The (5 Games Past) Midseason Report-Islanders Edition
It has become incredibly clear that no matter what Garth Snow does this season it will either be hit or miss, home run or strike out, black or white. There has been no gray area for the 8 year Islander General Manager and finally his decisions appear to be trending in the right direction for the team again.
5 games past the midway point of the season, the Islanders are still a long shot for the playoffs, but something has changed for this team that has everyone around the team giddy. The attitude and work ethic is similar to the 2013 squad that proved to have some magic. Both teams are not filled with skill, but sometimes the teams that do the little things can knock off the teams that feel they can just coast.
Coming into this year the Islanders roster was all but the same as last year except for the few additions in Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin. Both have been major failures.
Bouchard signed a 1 year 2 million dollar deal in July and after a dismal couple of moths, he was put on waivers in December where he went unclaimed by the other 29 teams in the NHL. He is currently playing in Bridgeport for the Isle’s AHL affiliate.
Regin is still with the big club, but one can only wonder how long that will last. Regin, like Bouchard, has just not been able to find his niche with the team. He is not an offensive talent, he is not a great skater, he gets knocked off the puck easily, and his defense has been suspect at times.
Making Bouchard and Regin the only “upgrades” to the team does not help Garth and his front office in their quest to make the Islanders better. Along with these additions, Garth failed to upgrade the defensive unit that has been under fire all season. No one could have envisioned the injuries to an already depleted blue line unit, but with not trying to make the defense better in the offseason, the Islanders front office set themselves up for failure and second-guessing.
Another way to wake up the skeptics is to collect 3 wins in 20 games in a dreary month and a half stretch. This lost 39 days buried the Islanders in the standings without any positives in sight. But then things began to change.
Snow made a couple of his best decisions as the Isles General Manager in the middle of December. He waived the ineffective Bouchard (4g-5a-9p, -9) after 28 games; he called up Ryan Strome, the 20-year-old phenom who was lighting the AHL on fire by leading the league with 33 points (9-24) in just 23 games; he also sat down with the coaching staff and a few of the “soft” players and explained that they must add more physicality to their game if they wanted to stay with the team.
These decisions and conversations obviously struck a cord with the team as they have turned the season around with a current 9-3-2 record since the dismal 20 game stretch. The Isles run includes 3 victories in a row and 7 straight road wins.
Besides Garth Snow and the front office, the Islanders recent accolades cannot be talked about without mentioning everyone on their 1st line. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek have basically picked the team up and put them on their backs.
Tavares, fresh off of being named the #1 star of the NHL last week, is 2nd in the NHL in points and doesn’t look to be slowing that pace at all. Okposo’s magical season continues and he will gladly remain in the shadows of his superstar line mates. Vanek looks to be 100% comfortable with his new club and teammates and his play has proven that.
Going into tonight the Islanders are presently 7 points out of a playoff spot with 6 teams in the way of their goal. The odds are clearly stacked against them, but with their backs to the wall the Islanders, from the top to the bottom of the organization, have proved to be a resilient bunch that works hard to the end. The Isles will lean on their defense and goaltending the rest of the season and they trust that their much better play of late will drastically help the Islander's playoff aspirations.
Only one question remains: Is the early season hole that they dug too deep to climb out of? We will soon find out.