Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby: Lighthouse Hockey

It’s been spoken of many times previously on our various stops along the information superhighway, but the long held Boxing Day (and now Day After Boxing Day thanks to the CBA) quasi-tradition of the Hawks playing at home generally tends to be one of the more energetic affairs on West Madison, even dating back to the dark ages of the late 90s (entirely different era). UC denizens are generally stir crazy from a week cooped up with relatives and/or early hungover wakeups to see what Santa brought, so the opportunity to get out of the house and just yell shit at hockey players offers a decent catharsis. However, with Barry Trotz’s visiting Islanders in town, the action on the ice may in fact feel more like a noose tightening around the necks of those present.

Hockey

There was no bigger surprise team than the Islanders last season, as Barry Trotz took a contract dispute from DC up the Acela and then proved he can turn just about anything into a useful team. But his boss, Nosferatu, blames free agency for the global warming he assuredly doesn’t believe in, and the Isles look like they’re just going to count on running it back again. Will it work? It’s hard to think a Trotz team will ever be bad, but catching lightning twice has eluded just about everyone in history. Let’s learn about the Islanders.

2018-2019

48-27-7  103 points (2nd in Metro)

Won 1st round over PIT, lost second round to Carolina

2.72 GF/G (22nd)  2.33 GA/G (1st)

47.8 CF% (26th)  51.2 xGF% (12th)

14.5 PP% (29th)  79.9 PK% (19th)

Goalies: The Islanders lost one half of their tandem that anchored this team last year, as Robin Lehner toddled off here in July. The Islanders are going to attempt to take the whispers of Trotz and Mitch Korn and apply them to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was very up and down in Colorado last season, eventually losing his job to Philip Grubauer. That was kind of his whole career in Denver, where he flashed Vezina form at times and then was one of Jack’s French girls at others. But overall, he’s got a career .915 SV%, and considering how all Trotz teams make it easier on goalies, it would be reasonable to expect some good numbers from him.

He’ll pair with Thomas Greiss, who flourished behind this team last year at .927. He and Lehner had high expected-save-percentages thanks to the ultra defensive system, but both exceeded that in actual save-percentages. Greiss has done this before, but hasn’t been able to back it up. He won’t be asked to carry the load here though, and again, goalies under Trotz rarely shit a chicken unless their hip falls off.

Defense: Again, the exact same crew you remember from last year, though this time with a full season from the promising Devon Toews. They’ll hope for another step from Ryan Pulock, as Nick Leddy really struggled for most of the year to push the play. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are about as solid as you can ask for without doing much you’ll remember. Johnny Boychuck will pair with Leddy as he has for the past five seasons, but time seemed to catch up to him last year. As we cannot hammer enough, this defense gets a lot of support from the forwards, but was somewhat exposed by the speed and possession of the Hurricanes last year. Both Trotz and Lamoriello don’t want much to do with puck-moving d-men here, so they’re lucky in that they don’t have a prime one. Still, in a conference that requires you to get past Carolina or Toronto or Boston or Tampa, it probably takes more than obstinance to do so. Maybe Noah Dobson gets a look? That would be a real stretch.

Forwards: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the exact same crew as last year. The only addition to it has been Derick Brassard, or whatever pod person is occupying his body now as he hasn’t been productive in the last three seasons at least. Which leaves Mathew Barzal and his missing T to carry the mail on the top line next to Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Brock Nelson anchors the second line, and after that it’s a whole bunch of grunts and agriculture. Only one Islander forward managed more than 60 points last year (Barzal) and only three had 20 goals or more. And one of those was Casey Cizikas, who shot nearly 20%, and that’s not going to happen again. The Isles will hope to smother and bore their way to a playoff spot again.

Prediction: It’s not wise to go against a Trotz-led team, but the margins are so thin for this bunch. They limit good chances, even if they don’t limit attempts. There’s just so little scoring here, and if they don’t get water-tight defense, the percentages are going to go against them. Neither Varlamov or Greiss is really capable of taking a full starter’s load at this point, so if one falters the whole system might sink underneath them.

