Islanders Quarterly Check In

The Islanders are just slightly past the quarter mark of the season after playing their 13th game of the year last night against the New York Rangers. They skated to a 4-3 shootout victory to give them a 5-7-1 record.

With 11 points, the Islanders sit 12th in the Eastern Conference; four points behind the eighth placed Rangers and last in the Atlantic Division (Photo Credit: theseoduke/Flickr).

Five of the Islanders top-six forwards have been producing from the start of the year. John Tavares has 16 points in 13 games, trailed by Matt Moulson with 13 and Brad Boyes with 10. Frans Nielsen has quietly put up nine points in the games that have been played, while Michael Grabner has seven.

Kyle Okposo, who seems to be struggling regardless of whatever line he is placed on, continues to only have four points on the year (one goal and three assists).

The depth on forward includes contributions from David Ullstrom, Colin McDonald, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Keith Aucoin, who have been effective fore-checkers. Recently, players like McDonald have been able to find themselves on the score sheet more often than not - whether or not these players will be able to contribute offensively, while also keeping up with their defensive duties, will determine if the Isles have a chance to turn their season around and make a mid-season push towards a playoff spot.

But a lot of that burden also comes down to the goaltending and defense. Andrew MacDonald has been seen out of place at times, and having inexperienced d-men in Brain Strait, Thomas Hickey and Joe Finley in and out of the line-up might create more work for goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

Nabokov has been a solid net-minder for the Isles thus far but is continuously burned on second and third chances due to his defense's inability to clear the puck or the man in the crease. Matt Carkner's recent trip to the Injured Reserve has allowed opposing forwards to crash the net without paying the price.

This dilemma has hurt the Isles even more so when back-up goalie Rick DiPietro has been in net. He hasn't played poorly in the games that he has started, but he requires the most defensive assistance of the two goalies that the Islanders can dress for reasons not worth mentioning. His record is 0-2-0 and he presently holds a 4.62 GAA with a .842 save percentage.

The phrase that the best offense is a good defense cannot resonate any louder for this team if they intend to climb in the standings. Key role players on the bottom lines, as well as the blue line, will have to step up their game defensively so that the offense can continue to get the job done.

Adding Lubomir Visvnovsky has been very helpful to that cause as he has alleviated some of the pressure off of captain Mark Streit. He so far has three assists in the three games he's played and has been able to showcase his excellent skating ability and offensive prowess. A young defenseman like Travis Hamonic can learn a lot from him.

However, if a player like Kyle Okposo cannot find a way to contribute offensively, the coaching staff might want to consider giving other players an opportunity to be an effective top-six forward. Josh Bailey, for example, has not looked out of place since his return to the line-up.

And although he has stirred some controversy this season, Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward Nino Niederreiter is salivating at the chance to finally get some top-six minutes on an NHL roster. Just ask his agent.

There are ways for this team to turn this season around before it sips from their grasp. A key division win last night against the Rangers was a perfect start. It's time to dig deep over the next 11 games and earn their way into playoff contention at the halfway point of the season.

-Rob McGowan

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