Isles midseason report
With the Isles 41th game approaching Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers, this seems like as good a time as ever to evaluate everybody’s favorite Long Island franchise based on their play so far this season. Lets start:
From the preseason, we all knew that the Isles could compete in an Eastern Conference that sports some of the best, and some of the worst teams in the NHL. But seeing the team immediately respond to 55 year old (don’t quote me on that) rookie coach Steve Stirling. We could all tell from the start that he’d be a treasure in tough times.
The icelanders hot start spilled over to the beginning of the season, and I personally think that the top thing about the isles this season is that they’ve managed to stay in contention all season. They are in the same position they were in last year, but unlike with Peter Laviolette, Steve Stirling believes in 4 lines, so it should be a lot easier to hold up down the stretch.
Other general highlights:
-Garth Snow stepping in and winning like he did last year
-Trent Hunter being named NHL rookie of the month
-Slick Rick DiPietro making a beautiful save with Kenny Jonsson’s stick to force overtime (Rico’s got the skills to pay the bills–he just might be a year or two away before he can be truly great)
I’d say the the 7 game losing streak qualifies as a lowlight. A really ugly losing streak. Also, the annoying habit that the isles have to win 3 against good teams, and lose 2 against bad ones.
-Alexei Yashin’s lacerated forearm was pretty ugly…
-So was Mark Parrish’s ankle sprain, just when he was starting to play well.
-Rick DiPietro getting the starting job and losing it was a slap to the face for Mad Mike.
-Speaking of Mad Mike, talk that he could get fired was another lowlight.
-I can’t forget when so Leafs fans actually thought that the Isles could trade Michael Peca to them, for none other than…Darcy Tucker. You have to be really dumb to believe that one–and many isles fans were.
Enough of this Highlight/Lowlight stuff. The isles have been way too up and down for that. Let’s cut right to the good stuff: Grading. Because of injuriese, I’m only gonna grade those who have gotten a significant amount of playing time this year (sorry Mattias Wienhandl, but you’re where I’ll make the cut.) Let’s go:
Michael Peca: The captain. His *new* Lucky 7′s line with Sean Bates and Trent Hunter have starred. Too bad Peca can’t get in on any of the goal scoring. He’s just proving Buffalo fans right every day. But still, he’s been the key to Trent Hunter’s success. Therefore: B
Trent Hunter: The rookie. Has shown an amazing ability to change a game with his pinpoint shot and long reach. He has scored more goals than any other rookie in the league (and is second in points to Michael Ryder) His defensive game is incredibly solid as well. Toss in the fact that he’s been one of the only consistant Isles, has a 15-10-25, and he’s a rookie, and you have yourself the one and only: A
Sean Bates: The role player. Works hard on both ends, forechecks, invaluable on the penalty kill. He seems to have caught Mike Peca syndrome as of late, though–he’s getting chances, but can’t get the goals to go in. Still, a solid guy who’s got 24 points. He gets a: B+
Alexei Yashin: The star. He’s done what Alexei Yashin does best this year, score some goals, get some assists, be inspiring at times. 12 goals and 12 assists isn’t bad for somebody who’s been injured and has had some really streaky line mates. I would venture to guess that Oleg Kvasha and Mariusz Czerkawski couldn’t be as good without him. But I pin responsiblility for the powerplay squarely on his ‘A’, and that just hasn’t been there. So…: B+
Oleg Kvasha: The mystery box. Reach in and pull out either a fast, physical force who has the presence to get tips and the shot to score goals. Other nights he is truly a waste of space. This season he’s been better though, and has actually been consistent enough to get PP time. A solid 23 point output is good enough to score him a: B
Mariusz Czerkawski: The not-so-surprising surprise. At the beginning of the year, Mariusz could do no wrong. Now he can. His torrid start has considerably cooled, and we’re now seeing more of the AHL Czerkawski than the NYI Mariusz we know and love up here. Still, nobody could have expected better from him, but as of now he is totally non-consequential, and his poor D has actually cost the isles some games. But a strong statistical year scores him a: B
Mark Parrish: The streakster. Mark had a slow start, picked it up, fell off, and then was better than ever, then sprained his ankle due to crappy Nassau Colliseum ice (please build a new arena, Mr. Wang!). His numbers were just starting to get respectable, and he was becoming a marked player for the other teams defense. But now he will be out for a long, long time. 13 goals will earn you a: B
Arron Asham: The poor man’s Jeremy Roenick. He’s one of the islanders more consistent forwards, and is a great forechecker. He can also score some (6-7-13) but he loses his touch way too much. He is physical, but doesn’t take penalties, but his -1 makes me think that maybe he should. Arron registers a: B-
Dave Scatchard: The irreplaceable. Scatch proved that he is the most invaluable player on the entire team by getting injured and missing the first 19 games with a shoulder injury. I can’t find the actual stat, but let’s just say that he came back sometime around the end of the huge losing slide, and the isles have taken off since his return. Coming off a career year, he makes everybody around him (see: Jason Blake) so much better. Despite only playing 20 games, I give Scatch a: B
Jason Blake: The asshole. Just to be clear, he’s the kind of ass you love if you have him, and you hate if you don’t. Last season he drew more penalties than anybody in the league while scoring a career high in goals, because his scrappy style of play and his lack of fear to hit somebody twice his size makes you want to hit him. This season is has been no different. His energy on the ice makes the whole team better, and he can also score critical goals (12-13-25). He’s really taken off since being put back with Dave Scatchard. Have this Jason, you deserve it: A-
