Are The Isles Coming Back Down To Earth?

After having an incredible first half of the season, the New York Islanders find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position. The Isles are losers of four of their past five, and barely scraped away with a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Tonight the Isles will face the Buffalo Sabres, a team that is dwelling at the very bottom of the NHL standings and is also 2-8-0 in their last ten games played.

By all standards, this is a game that the Islanders should absolutely win. However, the Isles need to make sure history does not repeat itself.

The Islanders squandered a 3-0 lead in the third period to lose 4-3 in the shootout the last time these two teams met at the end of December. Kevin Poulin was between the pipes for his only NHL game played this year.

You can expect to see Jaroslav Halak in net for the Islanders tonight, which will make for a big difference in the Isles crease. But even with Halak dressed, the Islanders are in a funk, and it’s one that has many fans in fear that this is the organization’s fall from grace; that their dominance of the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings has been nothing but a fluke.

Although it’s easy to understand why Isles fans would be getting nervous (I mean, this is the New York Islanders after all, history has shown that they are known for making many, many mistakes), but this team is the real deal.

And all real teams experience funks.

It was very unrealistic for anyone to think that this team, or any team, would go through an almost perfect season without hitting any lulls. The Islanders have depth, veterans and one of the best leaders on the ice in John Tavares. This team is not about to mail in the remainder of the season.

But many things do need to be fixed in order for them to return to their stellar play.

The penalty kill has been the swelling black eye of this hockey club all year long.

GM Garth Snow has to seriously consider what he is going to do at this year’s trade deadline. Although the Tavares line has been missing a third scoring winger to play along with him and Okposo, (and now two scoring wingers since Okposo is recovering from a detached retina), a penalty killing specialist, preferably a center to help out on defensive zone draw, would improve this team in shorthanded situations.

As of right now, the penalty kill is doing to the Isles exactly what it’s supposed to do to the opposition – hurting their chances of winning hockey games.

At some point, Snow has to hold his coaching staff accountable, and some personnel changes might be in order at some point. But if that’s not going to take place this year, the current coaching staff has to make some changes to their approach on the ice, as well as to which players they are using in these shorthanded situations.

The Islanders are not in trouble. This is not the end of the world. But it is the middle of a current streak that needs to end.

They will look to resume their winning ways tonight in Buffalo.

-Rob McGowan

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