The Islanders Playoff Race Begins

By Bill Bennett

Questions

The Magic Number:

Ninety points in the past seems to be the point total for a team in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs, with overtime losses it could be higher, but ninety should put any team in the playoffs. At the moment the Isles are on pace for ninety six points and have games in hand on most teams in the Conference.

Consistency:

In this league there is no such thing as an easy game anymore. Atlanta was 6-4-2 over a twelve game stretch recently. Bottom line, you don’t work hard your team is not going to win. The Islanders will see the Thrashers three games in the next few weeks and need six points and the upcoming game from the Pens.

Getting points against teams above them like Philadelphia, St.Louis, Toronto is a bonus, but for the Islanders to keep their place or improve they must get two points against teams like Florida and Minnesota.

For a good part of the season, the Islanders have lost points to teams that you would expect them to beat and taken points against teams where you would expect them to lose.

Nassau Coliseum:

The Islanders finally showed they can close games in front of big sellout crowds that have been coming to the Coliseum all season with wins against top teams like Toronto and the Blues.

Putting on a show for the home crowd is not as crucial as getting the two points. To date the Islanders have gotten a total of sixteen out of a possible eighteen points on the road in the Eastern Conference and have not left an arena without at least one point.

At home it’s not pretty.

Who is going to get the goals ?

Right now, it’s different players every game and that’s a good thing because some players have been in scoring slumps and have fallen off the pace they were at earlier in the season. Michael Peca has to score some goals at even strength, even if he does hit twenty goals with most coming shorthanded.

What’s key is that the defense has stepped up and been part of the scoring, with Tarnstrom, Aucoin, Jonsson and Hamrlik all contributing.

Up front, Kip Miller has been a huge help, but the question has to be asked how long can he keep it up ?

Shawn Bates (one shorthanded goal) has not been a factor in the scoring dept and there has to be a concern for a player who has surpassed all combined career numbers in one NHL season.

Dave Scatchard seems to have his extra step for the first time all season and it’s leading to quality chances and some goals.

Defense:

The Islanders finally have six defenders healthy, with Kiprusoff back in Europe, Sutton in Bridgeport and Tarnstrom looking better with each game. The Isles are
in good shape with this unit, and Peter Laviolette is going to play Aucoin and Jonsson big minutes because they both thrive under those conditions.

Goaltending:

It’s Osgood’s show and he has to start fast next week and give his team a chance to win. Snow has had his struggles, but with time off, he has bounced back for some clutch wins and at times shows incredible agility, he needs to avoid mistakes handling the puck.

Decisions:

One big one is coming when Steve Webb is ready to return and that is likely soon because the teams fourth line has Kvasha at center with Lapointe and Jason Blake on his wings and these are players you cannot put in the stands to watch games. Jim Cummins status also comes into play with this decision and is the odd-man out at the moment on a team that is not big up front and needs Cairns on the ice.

Toughness:

A little too much has been made in the local press for the Islanders need to be more tough and add toughness.

The solution is to put the puck in the net and let the other team worry about how tough they can be as they parade to the penalty box. The Islanders take care of themselves well enough and everyone chips in when needed.

Come playoff time most of those tough players cannot even see the ice in today’s NHL.

Trades:

For those keeping count that deadline is coming up very fast and is less than a month away. In truth, the Isles have little to offer and should be looking to take salary off another teams roster. What the Islanders should be looking to do is see if a Frederick Modin type of player is available.

A wing that can contribute more from an offensive standpoint than Mats Lindgren or a player who comes for a fifth rd pick at the deadline up front, who knows how to put the puck in the net is where Mike Milbury needs to get something done, and this is new for him. 

Lots of rumors and speculation about Brad Isbister being traded. Fact is left wings with his potential and ability should not be traded at his age unless they get a prime young scoring forward (Shane Doan) as the return.

Rick DiPietro has been in trade rumors from one paper that has little record for credibility. Fact is, how many NHL teams can he step in and start for next season ?

With Osgood’s contract up after next year (and Garth Snow’s) the smart play is to move him into a backup role here for the 2003-04 season.

Tom Poti in Edmonton will not see the ice with the Islanders depth on defense in key moments as Isbister will because of the teams lack of size and scoring depth on the NHL level on the left side at the moment.

If Mike Milbury wants to trade Oleg Kvasha for Poti (doubtful) to shore up a unit that Branislav Mezei (recalled to Islanders yesterday) this makes more sense but Mezei has shown enough to claim the sixth spot on defense and is a tenth overall pick, he may be a better bet than Poti, who is struggling on a world-class ice surface in Edmonton. What should be noted is that Kvasha is getting moved too often thru the lineup and looks like the player with the same potential he showed in Florida, but that was three years and coaches ago.

Where is his role if the Islanders decide they need an player now who can contribute ?

Kasparaitis, Guerin, Amonte all sound great but the price in talent and prospects is too high and at the end of the season, will not sign with the Isles unless they offer the most money. If this happens they might as well wait until the summer because the price in prospects is too high.

Notables:
For those who are keeping track of the SoundTigers, they are on another eight game winning streak and in first place. I would suggest reading the AHL report for the best info because they do an outstanding job.

One SoundTigers game will be on MSG Network in April against Hartford, in what may be a big game as both these teams are fighting for the division.

The teams prospect page is being update daily and the message board will be checked to try and answer questions regarding some of the prospects.