tavares almost single-handedly won the clinching game, scoring the game-tying goal in game 6 with just 53.2 seconds left in the third period.  He later scored the winning goal in the second overtime period when he picked up his own rebound and beat the goalie on a wrap-around the net.  This goal cemented himself as a legend in Islanders history.

It’s great to hear Tavares wants to stay in New York with the Islanders.  Many were worried that by the time he would become an unrestricted free agent, he would sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team he grew up watching and cheering for.  The Islanders need to lock up Tavares for the long term and continue to build a team around him.  As shown with his play with Matt Moulson, Tavares has the ability to make those around him better too.  There aren’t many players with the talent, intellect, and leadership that John Tavares has.  If the Islanders can sign him to an extension, there could be a day where he could be lifting the Stanley Cup in the future.

Tavares, Okposo, Nielson Reunite During All-Star Weekend

Last spring, the Islanders won their first playoff series in 23 years.  A big part of what led to the series victory for the Isles was the first line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielson.  After the Isles were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 5 games in the second round, the futures of Okposo and Nielson were up in the air.  The two unrestricted free agents ended up signing elsewhere.

When the three former longtime teammates arrived in Los Angeles for the all-star weekend, they ended up hanging out together.  The three had dinner together Friday night, catching up with each other and sharing memories.  Nielson spent the first 10 years of his career playing for the Islanders after being drafted in the third round of the 2002 draft.   Okposo was drafted by the Islanders as the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft.  He would end up playing seven seasons with the Islanders.

cut
Tavares, Okposo, and Nielson in locker room before the NHL Skills Competition.  Photo credit: NHL.com/ Dana Wakiji.

Due to their long tenures and solid and steady play for the Islanders, Okposo and Nielson were fan favorites.  When Okposo signed with the Sabres and Nielson signed with the Red Wings last off-season, most Islanders fans were sad to see them go.  The three players were longtime teammates on the ice and continue to be close friends off the ice.  When Nielson was asked about his bond with Okposo and Tavares before the skills competition, he said “We had gone through so much together over the years in New York.  I’m really excited to be here, together with them.  We had dinner and caught up on old times and what’s going on today.  We went through some hard times in New York in the beginning.  When you do that and grow as a team, I think you build a special bond with those guys you go through those hard times with.  They’re two of by best friends today and I miss them a lot for sure.”

image
John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielson at NHL Skills Competition.  Photo credit: Getty Images/ Bruce Bennett. 

The three were seen together multiple times throughout the night of the skills competition, talking with each other and posing side by side for photos on the ice and in the dressing room.  This afternoon, Nielson and Okposo, part of the Atlantic Division, will face off against John Tavares and the Metropolitan Division.  While it is great to see Okposo and Nielson getting the recognition they deserve, it’s bittersweet for me, as well as many Islanders fans to no longer see them in orange and blue.

Tavares and Lee Finding Success With Each Other

The Islanders hot streak of late seems to be the result of the strong play of goalie Thomas Greiss, which has been a constant throughout the season, and the strong chemistry of late on the first line of Tavares, Lee, and Bailey.  Going into the season, the Islanders viewed newly acquired Andrew Ladd as Tavares’s linemate for years to come.  However, Ladd has been nothing short of a disappointment, being moved off of the first line fairly early in the season.  Lee’s strong play this season earned him a promotion to the first line alongside Tavares, and the two have seemed to click of late.

Over his past 6 games, Tavares has 8 goals, including a hat trick against the Panthers.  Lee has 6 points in his last 5 games.  In the case of Tavares, he is playing his best hockey all season, thanks in large part to the opportunities set up for him by Lee and Bailey.  While Lee isn’t quite as good of a linemate for Tavares as Kyle Okposo was, he has definitely played very well on the first line, even earning himself power play time alongside Tavares.

As for Thomas Greiss, he is the reason that the Islanders are at least over .500.  His strong goaltending throughout the season has kept them in games that they had no business being competitive in.  It seems as if he is only getting better.  Greiss recently had back-to-back shutouts against the Bruins and Stars.  He had his shutout streak snapped late in the second period of last night’s overtime loss to the Flyers at 154:10.  He ended the night with 44 saves.

In order for the Islanders to have a chance at making a strong run at the playoffs in the second half, they need more scoring from the other lines.  They can’t keep relying on Tavares to do all the scoring.  While Jason Chimera and Nikolay Kulemin have been playing well lately, they need to maintain this success, hopefully with help from their linemates.  Chimera has 4 goals in his last 6 games.  Kulemin has 2 goals and 2 assists over the last 4 games.