Luckily for the Isles, the division blows hardcore. The Caps and Pens are on the downsides of their cycles, with only the Canes looking like their pivoting up beyond the Isles. The Devils day may yet come, but not this season you wouldn’t think. And you can catch a lot of teams cold in January and February when they can’t locate the fucks to give to work hard enough to deal with a Trotz trap. Still looks short to me, but I said that last year too.

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Brooklyn – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Brooklyn – Sunday, 2pm

Game 3 in Raleigh – Wednesday, 6pm

Game 4 in Raleigh – Friday, 6pm

Well this wasn’t the matchup you saw coming. For the first time since 2015, the Metro Division Final won’t be contested by the Penguins and Capitals. And since the NHL went to this format in 2014, this is the first time that neither the Caps or Penguins will appear. Which is really quite something when you think about it. For comparison’s sake, EVERY team in the Central has appeared in the second round since this format came into being (technically the Avs are in the Pacific and never the Central but let’s just go with it). So the national audience may not be familiar with these teams, but there’s a lot to get through here.

Goalies: This is a clear advantage for the Islanders, and when you have a big advantage in net in the playoffs, sometimes that’s enough. Mrazek was barely ok against the Caps, with a .899 SV%. And that’s with giving up only three goals in the three home games the Canes had. The Isles don’t come with near the firepower the Capitals do, which will help Mrazek, but you would be shocked if he wins this for Carolina. He’s most likely going to be just fine, and the margins in this one are going to be so tight that fine may or may not be enough. The Isles can’t get him moving like the Caps did, they don’t have the skill or the interest. So maybe that helps just enough?

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner was throwing a .956 at the Penguins, and really not having to work all that hard to do it. He only saw an absurd number of shots in Game 1, and that was an overtime game, and Trotz teams keep him protected. But he might not even need the protection, such is the form he’s in. The last three game saw him give up three goals on 92 shots. That’s a .968. So even if the Canes might actually be better equipped to get through the Trotz minefield, getting past Lehner is going to take more than a smile.

Defense: While the Capitals might make fun of Dougie Hamilton, and he wasn’t particularly good against the Caps, the rest of the defense of the Canes was dominant. Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin carried a 58+% possession rate and just about the same in expected goals, and probably were the main reason the Canes are where they are. If you can believe it, de Haan and TVR on the third pairing were also very good. The depth here has always been the Canes strength. Also, if Dougie isn’t broken, they have three trap-busters in Hamilton, Faulk, and Pesce, though Pesce and Hamilton tend to play together. Rod Brind’Amour would be wise to get them all on separate pairings so they can always navigate the booby traps Trotz and the Isles set up, but with two pairings that should be 40-45 a night. It’s when TVR thinks he’s Paul Coffey that they’ll run into problems. If you were to design a defense to deal with a Trotz team, this is it.

You would be hard-pressed to pick the Isles defense out of a police lineup, but they’re well sheltered by they system and forwards. If the Canes can somehow open this up more than the Pens did, they Isles are in trouble. Nick Leddy has been iffy all season, and the Isles don’t have a proven puck-mover beyond that. But Trotz teams don’t get opened up on. They’re well-drilled and they do what they do, it’s just not terribly exciting.

Forwards: Of all the four second-round series, this one has by far the least amount of star power up front with either team. Sebastien Aho is wonderful, and so are Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey, but they don’t move the needle much. And all of them might be the best second-line players in the league. The Islanders aren’t asked to do much other than work hard and be on the right side of the puck and find the goals when they present themselves. The Canes grunted through and got just enough goals throughout the lineup.

The Canes forwards will depend on their defense getting through the muck of the Isles in the neutral zone. If they do that, there’s probably just enough dash with Aho, Our Special Boy, Nino Neiderreiter, and Justin Williams (and if Svechnikov returns), and enough graft with Foegele, Staal, Martinook, and one or two others. But that’s a big if. You’d feel more confident of them busting through here with just a touch more life on the front end.

