This evening’s game against the Islanders pits the Flames against a team that is has begun to win a few games as of late despite the obvious manoeuvring by their GM to strip the team right down to the salary floor over the last week.
Recent signs of life on the ice aside, it’s clear that this will be another lost season on the Island, a perpetual rebuilding project hamstrung by injuries to several of their small number of useful players and an owner that would sell in a minute if anyone were crazy enough to buy a money draining club with a terrible building. (Oh, and as a note to Edmonton and Calgary politicians: the Nassau Coliseum really is a slum of a building, not just one that insufficiently enriches the team ownership. There is a difference.)
That aside, I suspect the Islanders would have been willing to see how things would have played out until about mid-February before off-loading players had they been healthy out of the gate. The injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit killed any hope for the year right from day one, and as a result Garth Snow decided to get his housecleaning off to an early start by dispensing with James Wisniewski and Dwayne Roloson this week.
The forwards left behind are a bit of a non-descript lot, even with a famous draft pick like John Tavares included. Both Scott Gordon and Jack Capuano have used Tavares against softer competition, mostly to ensure he’s not overwhelmed before he can prove he’s ready to play against good players every night.
He, like most of the other Isles’ forwards, is struggling a touch at EV, even with decent ZoneStart numbers. Capuano has continued Gordon’s trend of getting Matt Moulson and Tavares out in offensive situations, leaving Frans Nielsen to start in the lousy end of the ice as a regular matter of course.
As I mentioned in the round-up last week, Nielsen’s a player I have a pile of time for. I actually think the Islanders underutilize him a bit, because from my viewing of him in the NHL and at last year’s World Championship he should play more than 11 1/2 minutes at EV per outing.
Last spring’s Worlds were a particular eye opener for me as the Danes, bereft of high end pros, leaned on him quite heavily and he looked terrific, showing excellent skill at winning puck battles shift after shift. Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner have been playing against the toughs since Bailey’s return from the minors.
The Islander D corps has taken a big hit on the injury front as well. Mike Mottau was looking like a nice pickup off the scrap heap before hip surgery finished his year, Streit never played a game and as a result Mark Eaton is the only Islander defenseman that’s even managed to play as many as 30 games thus far.
Rookie Travis Hamonic has looked, in relative terms, OK as part of the club’s most recent attempt at a shutdown pair with Andrew MacDonald, but like every other Islander, he’s been in tough at EV this year.
With the move of Roloson to Tampa, Rick Dipietro will carry the load for the rest of the year, or to be more accurate, he will until his next serious injury. He’s batting a nifty .893 at EV this year, which is not what one might hope for from your number one goalie, but I suppose if a tank is in order, that’s not that much of a concern.
The Islanders have taken a couple of decent scalps this week, knocking off the Pens and Wings, with the Penguins’ game most notable for Nielsen playing Crosby to a draw at EV, more or less.
The Islanders certainly give a proper effort most nights, but that collective roster is as weak a group as there is in the league, so matching that effort should be job one for Calgary and if they do that, the result will likely fall into place.