The 4-9-3 Islanders have lost nine games in a row and are in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of a playoff spot. Help should arrive in the next few weeks (Andrew MacDonald and Milan Jurcina) and next month (Kyle Okposo). For now, one-fifth of the way into the regular season, we can only grade them on performance based on individual expectations.
Today, we start with the defense and goaltending.
Mark Eaton (B-) – A smart player with a good stick who has earned Dean Chynoweth’s confidence enough – and yes, the depth chart has been shortened by injuries – to play more than 27 minutes last night. You just wish Eaton could contribute on offense (no points in 16 games) and play more physically, but that’s not his game and the Islanders knew what they were buying. Highly-respected among his teammates.
Bruno Gervais (C) – A healthy scratch for the first nine games of the season, he played the tenth as a fourth-line forward. For game 15, back on defense, he was the extra attacker as the Islanders tried to tie the game late in Anaheim. When everyone is healthy, Gervais is No. 8 among the team’s eight defensemen on one-way contracts. He’s the Jon Sim of Islanders defensemen, a target of fans despite residing nowhere near the top of the organization’s list of failings.
Jack Hillen (C-) – The still-young defenseman was Comeau-ed from almost the beginning of training camp and is just now starting to show signs of finding his game. Possessing great wheels and hockey sense, Hillen should be successful. Only trouble is, when Jurcina and MacDonald return – and if everyone else stays healthy – Hillen and Gervais are the overwhelming candidates to head back to the press box.
Milan Jurcina (B-) – As Providence’s Shawn Bates was to Peter Laviolette, this previously under-achieving big dman is to Coach Gordon. The coach likes him and the player is inspired to play better than he has anywhere else. Jurcina is a third-pair dman, but could be a good one for the Islanders. On a blueline without any size, Jurcina is valuable.
Andrew MacDonald (B-) – The Islanders have not won a game since he was injured, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that MacDonald was only okay for the first seven games of the season. With Mark Streit out, the Islanders asked more of MacDonald than he was ready for. Still, the potential is there to be a quality 4 or 5 dman for many years.
Radek Martinek (B) – Sixteen games down, and Martinek isn’t. He is what we remembered he was.
Mike Mottau (B-) – For those wondering if the veteran would be exposed outside of the Devils’ system, the answer came quickly. Nope. The Devils miss him badly. Smart move by Garth Snow getting him to sign for two years. The -11 is not pretty. But again, because of the lack of depth on the blue line, Mottau is being asked to do more than should be expected.
James Wisniewski (B) – The Wiz has been better on the power play than perhaps the Blackhawks and Ducks wanted to give him credit for. Defensively, Wisniewski needs to step it up. Overall, he remains a great find for Snow. The Islanders could use a lot more of the Wiz’s energy and emotion. After the loss in Anaheim, he looked like he was either going to scream or cry before cutting off his session with reporters. It was beautiful to see.
Rick DiPietro (D) – The good news for the comebacking goaltender is the season still has at least five months left, and DiPietro continues to work hard with coach Sudarshan Maharaj to reclaim his status as a No. 1. But we can only judge him on how he has played so far, not what the Islanders hope from him after he gets game-sharp. So far, as his 4.21 GAA and .854 save percentage illustrate, he’s not there yet. Not even close. Making life more difficult for himself and his team, DiPietro confoundingly continues to over-handle the puck. As I said on “Islanders Interactive” on Thursday, give the project another week or two before beginning the discussion of a stint in the minors. Starting the year there was never an option in this management’s eyes. Maybe, just maybe, DiPietro will pull out the stops.
Dwayne Roloson (A) – It was shocking to see the TV broadcast last night call the decision to start Roloson a “surprise.” To get out of an endless losing streak, is there really any other choice? Despite playing on the NHL’s 28th-place team, Roloson has a 2.10 GAA and .924 save percentage. If he keeps this up – and the Islanders don’t start playing over NHL .500 hockey to stay in the playoff chase – Roloson will be one of the few gems available at the trade deadline. Worth at least a second round pick, although it’s still too early to go there.
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