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Isles at the Quarter Pole: Punchless, Lifeless, Directionless


New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro (39) defends against Atlanta Thrashers center Bryan Little, right, during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Philips Arena, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

They claim it took approximately 870 years to completely rebuild the Roman Empire back 753 BC. For fans of the New York Islanders, the rebuilding process around here is starting to feel just about as arduous.

For a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993 and only managed to make the post season five times since then, signs of life would have at least been encouraging for the first quarter of the 2010-11 season.


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Well, forget it.

A 10-game losing streak cost coach Scott Gordon his job and completely erased all the feel good from a promising 4-1-2 start. What exactly has gone wrong? Where do you start?

Flash Gordon
Since his dismissal some reports have surfaced that Gordon had simply lost this club. Evidence of that could certainly be found in the third period of the game against the Kings in LA last week. Down 3-1 and staring straight down the barrel at their 10th consecutive loss, the Isles managed just three shots on goal and were thoroughly outplayed in finally going down 5-1.

A statement from the players? Perhaps not all together fair to make that claim but it certainly couldn’t have been looked at as a roaring endorsement of their leader either who was replaced 48 hours later.

One observation might be that Gordon’s over speed system might have been better suited for a high speed team, which they simply never assembled during his tenure. Several veterans have struggled here the last few years and some of the younger players seem to have wilted in the season’s final 40. The fact Gordon’s replacement, AHL coach Jack Capuano, essentially  implements the same system doesn’t exactly seem to have set the club up for a turnaround and is fodder for a later column.

Snowed In
You can only do the bare-bones thing for so long as this very young group of kids needs some solid veteran leadership to help them develop. Snow has been unwilling, unable or some combination of the two to bring in some upper tier, experienced talent to take some of the pressure off of the likes of Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Josh Bailey. Okay, Mark Streit has been fabulous but the buck apparently stopped there on the free agent front.

Snow’s comments in the aftermath of the Gordon firing tasted typical Islander vanilla as well.

“Scott did an excellent job, not only with those two players, but with the development of all our young players,” Snow said in a conference call last week. “He had a knack for not only getting the best out of the John Tavareses and the Josh Baileys, but even the veterans, the James Wisniewskis right on down the line. Scott has done an excellent job. Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we have 10 losses in a row and it was a situation where a change needed to be made and we went ahead and did what I thought was right for our organization at this time.”

Sounds like someone who didn’t really know exactly what to do so he canned a guy he thought was doing “an excellent job.”  Okay.

Forwards Going Backwards
Talk about being lost at sea, the team has scored 12 goals in their last 11 games and have held a lead for exactly 21:33 during their current 13-game losing streak. Completely gone is the early season jump and physical presence the forwards showed replaced by tentative confusion and directionless play in the neutral zone. In short, they are being skated circles around almost every night.

Defenseless
On the blueline no team in the league makes life easier for opposing forwards in front of the net as the vast majority of the goals against are scored from right in front of the crease. The only thing nasty about the Isles’ defense this year has been the lewd sexual gesture James Wisniewski directed at Sean Avery in the second game of the season.  Otherwise they’ve apparently assembled the least physical but most homophobic backline in the league.

Goaltending
The situation between the pipes is no better than the confusion happening everywhere else. Rick DiPietro looks like a shell of his former self and a trip to Bridgeport seems like a good idea to everyone except the goalie and his GM. And while Dwayne Roloson has performed fairly well in taking over as the number one, the big save seems to elude the 41-year old most nights.

Faceless
The lunch pail brigade that had developed such a solid reputation as one of the league’s hardest working teams last season have traded in their hard hats for parasols. The team’s identity this season is a mystery. They are not a swift skating team nor are they particularly physical. There is no de facto number one line up front and no consistently reliable pair on defense. At five-on-five they are simply overmatched most nights. 

Tough to develop a game plan when you can’t zero in on a specific strength.

The Arena
Okay – we’re not suggesting the building they play in is the cause of the poor performances on the ice but the Nassau Coliseum is an absolutely horrible sports facility with laughable amenities and zero atmosphere. There isn’t an Islander fan (or player for that matter) you’ll talk to that wouldn’t happily volunteer to operate the wrecking ball the day they eventually tear the place down. The future plan here remains a mystery as well, bogged down in a political quagmire as depressing as Alexei Yashin’s contract. 

Unfortunately for the Isles, this is as much about a bad start to a season as it is about a franchise that is slipping into oblivion on the relevance scale in the New York sports scene. A crowd of 8,500 for the game after the head coach is let go was an even stronger statement than the one management made letting the guy go.

There will be better stretches of play this season as the young talent on the roster eventually finds its footing but righting the ship for a run at a playoff spot seems about as likely as Wisniewski and Avery getting together for a holiday beer.

Isles Notes
Blog Fog
While all the facts still aren’t in on the team’s recent removal of  the media credentials for Chris Botta, who’s www.islanderspointblank.com blog is simply the most in-depth, balanced and entertaining coverage the Islanders have received in decades, for now this is the head scratcher of the year.

The reason we’ve heard for the snub is that Islander management felt that Botta had placed himself above his coverage of the team and they subsequently deemed it necessary to take away his press pass. Without going off on this too much, that’s as Mickey Mouse as it gets and ultimately hurts the franchise as Botta’s blog is wildly popular and provides the kind of coverage of the club you simply can’t get anywhere else.

Ultimately I guess the message here is the team would like to stink with as few people noticing as possible. Mission accomplished, as the recent “crowds” at the Coliseum would attest. Just when you think this franchise has hit rock bottom they get out the shovel and dig a few feet deeper.

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