So, if you've sat and thought about this team this season, have you come to the same conclusion I have drawn? When asked: Is the glass half empty? Is the glass half full? My answer is:
"The glass is half Islanders"
Which is my witticism for neither. Both. Or that giant question mark that slams into our heads when after a spurt of wins, they go into a spurt of slides.
What is the glass half Islanders? It is the mixed bag that we've all rollercoastered with this season. From a hot start stemming from the penciled lines made at training camp in Moncton. Then kept going after some games with Buffalo and the Rangers. But then, mid-October, trouble in paradise as those fair-weather fans all came out to see the sun, all clamoring that we were tops. We were going to lead the division. That Ted Nolan, albeit a very good coach, was a GENIUS. Heaps of accolades. What a rush. Hockey pundits revised their preseason diatribes and dismissals.
Then reality. Because we were never that good.
The first inkling was in mid-October as they Isles hit Toronto and then was at home against Carolina. Lines were, despite the good track record, changed. It was then that the fair-weather fans were outraged, panicked, and looking for answers. The end of November and beginning of December, was our true falter. Where top lines and players were struggling. This was the true test of mettle. And the Isles showed fundamental flaws. Things were not so rosy after all.
But, what did anyone really expect. Most felt, that at best, we'd be in for the playoffs, but near the 7th and 8th spot. And if, even that, it would be a struggle. Too many teams around us in the divisions made improvements to just coast.
If you look at the Isles currently, through the thick and the thin of this season, they are doing EXACTLY as anticipated. And the only people seriously disappointed are those who bought the hype wholesale. Well, guess what. Caveat Emptor.
The glass is neither half full nor empty. Sunshine and lollipops on one side. Gloom and doom on the other. The season thus far has shown neither. Straight down the middle, on that razor of optimism and pessimism. Exactly where a team who as a bunch of defensive castoffs and sleeper UFA pickups with an excellent goalie and good coach should be.
Nobody sat there with those signings and said: "YES!!! The cup is ours!!!!" And if you did, please seek help. You hoped that Garth Snow and Ted Nolan knew what they were doing, because you looked at the roster and wondered how in hell were they going to get goals. Or worse, you were still spurned like a lover who left town when Ryan Smyth
left town to Colorado and Joe Sakic. The mancrush was over, and we were left with emails from the Isles about Jon Sim
Now, mid-season, we pine for Jon Sim. Someone who was a grinder and could score. Would have made a lot more goals go in the net than Andy Hilbert
, who has been the punchline of many a joke. But if you look through that thick and thin of the season, who has been blocking shots, grinding against the boards, and present on EVERY shift. Andy Hilbert.
The issue has never been Hilbert, but the lack of scorers to unseat him and his effort. To displace him so that he goes onto the bottom lines, making him one of the best 4th liners in the league. Hilbert is an excellent bottom 6 guy. But your top 6 needs to actually score, and that has been the NUMBER 1 issue, answering our question at the start . . .
"How in hell are we going to replace those goals?"
We aren't. We haven't. But if the playoffs are in our future, much less sights, we need to.
The Isles rolled the dice and hoped that those pickups and current players could, given the right system, offset that power outage. They were wrong. And all struggles this season have stemmed from this. Problem #2 ties into this same philosophy. If we grab defensive castoffs and use who we have, despite nobody being barnburners, we will still be able to tough it out on D. And this is wrong as well. That the personnel is still the #1 problem in both cases.
In fact, lets take a closer look at the D:
Berard? Almost inconsequential. MAB: struggling. Campoli: one of the brightest spots. Martinek and Witt...steady. Sutton: started slow but getting better. Gervais: hit and miss at times. But the effort is there. Meyer: actually getting better as he gets more time. He led the team with blocked shots in Witt's absence in Calgary. Aaron Johnson: a question mark, really. Comes back from his injury soon.
