The Islanders have been on quite the roll of late. They’ve won five of their past seven games are making a legitimate push towards a second-consecutive divisional playoff berth. The chances of that can be increased with wins over the Washington Capitals and, more importantly, the New York Rangers later this week.
But just because the results have been there doesn’t mean things are going the Islanders’ way all over the ice. Before an important weekend game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York lost top defenseman Travis Hamonic to a lower-body injury. His regular season is over and there’s uncertainty about whether a playoff return is in the cards. And Monday, the Islanders took another hit, this time with a lower-body ailment sidelining defenseman Calvin de Haan.
Islanders bench boss Jack Capuano couldn’t give details on the injury to de Haan post-game, but admitted his inability to return to the contest Monday doesn’t bode well. If there’s yet another injury for the Islanders to deal with, it seems as though another disappointing finish could be coming for an Islanders team that was thought to be heading in the right direction.
An injury to de Haan would leave the Islanders without two of their regular defensemen — Hamonic being the other — and entering the playoffs with injuries in goal to both starter Jaroslav Halak and third-stringer Jean-Francois Berube. That’s not to mention an injury up front to Mikhail Grabovski with no timeline for a potential return for the veteran winger. That’s not exactly the way they wanted to enter the playoffs.
It’s not just the injuries, though, that have things looks shaky for the Islanders. Ahead of Monday’s game victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning and two days removed from a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Penguins, Capuano laid into Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey — three of the team’s key depth players — for their effort of late.
“They see it, it’s black and white. The video doesn’t lie,” Capuano said, via the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte. “It doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s, it doesn’t come down to systems. It comes down to how hard you want to compete. There’s no doubt that those guys they have to figure out at some point…The guys mentioned need to pick their pick their s—t up and start playing.”
Capuano got what he wanted out of Nelson as he scored the game-winner Monday night, but neither Strome nor Bailey found the score sheet. Scoring doesn’t necessarily correlate with effort, but it’s telling that Strome and Bailey both saw ice times below their seasonal averages. Whether fair or not, that has to do with the lack of production.
Over the past two months, John Tavares (13) and Kyle Okposo (9) have combined for 22 goals, which is one-third of the Islanders’ goals by forwards since Feb. 5. Combined, the three players Capuano blasted have scored 14 goals over that same two-month period. That Tavares — albeit one of the game’s best players — has nearly matched the output of three separate middle-six scorers doesn’t inspire confidence in the Islanders’ ability to keep pace should they land in a high-scoring series.
The issues beyond injuries and Capuano’s complaints about the play of Strome, Nelson and Bailey are evident, too. Of the eight teams currently in playoff position in the Eastern Conference, only the Florida Panthers and Rangers have a worse shot attempts for percentage at 5-on-5. Luckily, a meeting with the Panthers could be in the offing, but the gap in possession between the Islanders (49.8 percent) and the Cats (48.8) isn’t large enough to say Capuano’s squad has a distinct advantage. And over the past two months, it has actually been the Panthers (51.5) who have the better possession rate than the Islanders (48.5).
The Islanders were riding high heading into the post-season in 2014-15 after eclipsing the 100-point plateau for the first time in more than 30 years, but lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the Washington Capitals. The harsh reality is, though, that without an uptick in production from the middle of the roster, the Islanders won’t be taking that step forward quite yet and could end this season still waiting for their first taste of the second round since 1992-93.