“They don’t know where they are going, where they want to be or how they are going to get there.”
– Ed Westfall on MSG during the 2nd period of Ed Westfall Night
Last night’s loss at home to the Boston Bruins was a “statement loss.” It’s the kind of game, even at this time of the season, that begs for a move, or moves, to be made. It begs for blame to be placed somewhere, anywhere. The fourth shutout of the season on only November 19th – all four coming at home, no less – is absolutely unacceptable. To do it in such a lackluster fashion, leaving an unlucky prospect to take a beating in net at the end of the game is about as low as it gets.
The Islanders have now lost 11 of 13 games. Statistically, they’re not eliminated from anything this season. But watching the past few weeks worth of games has been akin to watching someone sick with the flu go through the motions – there are bad days and there are days that are a little better than bad.
The offense still has not found any rhythm and has the fewest goals of any team in the entire league. There is little attack that amounts to much of anything many nights. Tonight, the Islanders had no chase when they dumped the puck in the Bruins’ zone and were pushed off it when they carried in. There also is not much forecheck by the forwards, something we got all too used to seeing with Scott Gordon’s Islanders.
Worst of all with the offense, not much has been done to address any of this aside from scratching Kyle Okposo and one shuffling of lines. How Okposo responds when returned to the lineup – likely Monday – should be interesting. If he shows no fire, then the coach’s stern and eye-opening message to one of his ‘should be performing’ players will have been completely lost.
Then there’s the back half of the team. The defense is what we know it to be – slow and small – and they got burned in all the same ways they did on that Monday night in Boston. Doing them no favors was Rick DiPietro, who started behind them in net. He has made an admirable effort to try and return to form but right now, and potentially never again, he isn’t there. Most unfortunate was the turnover he gifted to Nathan Horton, proving that he still hasn’t significantly improved his puck handling despite all the talk about how many assists he has. The save percentage has dipped below .890 and, if Al Montoya isn’t ready, there’s the unreal possibility of Anders Nilsson starting Monday in Pittsburgh.
All of this is bad and it only stands to get worse. No one thinks that this team should have come out and won big tonight against the defending Champions. After a nice pre-game ceremony put on by the Islanders and MSG for legend Ed Westfall, a solid effort was really all that was needed to stem some of the negative tide.
In the post game, Coach Capuano laid into the team again for a lack of effort. It should be noted, this was the angriest we have seen him and rightfully so. It’s the same song he has sung after previous losses albeit with much, much more fire. He needs to light a fire in his troops and is doing what he can. He is curently sitting an assistant captain in the press box for three games. He has messed with the lines. He yanked the “franchise” goaltender for an emergency call-up rookie after one period tonight. The coach is running out of options. The coach has done what he can with the pieces he has in front of him.
The players as a whole are not responding. They are also at fault. They have not come to play on a regular basis and many have not performed up to expectations. The coach, in turn, has not been able to motivate his players on a nightly basis and has pulled a lot of the tricks out of his bag. And, in turn, the General Manager did not make any moves over the summer nor in the last few weeks to awaken the roster or improve the team that the coach was given.
It’s hard to pick one specific person or a specific aspect of the team that bares the load of the responsibility for where this team is now: 29th in the NHL, 35 goals in 17 games and one win better than the Columbus Blue Jackets whose trials and tribulations have been highly publicized. It’s not a stretch to think that by next week’s end the Islanders will have the worst record in the league.
On the statsheet, this is a team that is no better than it was last year. The team is no better than the year before that or the year before that even though there should be some signs of improvement. The responsibility falls on the GM for not improving the product. It also falls on a coach who cannot motivate his team and a team that cannot motivate itself and has not vastly improved, save for a few players. It’s been almost like a cascading power outage so far this season. One minute the problem is the offense, the next it’s the defense too, then the whole team and the blame quickly works its way up through the chain of command.
The hard part of this situation is that no one is entirely at fault, yet all involved share some of it. The players are not wholly at fault. Many of them have been asked to step into roles that are uncomfortable or above their skill level both this year and in years past. More, and in some cases too much, has been expected from them.
The coach is also not entirely to be faulted. He was a welcome breath of fresh air last year and helped relax a team that was tight and wound up. During this season, he has tried different solutions to try and reach the team he has been presented with. In his press conference tonight, he was asked what needs to be done. He responded, “I know what I would do,” implying that there are changes he wants made that are not getting done.
That leads us to the general manager, whom many believe to be totally at fault. While it’s true that more moves could have been made in the off-season, he believed in his players and – to an extent we are not totally sure of – cannot spend money the way many other teams do. Building through the draft has proven long and arduous thus far, however some of his best selections may still be in the pipeline. To allow him to build this team and bring in these players for years but not allow him to try and correct a 17-game skid when expectations are ratcheted up and effort is missing would not be doing his tenure justice.
So let’s bring this full circle.
Tonight was a “statement loss” as I said in the opening. In the short life span of NHL coaches, it was the kind of loss that you often see firings made after. It’s the kind of loss that results in trades just for the sake of shaking up the rosters and keeping the players on edge. To single out one person for what has transpired doesn’t really tell the whole story. More importantly, it doesn’t fix things.
One player getting dealt would be a side note in a few weeks.
One coach getting fired allows for another one to be brought in, and tuned out by, the same players.
There need to be multiple changes and multiple examples of accountability. That is generally the kind of change that happens when a new General Manager is put at the helm. They’ll bring in ‘their guys’ and swap a lot of people out.
In my opinion, that’s not what needs to happen yet. Garth Snow should be allowed the due diligence to see what he can do to right the ship. He has made long-term decisions for years and there’s nothing wrong with playing long-term. Now, the question is what decisions or moves can he make to fix things in the short-term? Let’s see what his solution is.
Now don’t get me wrong — I’m not advocating for a restart on the rebuild or to empty the locker room. But multiple changes need to happen. There’s no one coach coming in that will solve this situation. There’s no one player to acquire that would be a saving grace and there’s not one singular person in Bridgeport that will help. There’s no one player to get rid of that’s destroying the locker room. I don’t believe that one move would send the appropriate message – and I hope I’m wrong because that would make things a lot simpler and easier.
I believe that multiple moves will solve the message. Maybe the coach and a young ‘core’ player need to go to wake everyone else up. Maybe a few players, youth and veteran need to go. It may be time to cut ties with Josh Bailey. Maybe sending Brian Rolston to Bridgeport (where his salary would still count against the cap) sends the appropriate message. There are a multitude of options and under performing players from which to choose. Whomever you want to make walk the plank — and there are an awful lot of people to choose from — let them walk and then, after we see the effects of what the GM has done to remedy the situation, we can talk bigger picture.
What’s clear is that the ship is seriously sinking and it’s going down fast (but I guess to say that would imply that there was ground to be lost in the first place). The time for talk of small sample size and early season slumps are now over. It’s not a matter of points in the standings but attitudes in the locker room and on the ice. This team found an identity and a kinship after they went punch-for-punch with the Penguins last season. Now, we don’t know who they are. There’s a majority of the roster not putting in a serious effort most nights. Losing because you’re over matched is one thing. Losing because you don’t come to play game in and game out is a whole different and much more serious story.