The Isles can match a top six, maybe even the whole corps. They just don’t do the same things. This is basically a push. If the Canes get as loose defensively as they were at times against the Caps, Bailey and Barzal and Co. aren’t as lethal but they can make them pay. And we know the Isles won’t be loose.

Prediction: This one’s hard to call. I feel like the Canes are built to deal with this, I just wonder if they can do so at the first time of asking and with this forward group. And the Isles will be no softer than the Caps were, and maybe even smarter about it instead of running around like kindergarten recess. It’s not going to be pretty. The Isles have the edge in net. Feels like this one goes the distance too, and I’ll decide to punish the Isles for playing this in Brooklyn instead of Nassau.

Canes in 7. 

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE: Game 1 at Islanders – Wednesday 6:30, Game 2 at Islanders – Friday 6:30, Game 3 at Penguins – Sunday 12pm, Game 4 at Penguins – April 16th 6:30

Ho-hum, here the Penguins are with 100 points again, and likely as anyone to get out of the Metro Division. Before anyone tells you what the Hawks have gone through the past four seasons was unavoidable due to the cap and success, ask yourselves if the Penguins ever went four seasons without a series win, or three without a playoff win, or even two without the playoffs. The answer…is no. They’ll meet up with the league’s biggest surprise, and its tightest defense. Which will probably make this one a slog to watch, other than the Nassau crowd being utterly bonkers and frothing and smelly, because it’s Long Island. This will be the first series the Islanders have started at home since the Mesozoic Era. Let’s run it through.

Goalies: You have to start with the Isles, and their tandem that brought home the Jennings Trophy. As of now, Barry Trotz hasn’t announced a starter, and the Isles might just tandem it up as they did throughout the season. While Trotz certainly did lock things down defensively after Doug Weight had turned the Isles’ zone into what Springfield Elementary looked like when Flanders was the principal, both Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner both performed above their expected ranges. Which makes beating the Islanders quickly almost an impossibility. However, playoff runs rarely work out when you’re switching goalies, the 2010 Flyers being something of an exception and that was due to incompetence. Generally you get one trigger-pull. The Isles are unique, and if one drops the ball they can just go with the other. But then there won’t be the safety net they’ve had all season. It’s a tough balance.

And if New York was hoping that their playoff fortunes hinge on getting significantly better goaltending than their opponent, they’ve picked the wrong fight here. Since December 1st, Matt Murray is rolling up with a .929 SV% overall. And a .933 at evens all season. And he’s already gone the route twice, so the stage won’t frighten him.

Defense: While the blue and orange faithful are probably hoping Barry Trotz can conjure more magic from last year, he doesn’t have the horses on the blue line this time around. I would argue John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov are better than anyone the Isles can boast. While promising, Pelech, Pulock, and Mayfield have only ever projected to be middle pairing guys. Nick Leddy was woeful for most of the season, as his freewheeling style doesn’t fit in with Trotz. Devon Toews has been something of a revelation, but you see how far Trotz trusts a rookie in the postseason. They play a style that shields them well enough, but there’s also a couple legends on the other side.

The Penguins will actually head into this series healthy on the blue line…for about five minutes. Again, it has the experience. There’s just way more firepower here with Letang and Schultz. Somehow, Erik Gudbranson didn’t sink them, and the Isles aren’t going to play fast enough to expose him and Jack Johnson. Maybe they capitalize on a mistake or two, but aren’t going to constantly cave them in.

Forwards: There have been series in the past when the Penguins won because they had Crosby and Malkin and the other team didn’t. Malkin had what everyone called an offseason, and he was pretty bad at times, and he still ended up with 72 points in 68 games. It’s still Evgeni Malkin. Jake Guentzel had 40 goals, and I’m not sure he does anything but stand still and let Crosby bank it off of him in the net, but he’s good enough to finish all those chances. Hornqvist is a nasty playoff weapon because he’s just around the net all the time, and especially in a series that could easily be trenched the fuck up, those kinds of goals and those kinds of scorers are paramount. PHIL!’s goal-scoring has dropped off a touch but he’s actually a better playmaker now. Again, the Pens don’t starve for weapons.

