The New York Islanders currently await a winner-take-all Game 7 Monday night in Washington DC at the Coliseum: win and they move onto what is sure to be sports nirvana in the form of the New York Rangers. Lose, and it is on to Brooklyn, and the Nassau Coliseum will have seen it’s last professional hockey.
There a few items/thoughts regarding the Islanders that didn’t necessarily fit into a recap or full length article, so today I’m introducing a (hopefully!) semi-regular feature here on New York Sports Hub: Potvin’d. Named of course for the legendary defenseman and captain of the Islanders dynasty teams of the 1980’s, Potvin’d will highlight 5 concerns, questions, thoughts, and opinions that this humble author holds with regards to the New York Islanders, and the NHL in general. So now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get cracking!
- There was a great deal of talk coming into the season ofwhether or not JaroslavHalak could be a playoff caliber goalie for the Islanders. Fans pointed out that ifHalak was merely able to playing to his career numbers, the team would ice their best goalie in years (Evgeni Nabokov, KevinPoulin, AndersNillson come to mind as those who tried, but ended up below league average. Of course,Halak went on to set some Islanders franchise records, surpassing Billy Smith for both the most wins in a season (38), as well as most consecutive wins (11).Yet there was still a question of what could Halak bring to the table come tournament time? Through 6 games those concerns seem to have been allayed somewhat, with Halak answering the call with a .926 save percentage, 2.34 GAA. For those paying attention, those two statistics are actually improvements over his regular season numbers. Halak has yet to straight up steal a game for New York a.l.a Carey Price this afternoon in Ottawa, but if the Islanders continue to receive this level of play from their goaltender, they have a chance to make a deep run in these playoffs, regardless of their opponent.
- A storyline coming out of the games at Nassau Coliseum was the abhorrent behavior by a select few Islanders fans, supposedly involving offensive language, physical abuse, vandalism etc. Just how true these stories are doesn’t particularly matter: to hear such things coming from a sporting event shouldn’t surprise any fan in the 21st century. Many recognize that 90% of any fanbase are supportive of their team without demonstrating such terrible behavior, but it is still important to highlight poor choices when they occur: it should go without saying that any such behavior should be condoned from all fans. Unfortunately we have seen what happens when these incidents take a terrible turn, and to come from a place of entertainment and passion that is sports, is something to keep in mind overtime we pass through the gates.
- I am not entirely convinced Frans Nielsen is 100% healthy; we know he missed time at the end of the season and so far in this series, has not shown any indication of returning to the level of play he demonstrated in the 2013 playoffs against Pittsburgh. Nielsen currently has 1 point through 6 games in this series; and even after Islanders coach Jack Capuano reunited the “legendary” second line of Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey, #51 seems a step slow. Washington’s size is definitely a concern, and has impacted this series in a meaningful way, but the team has come to expect more from Nielsen. There’s no better way to make his stamp on this series by taking the Game 7 bull by the horns, and delivering a performance from the Nielsen we remember.
- Each of the four major sports has a certain amounts of transparency when it comes to the officiating; the average fan may not understand what was going on in a referee’s head at certain points during the games, but generally speaking once the game has concluded there’s a good chance they’ll get an explanation. On occasion, the league office even takes measures to clarifiy, or reinforce a call made on the field/rink.
It’s the existence of this phenomenon that makes calls such as the Matt Donovan 10 minute game misconduct that occurred during Game 6 so frustrating. Certainly, it there had been some sort of physical malfeasance, there would have been clear visual evidence of it occurring. Since no such evidence was presented, the imaginations of Islanders fans were left to run wild over just could have resulted in Dononvan getting the boot.
And as of Sunday, we still don’t know why the call was made. The league doesn’t need to necessarily come out and throw officials under the bus, but those crucial/controversial calls need some further explanation, whether that come from the official in question or the league itself.
- Considering the Islanders are still playing, thismay be an early start on a “hot take” issue, but I want to come out and state definitively that even if the Islanders are to lose Game 7, JackCapuano shouldremain the head coach of the New York Islanders as they move to Brooklyn.The mentality of the average fan has metamorphosed over the years to take more of a “win not at all costs” attitude, and if someoneis perceived as not being able to get that job done, then dump them and moveonto the next person.Islanders fans should appreciate the history of their own franchise when discussing head coaching moves: after all as late as the first Stanley Cup winning season of 1980, there were calls for Al Arbor to be removed from his position. The team had “underachieved” in the playoffs for multiple years and some wondered whether or not Arbour was the right fit. Legendary GM Bill Torrey stuck with his guy, and 4 Cups later that move looked quite prescient.
This is not to suggest that Capuano is the next Al Arbour; however this year marks the most talented team the Isles head coach has had the pleasure of leading. This entire year so far has been a learning experience not only for the players, but for their coaches as well. History has shown us that it takes time for coaches to discover just what it takes to win a championship; rare is the coach who gets it on the first try. Capuano deserves the chance to lead a squad that has delivered the best year for the franchise in decades, fought through some playoff battles, and will potentially be even stronger in the years to come. Now if the team doesn’t improve on their performance in 2015-16, let’s talk…