Senators give Islanders something to think about

Photo: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The NHL finished the first part of the season recently, so it’s time to check the standings of where your favorite NHL team is.

Your New York Islanders are in the top three in the highly competitive Metropolitan division standings, which is significant since it would mean they would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. The Ottawa Senators have been sputtering to start the season with a seven-game winless skid to show for it after an Eastern Conference playoff run last year, which they took the Pittsburgh Penguins to seven games until they lost to them in the Eastern Conference finals in two overtimes of Game 7.

Unfortunately for the Islanders and fortunately for the Senators, the standings are irrelevant right now. Still, this game had meaning for both teams despite being one of those 82 games in a long season. For the Islanders, it was a chance to show the Senators they would be a force come playoff time. For the Senators, it was a chance to show the Islanders what to expect out of a playoff experienced team come springtime.

What did we learn in the Senators’ 6-5 victory over the Islanders at Barclays Center Friday night? The Islanders have ways to go before they can be taken seriously as a playoff team, and the Senators showed they can turn it on when they want to, which is why they did.

The Islanders and Senators were clearly ready to go when they combined to score five goals in the first period. It’s rare that happens in a game that features the Senators, but it did happen. It had to be surprising for the goaltenders and the coaches of their respective teams.

This game won’t be remembered fondly since both teams combined for 11 goals. It’s never good when the game had a 6-5 ending. While it raised confidence for the Senators, the Islanders have to be disappointed. Their defense failed them, and their goaltending stunk. Therein lies the rub: The defense and goaltending have been the Islanders’ weakness in recent years, and this year is no better since it’s the same cast of characters. That should not be forgotten despite their good start, and the Islanders know this.

The goaltending is a concern. Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak does not scare anyone come postseason. They may be good enough to win regular season games, but in the postseason, they need to be above average.

Halak has showed he can dominate a game as he demonstrated in the Islanders’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals three years ago. Still, he has been too inconsistent to the point Islanders coach Doug Weight trusts Greiss than him.

As for Greiss, he is what he is. He is decent at best. Opposing teams keep waiting for him to give up a goal when it matters the most. He is also good to give up goals that he should be saving.

It was interesting why Weight kept Greiss despite not having it in the game. His patience ran out when his goaltender gave up the fifth goal that tied the game at 5 in the second, so he benched his starting goaltender for Halak, who gave up a power-play goal to Ryan Dzingel, giving the Senators the go-ahead lead in the third period.

It was a move that was too little too late. It was also telling the Islanders head coach had no faith in Halak for him not to switch to him in the second period.

The Islanders tried to trade Halak last year, but there were no takers, so he and the team are stuck with each other. It’s hard to believe Halak is the answer if his coach can’t trust him.

The Islanders have to trade for a goaltender in the trade deadline, but that’s easier said than done since teams are not willing to give up goaltenders for the sake of doing so. They have no options in the minors. It’s a tough position for them to be in.

The Islanders defense constantly got burned, and it showed again several times last night when the Senators were able to skate past them to score. The Islanders also turned the puck over.

Once the Senators scored the sixth goal in the third period, they were ready to implement the dreaded neutral zone trap on the Islanders, who struggled to get past it.

With the start the Islanders had, the thought was a miracle would happen and the game would be tied heading to overtime. They had good shots at Senators backup goaltender Mike Condon, who relieved Craig Anderson midway through the second period. Jordan Eberle fired the puck at a rocket speed to surprise Condon, but he was denied, and that was it.

The Islanders can only rely on comebacks and grit for so long. The issues still remain, and Friday night was a reminder how far they have to go, even it was game one.

Rest assured, Islanders general manager Garth Snow and Weight are not kidding themselves.

 

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