The Isles aren’t bereft of skill, it’s just not used that way. Barzal led them in scoring with 62 points. The Penguins feature four players who topped that, and a d-man who wasn’t far behind in Letang with 56. Brock Nelson is a hell of a second center, and Anders Lee could be a Hornqvist in the playoffs. But boy, beyond that…

You can write off Jordan Eberle now. This isn’t his time of year. His one playoff journey in EdMo saw him manage an 0-fer in 13 games. Sure, playoff narratives are built around grind-y, check-y, grunt-y guys like Casey Cizikas and ClusterFuck, but I’ll still take the Hall of Famers on the other side, thanks.

Prediction: Trotz is going try and make every game 2-1, because the Isles sure can’t shoot it out with the Penguins. And he did get one over the Penguins last year. He also lost to them twice. You honestly can’t count on the Islanders getting better goaltending than the Penguins will with how Murray is playing. Sure, it’s hockey and when things are this tight bounces can go either way. Still, if the goaltending is even, the offenses aren’t. Who do you think is more likely to get the 2 than the 1?

Penguins in six. 

Everything Else

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RECORDS: Islanders 29-15-4   Hawks 17-24-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

NO ONE LEAVES THE ISLAND: LighthouseHockey.com

The Hawks are one game away from a nine-day break that encompasses their bye and the All-Star game. So either that means they can leave it all on the ice tonight, or given how the season has gone, they’ll probably already have the buses running and lay a true, dense, unforgiving egg. I know which one I’d bet on! Still, if they’re still claiming that the season isn’t over then they’ll make a lot of noise about hitting the break with momentum carrying on from Sunday’s win–the now regular thrashing of the Capitals in the middle of the winter–to a second night. But when has that happened with this team?

We’ll start with the Hawks, who will put Cam Ward in net. I know this is going to send most into hysterics and apoplecticia, which isn’t a word, but it makes sense. Delia had his first rough outing last Sunday, so get him to the break to reset without the risk of backing it up with another bad one tonight. With Ward you’re at least guaranteed a bad one and everyone can go about their day. The Hawks had an optional this morning so no idea bout lineup changes, but it’s hard to imagine there would be any changes from a team that just put up eight. The one you’d expect is Jokiharju coming back in for Koekkoek, but they’ve talked about not pushing The Har Ju and giving him rest here and there, so maybe they’ll think a full two weeks off will have him primed for the rest of the season. But then trying to figure out what the Hawks think is why I drink. That and the crippling emotional problems, but mostly trying to figure out what the Hawks think.

To the Islanders, who are the league’s biggest surprise. While the Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets were all doing a “Here, you take it” routine with the Metro lead, the Islanders rushed up from the background and took it themselves and ran off. They’re three points clear of Washington and Columbus and four of Pittsburgh. And no one thought they would be here. That tends to happen when you win 15 of 18, as the Isles have done since the middle of December.

How did they get here, David Byrne? As you might have guesses, since December 15th when this silliness began, the Islanders have the best SV% in the league at .952. The next best after that is the Stars at .942. so yeah, that’s something that’s sure to continue. Because the rest of their metrics are just middling, ranking 11-15th in the league in just about all of them. The 9.2% shooting-percentage since then doesn’t hurt either, but it’s their ridiculous goaltending for six weeks or so now that has seen them rocket up the standings.

This is a Barry Trotz team, so you know the drill. They’re going to be bothersome all over the ice, they never take a shift off, and they most certainly don’t ever trap. No sir, no trap here. Never heard of such a thing! Don’t be ridiculous! And they’ll get timely goals from the talent they have, which isn’t nonexistent here.

