Islanders’ loss to Capitals underscores need to improve on defense and in goal

As they demonstrated in a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, the new-look New York Islanders are having the same problems they had prior to the blockbuster trade that brought Thomas Vanek to the franchise.

When Vanek was acquired from Buffalo Oct. 27 for the heft price of winger Matt Moulson and a first and second round draft pick, Isles GM Garth Snow was questioned because he dealt for a forward when the team more urgently needed upgrades on defense and in net. Thus far, those criticisms have been validated: in the four games since the Vanek trade, the Isles are 2-2-0 and have only allowed fewer than three goals in a game just once in that span.

The loss to the Capitals was the most goals the Isles have surrendered in any of those games and veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov did himself no favors by posting a save percentage of .846 (39 shots, 33 saves). The defensive attack employed in front of Nabokov also wasn’t in a favor-granting mood; the Islanders allowed four power play goals (out of seven opportunities) and were unable to atone for it when they had the man advantage (0-for-5 on the power play). They were feisty, but feisty doesn’t mean much when you can’t outplay the other side.

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You can say the Isles are a young and developing team. However, when you’re hapless on special teams and your goaltender doesn’t bail you out, you have next to no chance to win regularly in this league. While it’s still only early November, this was a divisional game and with the win, the Capitals passed the Islanders for second place in the woeful Metro.

We know Snow has an internal budget limiting the moves he can make, but the Isles have the NHL’s lowest payroll and undeniable issues in their own zone. Vanek has fit in well on offense – although he was held off the scoresheet against Washington, he had a game-high seven shots and has a goal and three points in four games as an Islander – yet he clearly isn’t the answer on defense.

And the longer the Isles wait to acknowledge that before bringing in help, the longer they’ll resemble a so-so team in a so-so-bad division.