Kevin SchultzThe Islanders have shuffled lineups a lot this season, which isn’t a weird or bad thing in and of itself. Certain lines get hot, others get cold and when they get cold, it’s the coach’s job to figure out why and see if something different is going to work.
What the Islanders did with the lines last night, that did not work. Colin McDonald shifted up to the second line with Michael Grabner taking a healthy scratch, which was weird if only because McDonald himself has been a healthy scratch many times this season and is not deserving of a jump to the second line. McDonald is on pace for 10 points and a -42 rating over a full 82 games. That’s compared to a 35 point, -2 pace for last year’s shortened season. He was a +2 in shot attempts last night but has been at 46% this season, among the lowest on the team. McDonald’s not the reason — or the only reason — the team has been playing poorly but he was a nice surprise with his contributions last year, something the Islanders could use right now.
And with Grabner out — not a crime for one game — the league’s worst penalty killing unit lost by far its best penalty killer, even if that person has had a sub-par offensive year. McDonald in for Grabner sort of seemed like the team cutting its nose off to spite its face.
Brock Nelson, who has looked like he belongs in the top 9 even if he’s not piling up points was taken off the top line for Pierre-March Bouchard during the game. Nothing really wrong with pulling that switch, but it just seems like shuffling cards to find a solution to a problem that will not be fixed by shuffling those specific cards.
The Islanders offense, despite only two goals last night, has not generally been the problem. The problems thus far have been, in no particular order, goaltending, defense and penalty killing.
In fact, the offense is smack in the middle of the league at 15th in goals for per game with 2.67 per. Last year they were ranked 7th, but it hasn’t been that much of a drop off. They averaged 2.77 per game in the 48-game season. It’s the goals against that ballooned from 2.79 to 3.16 and the penalty kill that is dead last at 71%, down from a medicore 20th at 80% last year.
It’s not so much the lineup shuffling as it is the defensive and goaltending situations, which have been magnified by injuries (Lubomir Visnovsky, Brian Strait).
The lineup shuffling hasn’t done much of any good for the team as a whole, but shuffling and healthy scratching the forwards is not really going to do much in terms of keeping pucks out of the net, which is the problem right now.
The Islanders need more than a lineup shuffle; they really have yet to look like the team from the end of last year for more than a game at a time, if that. Whether that’s a coach change, call up from Bridgeport or something else entirely is hard to say. But we can say that shuffling the forwards around is not changing anything nor should that be expected to solve defensive problems.
On a lighter note, one of the crazy things about Toronto is the massive amount of media coverage that team gets. As such, I guess it evolves into a situation where reporters need to find the most unique angles to address. Kudos to Sean Fitz-Gerald from the National Post for working the Rob Ford Angle with the visiting team. Fitz-Gerald got the Islanders thoughts about internet sensation/insane politician and, somehow, still Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
“But from the outside looking in, it’s pretty comical.”
Here’s Newsday on the Islanders still unable to figure themselves out, which is sort of a theme this year:
The Islanders cannot seem to figure themselves out so far this season. Their 5-2 loss to the Leafs, their fifth straight road loss, featured a quick breakdown to trail 22 seconds in, another power-play goal allowed and too much soft play in the defensive zone to give themselves a chance to rally.
And apparently there was a bit of a closed-door meeting after last night’s game, but we don’t know more about it than this tweet:
It’s a long year, there are still a lot of games to go and this is hopefully just a bump in the road. But it’s hard to see where the help is going to come from, aside from Lubomir Visnovsky returning (and that’s still a ways away).