The Maven's Fearless Second-Half Forecast: Islanders
By Stan Fischler
January 26, 2012
Dogged by bad luck just about everywhere they've turned, coach Jack Capuano's stickhandlers have managed to maintain their equilibrium even though they closed their last two games with only one out of a possible four points.
Cappy, himself, will tell you that there have been clunkers and the most recent being the Islanders' 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
He'll also correctly add that the club rebounded with an enthusiastic effort on Tuesday night, only losing to the Leafs in overtime after John Tavares had come within inches of potting the winner at the other end of Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.
That up-and-down sequence truly capsulizes the season so far for the Nassaumen. They opened the campaign looking oh-so-good and then were assailed with an assortment of setbacks not the least of which was an injury to Rick DiPietro.
With both Evgeni Nabokov and Al Montoya still there to man the crease, all seemed honky-dory in goal until Montoya was mowed down between the pipes and became yet another concussion victim. Given the top job to hold, Nabby has played admirably and often has been the best man on the team in several games.
Through wound after wound, Cappy kept his cool and, meanwhile, constructed one of the best forward lines in the league. Although PA Parenteau was on the top unit with John Tavares and Matt Moulson -- and performing very well -- the coach realized he needed to beef up his second trio.
Thus, Kyle Okposo was moved up with Tavares and Moulson. KO required a few games to acclimate himself to his new linemates, but Kyle has proven that he's both a physical and scoring presence, melding neatly and effectively.
Proof positive is Tavares ascent from a good hockey player to an NHL star. His big-time scoring knack never has been better nor his playmaking skills. He reads his buddy Moulson perfectly and Matty unfailingly returns the favor.
The only downside is that opponents now have done everything to brake Tavares, Ltd. short of lassoing the trio and that means that help also must come from the second and third -- even fourth -- units. This is where Cappy has gone back to the drawing board and it wouldn't surprise The Maven to see a surprise or two in the lineup when we return.
Frans Nielsen stands out as one of the unheralded top defensive forwards in the league and excellently kills penalties with Kid Lightning, alias Michael Grabner. The latter has not delivered as frequently this year, but with plenty of games to go, he could emerge as one of the key assets.
Another who might flower is rookie Nino Niederreiter who -- very unfortunately -- missed most of training camp and the vital early part of the season with injury. Double N has returned and gradually has lifted his game, especially when it comes to physical play. A strong homestretch by the former Portland Winterhawk would not surprise me.
If any area requires bolstering it's the defense which has been pockmarked with wounded all year. Bad luck has dogged Mike Mottau and Andrew MacDonald forcing Cappy to employ AHL call-ups such as Dylan Reese -- not a bad one at all -- and give heavy work to Steve Staios who gained a berth as a training camp walk-on.
Captain Mark Streit has worked time-and-a-half, helping out on offense as much as possible while taking care of his own end. Veterans Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina will be critical players as the Nassaumen take aim at the Second Season within the regular schedule.
Once more, the Islanders race an uphill battle, but they still can see a playoff berth in their crosshairs. If the big line continues exploding and the second unit gets hot -- who knows? -- there could be good news in late Winter and early Spring for the skaters from Nassau!