There is no amount of tweaking and humor that will seem to carry across what I thought was a defining moment to the Islander season last night. Last night's game versus the Florida Panthers was a very important barometer to the Isles fortunes. After a slide, and then a game against the Thrashers they should have won, this Panther game was supposed to be a repeat of the effort in Atlanta, just without the boneheaded mistakes that cost them the game.
Last night's 3-0 loss was more than an embarrassment to all Isles fans, most of whom thought the Isles were beginning to come back together on this "mentor" trip. Instead, what is now clear is the Isles are now stuck in a "mental" trip, and that trip has their limbs entangled together they fall on their faces with a severely lackluster effort that drained away a lot of those good vibes and fortunes that were coming from the start of the season. Reality has not only hit, they have regressed in every facet of their game, as a result. And there are all mental and emotional flaws that are ebbing the skating stride and individual battles being lost on the ice.
So, what is wrong? What is at heart of a matter that has seen a fading of their own heart?
It is doubt. It is an overbearing focus on self, rather than team work. That many players are taking things so hard, they are beating themselves to death with it. That somewhere along the way of a slide, and bouncing back, this team let an anvil of their own devising fall on them. Confidence shattered into some sort of self-examination that is coming from the Captain on downward.
I recall last seeing Bill Guerin after getting blazed by Atlanta at home back last week. He was really stuck on the whole issues facing the team. He wanted to figure it all out. He was taking responsibility, but also accepting blame. And that, unfortunately, still seems to be stuck on him, as he bears all the weight of the Isles, especially that his own play as stalled. And, it's affecting his game and leadership. There is nothing he wants more than to stem the tide, score goals, and get back to enjoying himself on Long Island, which was his attitude at the start of the season.
Mike Sillinger, at the same game, railed on how people were taking it so hard. That they needed to get over things, and get back to basics. Unfortunately, Silly might have been more premature in that this team seems not quite ready to stop taking things hard. In fact, this team has simply freezing up on the clodding of the mental game and decisions, and it's also frozen effort and attitudes.
There is only one man who is not to blame for this entire valley, and that is Rick DiPietro, who wants to play every game and save every goal. But in front of him lies extreme weakness and divides. That somewhere along the way, this team had a false high from the start of their play this year. And that quickly turned to a huge low, and this teams seems crashed in that valley, unable to control themselves and their lot right now.
When Nolan and Snow picked these players, we all knew that several things would be lacking. None of these guys are superstars, save Rick. Rick, who even Martin Brodeur admitted was one of the best in the league in an ESPN interview. If anyone has followed Brodeur's interviews over the years, that is an extreme kudo of the highest order. He is not the most effusive or complimentary fellow. Yet Rick was named along with Luongo and Lundquist as what Marty thought was one of the best goaltenders today.
So, bereft of superstars elsewhere, this team has had to find depth and role players. Fill roles and offset weaknesses with smart schemes. When Nolan needed improve the coaching staff, he and they went and got Chabot and Gallant, to work with him and Daniel Lacroix. They went and got vet pivots like Guerin. Physical guy Sutton. Playmaking Comrie. Gritty and talented Fedotenko. Etc etc. None superstars, but yet to fill roles.
But what was missing was those players who had a superstars mentality. Who needed, with every breath, to make the difference. Who, then, skillwise, could actually fulfill that wish and ambition. It was why the Isles shot for Drury first, before ever talking to Comrie. Or why they had put so much onus on trying to do the seemingly, and proven, impossible, and keep Ryan Smyth. That the Isles management truly recognized that they needed winners. And right now, this team is still made of floaters. That the mental and self-image dynamics have not changed, and because those things are so lacking, the team is beating itself in order to provide what they are so short on.
They are missing the will to win at all costs. And it is now a glaring absence now that they have fallen and can't seem to get up for a game that should have been played hard, that Florida defense shredded, Vokoun chased, and should have been an Isles win.
Instead, we got proof positive that there is something missing from this team, and the swagger out the gate was more "wanting to be the guy and to be that team". But when the chips are coming down, and the Isles got some good press only 3 weeks ago, they failed to deliver. Instead, the schemes they have played have not been followed. They are not winning the battles. They have regressed to become the team that all those pundits assumed they were when we all started. Middle of the road. Nothing, besides the goalie and coach, defining.
Is this who the Isles really are? Or will those players who are failing so succinctly in this self-impposed pile-on, going to rally and win games at any cost. Where hearts and soul are left on the ice, loaded to bear, ready for come what may? That team is missing. And any fan who watched the Isles play their heart out last night, would be far less angry and disappointed to what stepped on the ice last night. What stepped on the ice was men failing. Team stuck on individual issues all scattered like their offense. No team drive. No deep desire to stem the tide. Nothing, besides just mere words.
This is a serious note. Because, if the Isles can't believe they can be winners, they won't be. One man thinking himself a winner, cannot make a team do so. Coach or goalie. Captain or 7th dman. This is a group of guys who must face themselves and their flaws head-on, and make the decision to do all the things that have been severely lacking. Effort. Cycling. Pressing. Disrupting. Outworking. Unyielding. All, as a team. Not as this constant smattering of empty words, all heartfelt I'm sure, but in the end all talk. And talk will not make this team walk. This team needs to find their feet again.
Tonight, they play a Tampa team that has sat through their own trial and tribulations. They, despite quality play, still lack a star goalie, but this team also has many young stars. And they are completely dangerous, smelling blood. Will the Isles just give it to them? Or will the Isles take it to them, like they should have against the Panthers last night?
Your guess is as good as mine, because like the rest of you, I am not sure if the Islanders know who they are and what they want right now.
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