All teams have one, and that’s all this is: a slump. Yes, it’s come at the worst possible time and it has fans sweating and screaming nervously, but the Islanders are just in a slump.
It’s not without reasons. The team was riddled with injuries at the end of February and the beginning of March. The flu was in the locker room, and it kept Cizikas on and off the ice for one game. Martin had an upper body injury. Clutterbuck took a puck to the ear. Boychuk had a skate-blade-to-throat scare that made him a little skittish, then took a bad hit from Voracek which took him off the ice. Lehner was run over by Brady Tkachuk.
Besides injuries, the team crashed from an emotional high. Nassau Coliseum was as loud as it ever was, has been, and will be when Toronto was in town; then it went back to being practically silent in comparison the very next game. When it did get loud again, it was because fans were booing the Islanders’ power play and goalies (even though the losses to Philly were not their fault; there was no defense in front of them). As well, Lamoriello stood pat at the deadline – a huge emotional pat on the back to the team saying, “You’re perfect the way you are.” After being shown confidence like that yet hearing boos from your own fans, confusion and difficulty is understandable. Then add on the pressure of being the first Isles team in or near first place this late in the season since the 80s.
Another issue the team is facing is how and where to reinsert Hickey and Ladd. Toews has actually looked better than Hickey in the last several games, and the rest of the young defensive core has so much chemistry together. Not that Hickey has played badly in his few games back, but he hasn’t played as well as he used to and certainly not as well as Toews, Mayfield, or Pulock. Realistically, he should permanently take Pelech’s or Leddy’s spots, but that’s a hard sell that management will sadly never listen to. Ladd faces a similar predicament. There’s no obvious place in the roster that he should take over. Dal Colle has made a case to stay, and he’s officially been permanently promoted from Bridgeport. Who else could be swapped out of Ladd –Komarov, maybe? Bailey? Doubtful.
As convenient as it would be to blame the recent loses on bad reffing or dirty plays from the other team, the Isles simply slumped. They slid out of first place all on their own because they lost their focus and their game.
However, things are possibly looking up again. The Isles never dropped lower than second place and are still right behind the Caps. Cizikas, Martin, and Clutterbuck are officially back together. Hickey slipped into Boychuk’s open spot. Lehner was taken off IR and sat on the bench for the last game. The Coliseum got loud in the last game, especially with well-deserved chants of “Griess-er”. The power play is still pathetic, but the team is at least taking shots on it, finally. The longest regulation losing streak the Isles have suffered is still only three games.
With only twelve games left, it’s almost guaranteed that the Isles will make the playoffs. This is just a slump, not the end of the post-season before it’s even begun.
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