Justin Papineau: The investment. The isladners basically traded Chris Osgood for Papineau last season. We all loved Ozzie. But we wanted Papineau, and we got our man after a long negotiation process which Mad Mike actually won! But the 23 year old youngster has yet to pay off, with a 1-3-4 this season over 28 games. Patience is the key with him–now that Yashin and Parrish are out, he’s beginning to get quality chances for the first time now that his ATOI (8:02) is beginning to rise. But for now, even though I like your style, you’ll only get a: C
Justin Mapletoft: The spacefiller. Mapletoft is pretty much like Papineau in that he’s a future investment who’s no Trent Hunter, but could end up being a key player for the isles in the future. But for now, somebody’s gotta play the 4th line, and Steve Stirling is very familiar and trusting of the 22 year old he coached at Bridgeport. For doing nothing of consequence to change my mind either way, I give you a: C
Eric Godard: The boxer. The last forward on to be graded, Godard is good at what he does. Punching people. He is actually quickly gaining a reputation as being one of the best fighters in the NHL. The isles think they can teach him to score, but they probably can’t. But for being a good boxer, but doing nothing else of consequence: C+
Adrian Aucoin: The workhorse. I’m going to go on the record saying that Adrian Aucoin is the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. He leads the league in +/-, is 5th in average time on ice, and is still consistantly shut out of the allstar game, or an allstar contract. This season he has been at his best, and he has a ridiculous home +/- of 22! His offensive numbers should be higher though, and his road game could use some sharpening. But still, you’re near the head of the class with a: A-
Roman Hamrlik: The complete package. Theoretically Hammer can score, defend, rake in +/-, and anything else you could possibly ask for. But this season, his numbers are only average, and he has yet to register a goal, very dissapointing for the reigning all-star. But lost in his offensive struggles is some great defense. That earns you a: B
Janne Ninimaa: The enigma. Janne should be Roman Hamrlik jr. And since his aquisition during the stretch playoff run, he has done a solid job. He’s very coachable according to Stirling, scores (3-9-12) and seems like he genuinly wants to win on Long Island. So why can’t he break through and become a star? Still, he’s been good. Solid 2-way play gets him a: B
Kenny Jonsson: The insurance fraud. Kenny continues to excell working in the Isles “big 4,” with a solid +/- (11) and strong defense all throughout the year. He’s remarkable on the 2 on 1. In fact, he’s been so solid all-around, there is no knock on him. And even though he’s appeared in all 40 games this season, every big hit sends him down cluthing his head. I just can’t help but wonder how much money the team loses if he gets another concussion. But, anyway: B+
Eric Cairns: The rally monkey. I give Cairns this name not to mock him, but actually to commend him. He’s become less of a bruiser, and more of a defenseman. He now only drops the gloves when he needs to pummel somebody into the ice to give his team a boost. Steve Stirling has worked very hard with him this season, and Eric has worked equally to improve his game. He may never make it a “big 5″, but he’s certainly doing his part to help the isles win. Nice job: B
Radek Martinek: The madness of Mike. Radek Martinek is what gives Mike Milbury that air of self-assuredness that makes most hate him. An 8th round pick in 1999, Mad Mike loves to parade him around as another “big 5″ type defender. He’s always just a little bit away. And this year is no different. He’s had solid numbers (2-3-5 in 26 games) and is a solid puck handler in his own zone, but again, injuries are holding him back. Also, his -7 isn’t pretty on a team with a +26. I sometimes wonder if Sven Butenshcon is closer to breaking into Stirling’s system at this point: B-
Sven Butenschon: The exception. Sorry Mattias Wienhandl. I know you’ve played one more game than Sven has. But he makes the arguement about who will end up with the final defense spot at the end of the season. He has worked extensively with Stirling at Bridgeport, and has been incredibly comprable to Radek Martinek, but in half the games. His puck handling in his own zone could be an issue, though. Keep on truckin’ Sven: C+
Rick DiPietro: Rico started hot, but then the isles blind faith in him turned rotten, and they pulled him out just in time to avoid falling out of the playoff race. His numbers (7-8-1, 2.46 GAA) are not pretty, but could be worse. As I said earlier, he is very talented, but is still not quite there: C+
Garth Snow: Snowy has done an admirable job splitting time with DiPietro, and has pulled out a record above .500 (12-10-2, 2.6 GAA). But sadly, most of his success has come in spurts, helping to prove that goaltender by commitee work very well. And you wondered how a team with such high grades could be the 7th seed: B-
The Coaching Staff
Steve Stirling did a great thing by hiring Kurt Fraser as his primary assistant. The man who couldn’t handle the godawful Thrashers is now doing quite the job trying to replace the beloved Greg Cronin (now coaching at Bridgeport and just a year away from an NHL job.) This team has been through thick and thin, and Stirlling has held the clubhouse together, something that Peter Laviolette has not been able to do, and is now poised for a strong second half. Good work: B+
My prediction for the Isles is this: They will make the playoffs, go for a decent run, and die when they meet a true power (Ottowa again, maybe Philly–NJ they can beat.) This is a team that I see as being just a year away. They have a tough young nucleus–if they can stay healthy, then they have quite a future.