That’s a problem for the Hawks, who really need a defensively wonky opponent to create openings for their thin offensive skill. Sure, Kane will find ways against whoever, but after that DeBrincat is going to have to be more creator than he’s been asked now that he’s with Strome and a surge or two from Saad wouldn’t go amiss either. Trotz will have the generally confused and drowning Hawks defense under constant pressure, moving his trap up to the Hawks blue line as he’s been doing for a decade now. They will simply sit on the boards, both at the half-wall and the points, daring the Hawks to go up the middle or over their heads. The Hawks didn’t cope at all with it in their first meeting, giving up 721 shots or around there to the Isles before losing in overtime. They’ll try and do better tonight, we hope.

And then we all get a break from Hawks hockey! Doesn’t that sound nice?

 

Game #51 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 15-21-6   Islanders 21-13-4

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago locally, NBCSN elsewhere

FUTURE ISLANDS IS A TERRIBLE BAND: Lighthouse Hockey

The Hawks are back on Long Island for the first time in four seasons, as while waiting for their new arena the New York Islanders are trying to make it up to their fans who never took to Brooklyn because they didn’t want to stay in New York after work for one extra second, unless it was the three times a year they bother Rangers fans at MSG. Or Brooklyners never took to the team because Jay-Z’s playhouse sucks for hockey. Or because those stuck on the Island didn’t want to come into the city for fear of meeting a minority. Whatever the reason, the Isles are splitting their home schedule between Brooklyn and the revamped Nassau Coliseum (where they come to see ’em), and the Hawks get the latter trip tonight.

What they’ll find is one of the bigger surprises in the league. The Isles were supposed to be left for dead after they made up for John Tavares‘s departure by hiring Toronto’s decrepit GM and letting him pick up Toronto’s trash. While they did poach a Stanley Cup winning coach in something of a coup, this roster was supposed to be in the first step of a rebuild. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

But don’t fool yourself. Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz haven’t found some magic formula in their metamucil and oatmeal to turn a roster full of whatsits into a fine oiled machine. What they have is two goalies playing bonkers and some luck. The Isles have the third-best SV% at evens in the league, and the third-best PDO at a kind of unsustainable 103.5 (hey, remember The Blaze?). The Isles are not a good possession or defensive team, they’re just getting two guys stopping just about everything

For Thomas Greiss, it’s not a huge surprise as he’s put up more than competent split-seasons before with the Islanders. He was simply woeful last year, ceded the job to Jaroslav Halak, but has rebounded this season. Robin Lehner, who is nominally the starter at the moment, has done this before as well, with some excellent cameos in Ottawa and Buffalo. Because neither is being asked to shoulder the load alone, and it has benefitted both of them. And they are the reason that the Islanders are one point out of a playoff spot no one saw coming.

Up front, Mathew Barzal and his missing ‘T” have taken the #1 center responsibility and ably so. He’s kept Josh Bailey scoring, which is a trick because pretty much everyone assumed Bailey was a Tavares-product. Anders Lee and Brock Nelson have anchored the second line, and new toy Josh Ho-Sang is running with them in an exciting vision of the future…assuming Nelson and Lee are both re-signed in the summer.

That’s about it though. Anthony Beauvillier has put up 11 goals, and Marcus Kruger East Casey Cizikas has spasmed 10, but this is not a team that scores a ton. They average just about the same amount of goals per game as the Hawks. Their margins are thin.

On the back end, their top-pairing of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk has been woeful, and constantly bailed out by Lehner and Greiss. Leddy seems to have struggled all year with all the things Trotz has asked of him, and around here we know especially how fragile his confidence can be. The Isles are waiting for the young troika of Scott Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield (not as much) to grab the brass ring. And they have at various times and definitely not at others. It’s a work in progress back there, though the Isles are pretty middling in terms of shots and chances against in the league.

For the Hawks, one should expect Collin Delia to return to the net tonight after Cam Ward got his gold-watch ceremony in South Bend. Few other changes would be likely. No word on if Drake Caggiula will make his debut in red or not, but that might be the only one you see. There aren’t any other d-men right now. Unless you are about the usual Martinsen-Hayden flip, and you shouldn’t.