If you look real close, you can see that there are glaring deficiencies and a lack of talent and consistency throughout. Despite Campoli's emergence and the steady play of both Witt and Martinek, the rest is a mixed bag. And that does not a playoff team make. It is also not healthy for the longterm health and play of Rick DiPietro
who has been the difference and offsets a lot of those deficiencies at times.
Rick, the man who was a punchline due to his contract, who now have critics of it now apologists to the longterm commitments as they glow about other longterm deal for Richards and Ovechkin. Ahh, the sweet smell of hypocrisy when most hockey pundits and opinionators never re-evaluate their judgments or own up to reversing themselves when it then about their team or favorite players. Meanwhile our longterm commitment has not only emerged as a bonafide all-star, but talked about with a reverence this season.
But look no further than across town if you want to hear a tale of a career cut short by the physical acrobatics that Mike Richter had to do to offset some defensive weaknesses over the course of his career. Richter was constantly left hung out to dry, and his play stepped up. Richter and DiPietro have a lot in common these days due to that. DP is forced to play a very high level day-in-and day-out to offset his own team weaknesses. This is not a good thing, despite the oohs and aaahhhs. Not in the longterm fortunes of DP and the team. There needs to be a balance.
Same of the offense. Too often one or two men with power outages completely cause chaos to the offensive fabric of the team. When Comrie and Guerin slid, the team did. As Vasicek and Fedotenko did, the team hiccuped. This team simply is too thin at offense to carry those who cannot perform daily. And it shows.
So, why is the future not bleak?
Well, Blake Comeau
, for one thing. He looked great in camp and looks good on this team. How about Sean Bergenheim
, who is still growing into his role, yet showed the moxy and energy we were all looking for at the season start. Or how about Kyle Okposo
, who has 5 points in two games, including a goal and 2 assists just last night at Bridgeports first home game with him onboard. Or AHL all-star, and fans of whom who are actually annoyed at Ted Nolan over . . . Jeff Tambellini
. You look at what he can do, and then see Ted give him only a game or so of judgment and you do have to wonder. How many on this team who are vets and on top two lines who fail to rack up a point, and Tambs is the guy who gets sent down?
Well, Tambs is with the club tonight as the Isles take on Ottawa. Miroslav Satan is still out from being rocked by a Canuck. So its another opportunity to please the seemingly never pleased, and hope that Tambellini can show that he can do what he has been able to do on the AHL level. The Isles need it. They need goals. They need creative offense.
They also need more talent on both sides of the puck. And this is why we hover somewhere in the limbo of the middle of the glass. And why we need to take alka seltzer some nights. That this philosophy of taking just effort over talent does not work enough. It can only give so much. And that the truth is that Ted Nolan is not a miracleworker. He can not turn water into wine nor middling players into top tier winners.
The Isles need talent. A pool of forwards sit there in the AHL ready to take the place of NHL forwards who struggle. Do they not feel the pressure? But on defense, I am hardpressed to see even one from the AHL ready to play on the NHL level. The coffers are very thin on a D that is already very thin on the Coliseum ice. That might be more glaring right now, this 7 or 8 man front of when put together, seems a lot less.
And this is where Garth Snow needs to step in and make decisions. With the Lighthouse project and revitalization on tap, Wang and company seem reticent to ever rebuild when they want to create more buzz and bring fans back into the fold. A noble gesture, and with TV rating and attendence up, it IS working. But, we can only go so far with the current roster as it is. And thats where things need to get creative.
Halfway through the season, if the Isles are to compete, we need some tweaks and emergences. Can Tambellini break through? Will we see Okposo, or will he continue to light up the AHL and see him next season? Can we get a steady defense who doesn't need lots of hand-holding and tough love? 7 or 8 of these guys do not equal even a solid top 4 or 5 really for a playoff bound team.
Lots of questions and some positives to carry away as well. Thus, my answer once again to the proverbial glass: half Islanders.
Tonight, the Isles take on the Senators. Till then . . .