After allowing seven goals in an onslaught of a hockey game, the final buzzer at the Nationwide Arena would not only sound the ending of a massacre, but also signify the end of what was a disappointing season for the New York Islanders.
It was a disappointing year for many reasons. With the rebuild entering its fourth season, many expected this team's fortunes to change. For plenty, that meant making the playoffs instead of falling into the draft lottery. For yours truly, that meant climbing out of the cellar but not high enough to reach 8th place. I am sad to say that we were both wrong. The Islanders finished the year out of the playoffs and 27th overall in the league, giving them the fourth overall pick going into Tuesday night's draft lottery for the second year in a row.
On paper you can call the 2012 season just the same as any other. At 14th place in the Eastern Conference, the Isles finished the season with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points. That's only a six point improvement over last season and the SAME exact record as the year before that in 2010. It would almost appear that the rebuild has established a trend of not going up or down, but rather staying put.
The rebuild is only four years old, and although I use the word, "only," I understand how long that it has actually been for the loyal fans who continue to come out and support this team, waiting for them to finally return to glory. But the fact of the matter is that these things take time - a lot of time.
The St. Louis Blues are a prime example. They have only made the playoffs once since the lock out and are now finally poised to make a serious run for the Stanley Cup for the first time since Chris Pronger was on the team. President John Davidson has been building them through the draft while signing veteran free agents, much like what the Islanders have done. And the free agents they have signed haven't exactly been guys in their prime, such as Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. They also had trouble scoring goals for a long time as well. But finally, things are starting to fall into place and they are on the brink of becoming a power house hockey team in the Western Conference.
The Isles, much like the Blues, are still building toward that stature. But one thing is for certain; the Islanders farm team next season is going to play a major role in the rebuild.
The Islanders make their last visit to New Jersey this season on Tuesday night. As the season winds down and the playoffs officially out of reach the Islanders will look for positives for next season out of every game. The Islanders will also look to rebound back from the last minute lost to the Devils the last time these two teams meet.
One thing to watch for in this game is the NHL debut of Matt Donovan. The defenseman has had a very good season for the Sound Tigers were he scored 42 points (10 goals and 32 assists) in 69 games this season. This could be sort of a try out for the young guy as the team looks towards next season. He will be paired with Dylan Reese tonight as Staios and Jurcina are scratched.
It's hard to predict the roster for 2013 when 2012 hasn't even finished yet, let alone the fact that Garth Snow hasn't decided which of his impending UFA's will be brought back. Free agency is still a far away fantasy as well. But for some hockey players currently wearing Islanders uniforms, the immediate future has been fresh in their minds for quite some time.
Players like Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, Dylan Reese and Nino Niederreiter will be looking to make some lasting impressions on the coaching staff over the next seven games that will close out the Islanders' season. The first three will more than likely be sent back to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers once the NHL regular season ends in order to assist the farm team with their playoff run.
I have said that I believe it would be better for the Islanders to finish between 10th and 12th place in the Eastern Conference as opposed to going the 'Fail for Nail' route and trying to get a top-five lottery pick for this summer's 2012 Entry Draft. But if the season ended today, the Isles would go into the lottery with the fifth pick in the draft. Although that is the least likely position to be in when hoping to move up to number one, the Islanders are almost guaranteed to at least have a selection in this year's top 10 class.
With the playoff picture painting itself out on a permanent canvas over the next two weeks, let's put ourselves in the shoes of some NHL scouts and take a quick glance at what the Islanders will be looking at in between game 82 and draft day.
Nail Yakupov is the clear choice for first overall, having a lot of Alexander Ovechkin comparisons made about his play. After Nail comes Mikhail Grigorenko, who has often been compared to Evgeni Malkin. Both of these Russian prospects will probably be out of the Islanders grasp barring a significant change on the day of the lottery. After these two goal-scoring forwards lie plenty of top-rated defenseman.
Many were immediately calling for the removal of head coach Jack Capuano at the start of the season once the New York Islanders' record began to slip from 3-1 to way below .500. However, there were some, like myself, who argued that it was premature to blame the coaching staff for the poor start due to the fact that the roster from last season hadn't changed much and for the other simple fact - the season was still young. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)
Since then, the Islanders have managed to be a consistent below .500 team for the year. They have come close on a few occasions from jumping over the hurdle but would then find a way to take two steps back after taking one step forward. This past week has been the most disheartening of the year for Isles fans in relation to how the team has continued to perform. Not only have they lost games, but they have done it with such depression that even the U.S. economy cringed.
Three of the last eight games saw the Islanders either blow a three-goal lead or lose the game in the final few minutes of the third period. It started when the Islanders went into the second period against the Washington Capitals with a 2-0 lead on February 28th. The Caps would score two goals in the final three minutes of the game and then go on to have Alexander Ovechkin score the early game winning goal in the extra frame. The Islanders also had a 1-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils just this past Saturday, only to see their opponent score two goals just 14 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the hockey game. And most recently, the Islanders blew a 4-1 lead last night against the Caps to lose 5-4 in the shootout.
The playoffs might be further out of sight, and the reality that the Islanders aren't a playoff team has become more and more apparent with every weakening loss, but this is not the time to "fail for Nail."
Nail Yakupov is considered to be the obvious choice for the number one overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year old Russian sniper scored 101 points (49 goals, 52 assists) in 65 games played for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. He currently has 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points for Sarnia and is a +14. The Islanders, like every other team in the NHL, could certainly benefit from having another scoring winger added to their line-up.
So why do I say that the Islanders shouldn't look to drop in the Eastern Conference standings?
It's still a long shot, but the Islanders have pulled themselves back into playoff conversations with a 1-0 win yesterday over the New Jersey Devils that has put them within five points of the last spot in the Eastern Conference. But even so, there are plenty of questions that surround the New York Islanders hockey club, ranging from the uncertain future of the arena to whether or not Tim Horton's will ever return to the concession stands. The most important questions, the ones that impact the immediate future, are the ones that need to be answered first; GM Garth Snow has to figure out where certain players will fit on his roster as the rebuild pushes forward.
I've already talked about the possibility of Evgeni Nabokov re-signing with the Islanders, as well as teammate P.A. Parenteau returning in an orange and blue sweater. But Snow will have to take a long look at some of his current regulars and decide where they fit with the team long term as some young, fresh faces are pushing for NHL jobs.
It is still a long shot, but the Islanders have once again pulled themselves into playoff conversation with a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. Kyle Okposo scored the lone goal for the Isles while Anders Nilsson earned his first NHL win with a 24-save shutout performance that earned him first star honors on the night.
"Today I think all the guys out there put up a great job for me," said Nilsson. "The first two periods, I only had 12 shots and they blocked a lot of shots and when they got a shot through it was from the boards. They made it real easy for me to play out there today. They helped me out a lot."
Okposo concurred with Nilsson's belief that the Islanders played one of their best defensive games of the year, rivaling their previous defensive win over the Boston Bruins the night before.
On this edition of the prospect report I will look at two late round picks from the 2010 NHL entry draft. Jason Clark and Tony DeHart were two quiet picks from Garth Snow during the draft that bought us Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson.
Jason Clark was taken in the 3rd round, 82nd overall in the draft. He is currently in his sophomore season at Wisconsin, where currently this season he has been seeing limited time on the ice and having limited success. He is still looking to make the score sheet this season while playing in just 15 games so far. Last season as a freshman he saw limited time playing in only 14 games and having only 1 assist. He did have a hip problem that required surgery this past season which could be slowing him down.