THE MORNING SKATE — Isles Stars Play Big Minutes

Kevin Schultz

One of the interesting notes about the first two games — in addition to whether or not the Islanders system makes sense — is how the Islanders handle ice time with their impact players. We’re only two games in and already the team’s most important players are playing huge minutes. Is that sustainable? Maybe, it only 48 games this year as opposed to 82 but not for everyone. Some of these players have already played half a season in other leagues.

It’s only two games, so it’s probably not best to take what’s happened as a serious sign of things to come or to heap too much judgement on the team’s decision making (as many took to ledges after Saturday’s loss only to quickly step back yesterday afternoon). But one thing that has been apparent is that the team has leaned on its top players quite a bit after two games.

Here’s a look at last year’s ice time for the team (click to enlarge):

icetime2011

And here’s this year:

icetime2012

Here are the differences thus far for the team’s top players:

John Tavares +2:48
Matt Moulson +1:24
Kyle Okposo +4:05
Michael Grabner +4:07
Frans Nielsen +2:59
Matt Martin -3:00
Travis Hamonic +:39
Andrew MacDonald +3:45
Mark Streit +3:19

For some of these players, three or four extra minutes is a good chunk of extra time. The caveat here is that it’s insanely easy to skew numbers over a sample size of, you know, two games.

For example, if there has been an unusual amount of power play or penalty killing time in those two games, players may be on or off the ice quite a bit more or less than usual (case in point, Mark Streit’s power play time is up two minutes over last year and Matt Martin spent seven minutes in the box Monday). For a player like Streit at 35-years old, the extra ice time could take a toll, especially after half a season in Europe. Something to consider when you look at Andrew MacDonald’s ice time of 27:07; no player in the NHL averaged more than 26:50 of ice time last year. So he’s got to come back to the pack at some point. And when you look at Michael Grabner his ice time is up four minutes, but he was only playing 15:32 minutes per game last year.

The Islanders seem to be leaning on some players quite a bit more. We’ll see how things even out later on, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Leaning on Grabner for 20 minutes per game isn’t likely a problem, but expecting MacDonald and Streit to keep up over 26 minutes certainly could be.

TONE AND MOMENTUM AND OTHER SUCH THINGS
Wondering what happened yesterday when the Bolts and Isles squared off with two fights one second into the game? I was too. Turns out it was a good ol’ fashioned case of ‘setting a tone’ for the game. Bolts beat writer Damian Cristodero has the explanation:

“We knew we needed to win this one,” Martin said, “and we wanted to do whatever we could to get the crowd going and get our teammates going.”

“He looked at me during the national anthem and I was planning on looking at him, too,” Crombeen said of Finley. “Both sides were ready and willing, and it was something that was going to happen. We’re not going to let teams push us out of their building. If we have to do that, we’ll happily do that.”

Both sides believed the fracas did its job.

Martin said the agitated Nassau Coliseum crowd was like “a sixth man for us,” and Stamkos gave kudos to Crombeen and Labrie because they “answered the call.”

“We didn’t want to look horrible the way we have the last few years here,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “We wanted to bring some emotion from the start.”

So; posturing, momentum adjusting and other things that are not as easily measurable as ice time. Justine Bourne at the Score has some thoughts:

I just can’t bring myself to the level of “this is pointless, this has nothing to do with the game.” To the guys on the bench, and the guys in the fight, there’s more to it than a rote exercise in face-punchery.

This is minimally useful players (not to lump Crombeen and Martin in) trying to find a way to be useful, to get the boys going, and to show that your team isn’t gonna be afraid to get dirty today. Both guys saying yes is better than one saying no, and you don’t wanna be the guy returning to the bench or dressing room after declining a center ice invite at the start of the game. I know it sounds like foolish dudery, but hey, certain sports are just like that at this point.

VIDEO OF THE DAY
Here’s another look at Grabner’s goal from Monday. Here’s to 30 more of those.