By Stu Hackel
Sidney Crosby’s magnificent return on Monday night overshadowed — well, more like dwarfed — the sorry performance of the team he singlehandedly dismantled: the New York Islanders. Heap as many accolades you want on Crosby, they are all deserved as he commanded his superior skills to produce a magical night for the NHL and the world of sports.
But let’s also look at the team he sliced and diced, one that is on the verge of kissing yet another season goodbye after having not even completed one quarter of the schedule. That team is, once again, a mess.
What is there left to say about the poor Islanders that hasn’t already been regurgitated hundreds of times? They are stuck in an obsolete arena, have one of the league’s lowest payrolls, and — despite rosy predictions at the season’s outset that this club could be a playoff contender — appear to have sunk into their annual early-season free fall that effectively eliminates them from the postseason before the holidays.
After winning three of their first four games, he Isles have played 14 games, 28 possible points, in the last month. They have banked a not-so-grand total of seven and are already 10 points south of a playoff spot with a schedule ahead that has no easy opponents for the next month.
Let’s take nothing away from Crosby and his Pittsburgh playmates. They put in a full 60-minute effort to win 5-0. You can’t say the same for the team they beat. After losing to Boston 6-0 on Saturday, Isles coach Jack Capuano told his players to remain in their dressing room for a meeting in which he reportedly blasted them.
There are now some suggestions that the Islanders have quit on their coach and that usually turns into an indictment of the players for not giving their best.
But it wasn’t the players who decided to give rookie goaltender, Anders Nilsson, his first NHL start against the marauding Penguins, a team as emotionally charged up as a team could be, with the talent to match, playing in an amped-up arena. Nilsson began the season fourth on the Islanders’ depth chart and wouldn’t even be here had it not been for injuries to Evgeni Nabokov and Al Montoya.
Why subject him to a such a fierce opponent, a glaring spotlight, and his own club’s inadequate defense corps? Why would Capuano do that to his team or that goalie? It was a time to play an experienced netminder. However, Rick DiPietro, he of the contract that extends into the 23rd Century, watched safely from the bench.
If the Islanders haven’t decided to wave the white flag already, this was just a bad coaching choice. But poor decisions have haunted this franchise for decades. And now, even some of the good ones aren’t working out. Too many of the youngsters they’ve collected to build depth on this team are doing nothing this season. Kyle Okposo: no goals, three assists. Blake Comeau: no points. Josh Bailey: one goal, two assists. Travis Hamonic: minus-10.
This is an organization-wide failure. Ownership and management and their apologists can bleat all they want about the crumbling Nassau Coliseum (which still has some of the best sightlines in the league). If the team that plays in it reeks, why would anyone go watch it? The fans deserve better. Capuano may eventually take the fall, but this fish stinks from the head.