Injuries Taking A Toll, Visnovsky Missed On The Power Play And The Importance Of The AHL
Although I usually have an update from Bridgeport in my blogs, I chose to go a different route with this one. I am going to stray away from my usual recaps and take a different angle to focus on the need for change and the importance of the Sound Tigers development of the Isles youth. With injuries starting to pile up as the season wears on, there is a lot of pressure on the organization to make roster adjustments. Whether it be via trade or from within their own minor league system, there has been a cry for changes since the play of the team overall as been average at best.
There are key flaws with this team that are no longer able to be masked by hard work or willing themselves to win. As it stands currently, the Islanders have Lubomir Visnovsky, Thomas Vanek, Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Strait out with injuries. It may seem like only 4 injured players, but what their absence brings is more than one may think.
With Lubomir Visnovsky out, the Islanders stability on the power play has been completely lost. It is hard to admit that one man can make that big of an impact on a professional team, but it is clear just how valuable he actually is. Visnovsky's experience and poise was what held that top unit together. Now, the Islanders have been using a revolving door of guys on the point with none being able to stabilize it enough to be effective. Matt Donovan clearly has the ability offensively but is still a rookie and his inexperience gets the best of him at times. Andrew MacDonald shows instances where he seems in control, but like so many other Islanders he looks to be trying to make the perfect pass all of the time rather than just firing the puck at the net. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Frans Nielsen are two forwards that have taken their respective turns on the point during the man advantage, but they are not natural defensemen and with Nielsen being the Islanders goal scoring leader thus far, he is better suited in a forward position on that unit. Travis Hamnoic has held his own and shown improvement in his offensive game by joinging more plays this season, yet he is no quarterback. Beyond that, Thomas Hickey and Matt Carkner are the last people we would want on the back end at that time as they seem to be most helpful when the team is at even strength.
The loss of Thomas Vanek is hard to make sense of. As usual, the Islanders have been extremely quiet about the extent a severity of his injury simply labeling it as "upper body". The good news is he was never placed on the IR but the bad news is he keeps missing games. What makes this so stressful is that he still has yet to have enough time to build chemistry with this team. He is without out a doubt a first unit power play forward and once he can click, the team will undoubtedly get a boost in their production. Having Vanek and Visnovsky out is killing the special teams and a solution needs to come from somewhere to fix it.
Evgeni Nabokov getting hurt is a tough one to gauge. Yes, he is a veteran goaltender that has shown glimpses of greatness through out his career. However, lately Nabokov has been playing poorly. When a team loses faith in a goalie it is visible to the fans and that is the feeling I was getting right before he got injured in the game against Detroit. Kevin Poulin has stepped in with reliable play and the team seems to have a jump in their stride in front of him. He does not have many games under his belt so at times he seems to be flopping around and will get caught out of position, but he has the demeanor in net that shows he is ready for this challenge. The absence of Nabokov means not only is it Poulin's chance to run with the starting goaltending job, but that he doesn't have a veteran to fall back on. Pressure will now be even higher knowing he is the most experienced goalie now in the Islanders lineup.
To replace Nabokov the Islanders made a couple of moves within their system, promoting Anders Nilsson from Bridgeport to the Islanders and promoting Parker Milner from the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL to Bridgeport. This is why I say that the development of the youth in Bridgeport and even Stockton is so important. Injuries are never planned and happen all of the time. Everyone needs to be ready for the call when needed. Aside from Nilsson and defenseman Aaron Ness this season, many players on the roster right now have come through Bridgeport. Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, Colin McDonald, Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Matt Donovan, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald have all played there at one point or another and all have contributed to the success of the team since they broke into the league.
If more injuries do occur, or if players are traded there are borderline NHL ready players on the Sound Tigers now such as Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Calvin de Haan to name a few. With the team not only hit by the injury bug, but playing poorly as well the answers need to come from somewhere. Yes, trades are an option as well but they are not as likely and also mean parting with components of the current team.
Excuse my use of so many generalities in this blog, but the point to be made is this is why guys like Ryan Strome were not rushed into the NHL right from training camp this year. The experience he is gaining in the AHL is vital to his development and who knows, he might actually be needed on Long Island sooner rather than later. When the time does come for Strome or anyone else out of Bridgeport, they need to be ready to compete and contribute at the NHL level. With the quarter mark of the season just behind us, time is running out for the Islanders to get things straightened out for another playoff run. In addition, with this being an Olympic year I think that if the Islanders are going to make the playoffs, they need to be in position by the Olympic break and hang onto it. The run to end the season last year isn't likely to happen again, especially after how they have played so far. It is always good to hope, but if the Islanders are going to play more than 82 games this season, changes need to happen now.
Thanks for reading!