December 3, 2002
The Isles' current stumblings might have officially begun with the
home loss to Columbus last Friday. But let's go back one more game
before that to the 2-2 tie against Ottawa, the tail end of a five-
game unbeaten streak.
Peter Laviolette was not happy with the way his team skated against
Ottawa, despite earning the tie. His philosophy is very simple â" if
you outwork the other team, you're going to win most of your games.
And outworking them means you have to be skating, so he asked his
team why they stopped during the 2-2 tie with Ottawa.
Laviolette was concerned that his team was not skating the way he
felt they did in wins over the Rangers and Tampa Bay, so he addressed
it with them after the game. It looked like they were finally on the
verge of turning the corner by playing some good games and edging
back into the top eight playoff spots. But the coach felt Chris
Osgood was the primary reason they were able to get a point against
Shuffle forward to the Columbus game. The first period was probably
the worst one I've seen the Isles play in a year-and-a-half. I don't
understand why a team that seemed to be getting it together suddenly
looked totally disjointed. Their defensemen were taking high risks,
and that's not like them. It almost seemed like they were trying to
do something different than the previous five games. They gave up
three breakaways and two 2-on-1 rushes in that first period to fall
behind 3-0. Stylistically, the Isles were completely different.
Not to take away anything from Columbus, a club that is improving
each year, but the Blue Jackets still don't have three or four top
NHL lines. From a coach's perspective, you have to stop Geoff
Sanderson, Ray Whitney, Andrew Cassels and keep a eye on 18-year-old
Rick Nash, but there's not a lot of game-breakers after that.
It looked like nobody on the Islanders paid any attention to those
players at all. Whitney ended up with two goals and two breakaways,
Sanderson missed on another breakaway and Cassels scored on a rebound
in which both Brad Isbister and Alexei Yashin were late coming back
into the zone. After the period, I felt like saying, 'What team is
The Isles' troubles had less to do with skating and more to do with
positioning â" why was the middle of the ice, the most important
defensive part of the rink, abandoned? When you allow teams to
control center ice, you're generally going to lose.
ISLES MUST GET A 'HANDL' ON THINGS
Yashin and Isbister's line hasn't nearly been the same since rookie
Mattias Weinhandl went out with a shoulder injury. Weinhandl doesn't
give up on the puck, he gets knocked down and gets right back up, he
plays gutsy, sets up plays, takes a hit to make them, makes good
passes and scores goals â" so he's going to be missed.
Oleg Kvasha filled in for Weinhandl in the last two games and has
really been a huge disappointment. He hasn't been skating well, he
hasn't been strong on the puck, he hasn't become a threat and he has
been a real detriment defensively (as have his linemates). Weinhandl
had been playing at a high level and making the line go, and once he
got hurt, I thought Kvasha might be hungry to play. If you're sitting
out and your replacement is playing like Weinhandl, you tend to
wonder whether or not you'll get a chance again.
So when your replacement gets hurt and you do get an opportunity,
most competitive people would relish it. But Kvasha didn't look at
Weinhandl's injury as an opportunity, and as a result, he's had a
disappointing couple of games alongside Yashin and Isbister.
Weinhandl's a good young player, but the veteran players that you're
paying a lot of money to and expect to carry the team should be
giving more. Mike Milbury and his staff have been extremely patient
in hoping the Isbisters and Kvashas seize the moment and develop into
the players they have foreseen.
It's hard to say whether or not a young player will remain with the
team for the rest of the year. A guy like Weinhandl might have some
early success, and then other teams find out about him and pay more
attention. When that happens, it's much easier for a rookie to lose
his confidence and game quicker than a veteran. But based on what
we've seen the last few games, I'd say the Isles can't wait for
Weinhandl to get back in the lineup.
JASON TAKES LONG ISLAND
Right now, the Isles' hottest line is the trio of Jason Blake, Dave
Scatchard and Jason Wiemer. Once again, Blake has been the team's
best forward all season. Whatever line Blake plays on, that line
suddenly gets going. He gives you 100 percent of what he has EVERY
Blake might be the smallest player on the team, but when he gets
knocked down, he gets up over and over again. That's what toughness
is. Some people say that you have to have "tough" guys on teams, but
if you look at a guy like Blake, he's as tough as they get. He just
goes and goes and goes, in the corners, in front of the net, gets
hacked â¦ he irritates people and they go after him.
The rest of the team should look at Blake, because there have been
too many inconsistent efforts all season long. If everyone put in the
same work ethic he does, the team would have a better record. And
Blake's finally getting the ice time he deserves, including a career-
high of over 20 minutes in the game against Columbus. He's forced his
linemates to skate, keep up with him and work hard. If they don't,
they're taking some of his effectiveness away.
Blake was placed with Yashin for one game, but it didn't work out so
well. I don't know if Laviolette would try that again, but they
shouldn't have to keep finding somebody to play with Yashin â" Alexei
should be making the players he plays with better. Weinhandl works
well with him, but should Yashin suddenly become ineffective with the
rookie out of the lineup? It shouldn't be that way.
ADRIAN IS STILL A-1
I'll give Adrian Aucoin the benefit of a doubt in that Columbus game
because he has been, game in and game out, the Isles' best player for
the last year-and-a-half. He supplies guts, intensity, offense,
penalty-killing and hitting every game, but he's still going to have
an occasional bad night. The only surprise is that it's taken him so
long to finally struggle a bit.
There may be something wrong with Aucoin physically, though he did
make some mental mistakes recently â" keeping in line with the rest of
the team's performance.