The New York Islanders headed into their four-game road trip likely needing 6 of 8 points to keep a playoff spot within the realm of possibility. They got three, their only win coming Saturday afternoon in a face-saving victory over the Boston Bruins to close the trip.
The most heartbreaking loss had to be a 3-2 overtime collapse in Washington. With only four minutes to go in the game and the Isles leading 2-0, Troy Brouwer scored twice before the final horn and Alex Ovechkin won it in the extra frame. It was like a metaphor for the Islanders' entire season: close, but not close enough.
If that wasn't deflating enough, the Islanders had the wind knocked out of them once again Thursday in Philadelphia, opening the scoring just over a minute into the first period only to surrender two straight goals, then tying the game up less than a minute into the second, only to surrender three straight goals. Their eventual 6-3 loss effectively ended even the longest of longshot hopes to make the postseason.
But it's not like there's nothing left for this team to play for.
This Islanders team has shown some serious promise this season, and Garth Snow now has a ton of choices to make, not to mention pieces with which to make them.
For instance, is Jack Capuano the guy to hit this group with the Bop Gun and get them over the hump? The disappointing road trip has to have thrown that, like everything else, into question. From Eye on Isles:
Are they still not at a point in which they can handle high pressure games? Is it a leadership problem? Is it a coaching issue? Is it a lack of confidence? Is the rebuild still farther away from showing results than, perhaps, I believed?
It seems that I ask the same questions. Additionally, I don't have any more answers. I just don't get it at this point in the season. Maybe, I just had my sights set a little too high for what this team is ready for. Nevertheless, the reality is the Islanders are now 9 points back of the 8 spot, and miracles are seeming even beyond the type the New York Mets pulled out in 1969. The proverbial fat lady, I'm afraid, is warming up in the wings. I do not like to think the negative and feel that there is always hope, but the effort and desire often is not there at times it simply SHOULD be.
The apparent lack of effort and desire certainly doesn't reflect well on Capuano's ability to get this young team up for big games. This was a make or break road swing, and they didn't just break -- they broke bad. Several started cooking meth.
Anyway. More than Capuano, this likely has much to do with the mix. The Islanders are still a young, developing team and, while some pieces of the core have been established, others remain up in the air.
P.A. Parenteau is headed for unrestricted free agency. Is he expendable?
The forward corps is jam-packed with young talent that might be able to step in and replace Parenteau's scoring, but this final stretch now becomes an opportunity to see who fits where. Forwards like Josh Bailey, Kyle Oksposo and Michael Grabner are all surrounded by questions: From Lighthouse Hockey:
Josh Bailey: Is He a Wing? I don't know who made the decision or what organizational discussions arrived at trying Bailey at wing again, but I'm glad it's happening. Not just for his sake, but to determine the 3C and 4C roles of the future. As discussed earlier this week, if Bailey is a productive wing, that's an important answer for this roster.
Kyle Okposo: What's Up? Not even getting into what fan expectations have been for Okposo -- rather, they just need to know how he fits. On one hand, he's contributed both on the first and second line. On the other, he's also disappeared for stretches in both roles. His 14 goals are close to his career average in 61 games, but his all-around decision-making and engagement have been in question. If you think about it, Bailey is in some ways auditioning for Okposo's former role next to Nielsen. Speaking of which...
Michael Grabner: Which Way? I'm not as worried about Grabner as many fans are, because his PK work and constant scoring threat is an important contribution to the team. But snakebitten and scoring-poor seems to affect the rest of his game, and it'd sure be nice to have all those attributes plus a guy who can convert more often. With 15 goals, will he get hot in the last 18 games?
Each has 17 games to solidify their role for next year. With prospects like Ryan Strome coming up the pipe, one wonders if poor performances to close out the year could render any of these forwards expendable.
What about in goal? Evgeni Nabokov has been good and he should be re-signed, but is he the best fit? Is Rick DiPietro still in the mix? With all the pieces the Islanders have, one wonders if they shouldn't be looking for a younger goaltender, someone who can grow with the team. Snow has 17 games to determine the future in goal.
The Islanders may be out of the playoffs, but fans should be excited nonetheless. Even the rest of this season should be very, very interesting to watch.