While the Islanders’ power play and penalty kill has looked good since Doug Weight took over as head coach, they need to show consistency.  The move of Tavares to the penalty kill seems to have been very smart.  Tavares has looked very strong on the penalty kill, even having a shorthanded goal against the Stars.  The power play played a key roll in the Islanders’ 4-2 win over the Kings Saturday, thanks to 3 power play goals.  Despite failing to convert on the power play in last night’s overtime loss to the Flyers, the Islanders were very sharp on their first power play of the game late in the third period.  They spent the first 1:45 of the power play in the offensive zone, registering 4 shots and nearly scoring when Ryan Strome’s shot into a yawning net was saved by a defenseman in the crease.  The main question is whether or not they can continue their solid play on the special teams lately.

Despite being tied for last in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders are only 5 points out of the last wild card spot currently held by the Flyers, while also having 3 games in hand.  If the Islanders can have a strong second half of the season, they may be able to salvage a playoff berth.  The way the Islanders perform for the rest of the season will likely determine the fate of Doug Weight as head coach of the team.  There is still plenty of the season left for them to recover.

With Capuano Gone, What’s the Fate of Garth Snow?

Many Islanders fans have been clamoring for a change at the head coaching position for a few years.  Yesterday, the Islanders finally complied with this request when they fired Jack Capuano after 7 seasons as the head coach.  Doug Weight will become the interim coach for the remainder of the season.

With Capuano gone, some are speculating as to how secure general manager Garth Snow’s job currently is.  It’s no secret that Snow, like Capuano, has been on the hot seat for quite awhile.  Many of Snow’s big draft picks as the Isles general manager have ended up being busts or inconsistent.  After a strong 2014-15 season, former top prospect Ryan Strome has regressed immensely, to the point of feeling more like a waste of a roster spot.  Brock Nelson seems to be the Lucas Duda of the Islanders in that it feels as if he scores 10 goals in the span of two weeks and then going a month without a goal.  Josh Bailey has never lived up to the expectations expected of him when he was drafted by the Islanders as the 9th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft.  Perhaps one of the few prospects that has been able to live up to expectations to a degree has been Anders Lee, who seems to be improving his game this season.

Over his years as general manager, Snow has also made a few questionable decisions.  One of the most infamous decisions made by Snow was when he traded Matt Moulson and a first and second round pick for Thomas Vanek in his contract season.  While Vanek played well alongside John Tavares, Snow was unable to come to an agreement on a long-term contract with Vanek, resulting in him being traded for just a conditional second round pick and prospect Sebastian Collberg.  However, this missed opportunity turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Since Vanek was traded away, his performance has declined immensely.  Additionally, the second round pick the Isles got in return was used to draft current top prospect Joshua Ho-Sang.  But these fortunate results are just based on pure luck.

Snow has been dealing with an extra obstacle when it comes to signing free agents.  Many players, like many Islanders fans, don’t like the idea of playing in Brooklyn.  Players like the aforementioned Vanek and Frans Nielson pointed at the Isles moving to Brooklyn as a big turn-off from re-signing with the team.  Nielson even took less money this past off-season from Detroit because he didn’t like Brooklyn.  A change in scenery may prove to be helpful for the Isles in signing free agents.  A move to Queens or back to Long Island doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility at this point.  The new team owners have been looking around for a new place to play.  One option gaining some ground has been for them to move in at the empty lots next door to Citi Field.

Another big mistake made by Garth Snow was giving up on top prospect Nino Niederreiter and trading him to the Wild for Cal Clutterbuck.  While Clutterbuck has emerged as a great player and leader for the Isles, Niederreiter has emerged as a star player for the Wild, living up to his potential as a top prospect.  Even at the time of the trade, many were criticizing Snow about this trade.

The 2016 off-season moves by Snow could end up being the final nail in the coffin.  Snow couldn’t re-sign Frans Nielson, and made the mistake of not being willing to offer contracts to Matt Martin and Kyle Okposo.  Snow probably could’ve kept Martin if he wanted to, but let him walk.  With the departure of fan-favorite Matt Martin, the Isles have been lacking in toughness, and their 4th line has gone from arguably the best in the league to one of the worst.  The Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd signing have been nothing short of a disaster.  The Ladd contract may prove to be the worst contract made by the Islanders since the Rick DiPietro contract.  Ladd has looked terrible in his first season as an Islander, with just 8 goals and 4 assists, with a -10 rating.  It is worth remembering that the Isles are stuck with Ladd for the next 6 seasons after this one, signing a 7-year, $38.5 million deal with the Isles prior to this season.

I hope and expect Garth Snow to be relieved of his duties as general manager of the Islanders.  According to sources, the new Islanders owners have been in search of new team executives.  It is likely that the next move by the owners and new executive(s) would be to find a good replacement for Garth Snow as general manager.  It seems as though the new Islanders owners, like the fans, have just about run out of patience with Garth Snow.