A little further on down the road, peeps…

 

Game #43 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Dan Saraceni is one-half of the editing team at LightHouseHockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CultureOfLosing. 

After losing Tavares, the Isles are somehow hanging around a playoff spot in the East. How and why? 
 I’d like to just write, “TROTZ” but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, having a coach who actually knows what he’s doing makes a big difference. And after three straight coaches getting their feet wet in the NHL (two with AHL experience, one just as an NHL assistant), having a guy show up with a defined game plan and a crew that’s worked for 20+ years and a Stanley Cup changes a lot of things. There’s way less headless chicken action going on out there and everyone seems to be on the same page regardless of skill level (or lack thereof). The goalies have also been lights out, which can be traced back to better defensive play and – again – coaches like Mitch Korn and Piero Greco that actually have a clue. Whether they actually make the playoffs is still up in the air, but playing like an actual NHL team and not beer league walk-ons has been fun so far.
Is Jordan Eberle playing himself into being actually affordable in the summer for the Isles? Or is he still going to do one?
Eberle is hurt right now, and Josh Ho-Sang has been more than holding his own in Eberle’s spot on the second line. I don’t know if we know why he’s been so unproductive this season, but it’s not really the way you want to go into a UFA year. Between him and the Islanders’ other UFAs (steady captain Anders Lee and the suddenly awakened Brock Nelson), Eberle is easily the odd man out and could be a rental for someone at the deadline. He’ll be coming off a $6 million a year contract from the Oilers, so I don’t know if he’ll come cheap to whoever signs him. If he somehow loves Long Island, maybe he’ll stay but it’s probably not happening.
What on Earth has happened to Nick Leddy? Only 11 points and his metrics smell worse than a skunk on a hot day.
This is from October by our LHH colleague Cary: https://www.lighthousehockey.com/2018/10/23/18014512/nick-leddy-analysis-islanders-slump. Although he’s looked better lately, Leddy’s problems stretch back to the middle of last season, and no one’s sure what happened. It’s frustrating watching a guy who can skate that smoothly and carry the puck well do jack shit with it (especially on the power play. Maybe some guys just aren’t made to be quarterbacks). Maybe he’s trying to do too much or getting too caught up in the defensive aspects of Trotz’s system, but the points just aren’t coming for him and it’s a problem that (so far) the Islanders have managed to overcome. Again, he’s looked okay lately, but when you’re winning, everything looks okay.
Does Lou Lamoriello really provide any hope for Islanders fans or is he the dinosaur we think he is?
Lou provides hope that the New York Islanders can be run like an actual, adult NHL franchise for the first time in a generation. Yes, he’s old as shit and his various rules are largely stupid (ask Dom!). But after years of out-of-the-box thinking, it’s been refreshing to see the Islanders think within the box for a change. Like hiring people to do jobs that most NHL teams have and making changes when stuff isn’t working. That might be a low bar to clear, but it’s something the Islanders haven’t been able to do in quite some time. Any GM is only as good as his last deal, but so far, having Lou looking over everyone’s shoulders has been good for the franchise.

 

Game #43 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Well this is a waste of time.

It would appear the New York Islanders didn’t really have a Plan B if John Tavares left. Their hook-and-lateral was to hire Lou Lamiorello to somehow convince JT that they really meant it this time. Now with him off to Toronto, Lou is free to fistfuck this team into oblivion because the game passed him by at least seven years ago and he hates pretty much every player in the league. They’re going to split time with this dreck between Nassau and Brooklyn, as the two communities try and foist this team off on each other in a real, “Hmm, this sauce tastes like shit here try it,” kind of fashion. This is Mathew Bartzal and his misspelled first name and opening band roadies.

There just isn’t much here, so let’s get through it quickly so we don’t get infected.

Goalies: This has been a bugaboo for the Islanders for a while, and it doesn’t appear to have gotten much better. Thomas Greiss has finally wrangled the full-time starting role from the departed Jaro Halak. Well, he didn’t take it so much as Halak got old, was allowed to leave, and Greiss was just about the only person around to clean up the mess. He was at .892 last year, which REEL BAD. Greiss has flashed being NHL starting-quality before, posting years of .913 or .925 the previous two campaigns while splitting time with Halak. But it would seem to be a longshot that he’s going to star in the role.

He could be easily usurped by Robin Lehner. Lehner certainly had his troubles in Buffalo, but if he’s past those he has flashed being a plus-starter before in both Ottawa and Buffalo. You certainly are rooting for him, and there isn’t much here to keep him from the crease unless Greiss goes off in an unpredictable fashion. Neither would seem to provide enough to cause the Islanders to surprise, however.

Defense: Oooh boy. This is still an outfit that’s going to toss Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk out as a top pairing, when both are most certainly second pairing players. The hope will be that Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock, and Adam Pelech (and don’t worry if you transpose Pulock and Pelech, You wouldn’t be the first), make THE LEAP. Pulock might be the real keeper of the group, as he was the most dominant possession player they had last season.

It actually could be a nifty unit if two of the three kids can take the biggest responsibilities off of Leddy and Boychuk, who simply have never been up to it. That seems like a big ask of three neophytes who were restricted to second and third pairing duty last year. Also, Thomas Hickey is here to dutifully man the second pairing puck-moving role, as he’ll be doing for the next 45 years it feels like. Hickey is one of those players who define the word, “fine.”

Forwards: It was only natural that as soon as he took the seat in the office wherever the Isles deign to place it these days, Nosferatu Lamiorello saw fit to bring in Matt Martin in a glorious return to New York to get mistaken for Jacob deGrom. He also brought in Leo Komarov to provide…well, a dude who smells bad on the bottom six. Those are basically the only additions to a team that lost John Tavares and still finished with only 80 points last year.

The top six will actually be ok in Tavares’s absence. Barzal will slide up to the top line, and he’s most certainly capable of shouldering that. Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier are certainly dynamic, shifty wingers who make things happen. Anders Lee will score no matter what, it’s just a matter of whether you should give a shit or not. Brock Nelson will slide back to center, which isn’t his best spot but it’ll do. Josh Bailey has been a sneaky good winger for about five seasons now. You can do worse than that.

But this bottom six…WOOF. The aforementioned Martin and Komarov are going to be a waste of everyone’s time. Cal Clusterfuck is the wrong side of 30 and those who play that kind of style do not age well. Cizikas started to back up last year, and again bottom line centers don’t age well even if he’s only going to be 28. Andrew Ladd died three years ago. Barzal and Nelson are going to have to freak the fuck off this year or the Islanders simply won’t score.

Outlook: Even with Barry Trotz parachuting in here like a neckless Mighty Mouse, they’re up against it. As stated, this was an 80-point team last year that lost one of the best centers in the game and didn’t add much. The goaltending solidifying would be a big help and there’s a chance that could happen, but they look awfully short all over the ice. It’s a rebuilding year, and the goal of the year might be flogging Eberle, Nelson, and Lee at the deadline for whatever can be found. If they can’t be built around, that is. It’s going to be a long year, wherever the Isles call home.

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Dan Saraceni is all things at LighthouseHockey.com. Follow him on Twitter @CultureOfLosing. 

The Isles downfall was a historically bad defense. If you had to portion it out, how much is the personnel on defense, the lack of confidence in either goalie, and Doug Weight’s system?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure if I’ve thought about it in those terms. If you asked 10 different Islanders fans, you’d probably get 10 different answers but for me, I think it’s mostly on the coaching. The personnel isn’t great (playing the husk of Dennis Seidenberg, losing Calvin de Haan for half a season and Johnny Boychuk for a few months doesn’t help) and the goaltending was garbage particularly earlier in the year. So the majority of the blame really could go in any direction. But one of this team’s hallmarks is a steadfast refusal to acknowledge when something isn’t working. When they average 50 shots against for two months and Weight says that nothing’s wrong they just didn’t get a few bounces, you know something is seriously messed up. And when the goalies got better, the shots against remained ridiculous. The bottom two lines have been a clownshow in their own zone all season and no changes seemed to have been made until February, when everything was more or less over already. Weight’s still a rookie, as are Scott Gomez and Fred Brathwaite. But Luke Richardson and Kelly Buchberger have been around the bench for a while. I hoped they’d help Doug out, but it didn’t work that way. Instead, they kept banging their collective heads against a wall all season asking why they had a headache.

For those who might not know, could Brooklyn have worked as a home if the arena wasn’t specifically built for basketball? Or did the fanbase simply not want to commute? What will they do until the new building at Belmont Race Track is ready?

I think yes, had they built it with hockey in mind and had done the proper research into what Islanders fans like and want. The relationship got off on the wrong foot when it first became clear that the Barclays people didn’t give a rat’s ass about Islanders fans or what they want in a game experience. Normally, the rest of the world doesn’t give a rat’s ass, either, but these guys were counting on them for money and good PR. You’d think they’d know that people watch warmups from the glass and don’t want black uniforms. But little to no research seemed to have been done. The commute wouldn’t have been an issue if the arena was a welcoming place. It’s not, so just throw it on the pile. Will fans go to Belmont? If the team is still in the lottery every year, no. Nassau Coliseum is viewed with rose-colored glasses these days, but that place was empty for decades worth of games. So will Belmont unless people have a reason to come out.

One of our favorite sons Nick Leddy has put up 41 points, but is an unsightly -36. Plus-minus is generally a bullshit stat, but what do Isles fans make of it? What should Leddy be going forward, as in top pairing guy or more second-pairing bum-slayer?

I don’t think most Islanders fans even know what his plus/minus is, to be honest. Leddy has all the goods to be a 1D in the NHL except for that killer “fuck you” attitude. He knifes through whole teams, breaks into the zone by himself, catches everyone flatfooted and then… drop passes to no one. He leads the rush on the PP, gets just past the red line and… drop passes to a guy 20 feet behind him. He’s not a big hitter or grinder in his own zone that can wear guys down. Forty one points is great, but I can’t help but feel he should have more. Maybe Ryan Pulock, who’s made great strides this season, can be that guy. Among other things, I’ve given up hope this season of Leddy being the Islanders No. 1, even if I love watching him skate.

While some other kids have gotten more press like Barzal and the ones on defense, Anthony Beauvilier made the team last year at 19. He hasn’t quite stepped forward, but he has pedigree. Is there more to come?

Beauvillier and Barzal were really good together for a while this year, until Beauvillier hit a terrible slump (that got broken with a two-goal game against Tampa on Thursday). He could still 20 goals this year, which would be a cool thing for him. His underlyings haven’t always been great, but for a young guy with a good motor, quick hands, good shot and an ounce of hockey IQ, I feel like he’s on the right track. He’s also a little guy so me might need a little extra time, too. He probably should have spent last year back in junior and he did a few weeks in the AHL this season instead of starting there and moving up, but I’m not too mad about how he’s been so far.

It’s looking like Tavares is going to at least test the market and see what’s out there. With the money, if not years, being equal no matter who is offering it, will the Isles presentation of a future home, enough kids to promise a brighter future be enough? Can the Isles tell him they’ll be ready to win next year?

Oh boy. I have no idea what these guys say to each other behind closed doors, but it’s my only hope for retaining Tavares. To miss the playoffs in the last two seasons of this guy’s contract is absolutely unconscionable. The fact that the guys in charge haven’t already been fired is a testament to how little urgency was given to the situation. Just a lot of lip service and empty promises. If he stays, he’ll be well-paid for life, get to play with Barzal, Bailey and more of his buddies, get to disappear into the suburbs after games, probably get a statue and his number retired and generally be hailed as a price forever. What he won’t do is win jack shit as long as the current management is still in place. He has not once let anyone know what he’s been thinking this whole season because he seriously may not have thought about it yet. The time to start thinking about it begins two weeks from today. So we’ll know very shortly what his feelings are.

 

 

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