Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
It's been bad.
Not exactly breaking news there, right? The Islanders have reached the halfway mark with worse records than they have this season -- game 41 isn't until Tuesday in Boston -- but hardly ever with the expectations both outside and inside the organization. They have been marginally better of late, but nothing can excuse yet another November swoon that has the Islanders swimming upstream for the rest of this season. Overall grade: F
COACHING: C- Jack Capuano's seat has been warm-to-hot ever since the Isles went from a 6-5-3 team that had its good and bad moments to one that couldn't win in 10 straight games, didn't earn a single point on the road for 10 straight and went 16 straight games without a regulation win (2-10-4). Add in the 10 blown third-period leads (2-3-5 in those games) and plenty has fallen on Capuano and assistants Doug Weight and Brent Thompson.
Capuano has had very little to work with on defense and in goal thanks to a few key injuries and overestimations of a few young players. His motivational skills may be in question, but how did the same coaching staff get essentially the same team to tighten up when it mattered last season? Capuano has only been able to work with what he's got.
FORWARDS: D Take away the very solid first halves for the top line of John Tavares, Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo and this grade would be even lower. Frans Nielsen had a hot start but wore down as his regular linemates, Michael Grabner (31-game goal drought) and Josh Bailey (27 straight and counting without a goal), continued to struggle. The fourth line, so important to last season's run, has been hit-or-miss, mostly miss. Ryan Strome came up after a hot run in the AHL, but the third line still isn't producing, which was the same story when free-agent additions Pierre-Marc Bouchard (now in the minors) and Peter Regin (now a regular scratch) were in the lineup.
DEFENSE: F Lubomir Visnovsky has never been more valuable than during his two-months-and-counting absence due to a concussion; the Isles' D corps wasn't great before he went out, but they were a scrambling mess for nearly two months before a recent better patch. Pending free agent Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have been overworked, as has Thomas Hickey. Calvin de Haan came up from Bridgeport to add some capable minutes, but still has had plenty of rookie growing pains. Matt Donovan had those, too, and now he's back in the AHL. Aaron Ness, Matt Carkner and Radek Martinek haven't provided enough consistent depth. Brian Strait's return from six weeks out was a help, but this corps simply hasn't been strong enough to compete with the better teams in the league.
GOALTENDING: F Evgeni Nabokov wasn't playing particularly well when he suffered a groin injury on Nov. 18, but who would have thought the Islanders could barely sniff out a win while he missed a month? Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson had a few bright moments, but they are a combined 4-15-2, leaving the Islanders' already fragile confidence even more shaken. Nabokov has been good enough since his return, but the damage may already have been done.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F Another brutal aspect of the team's first half. With pretty much the same group of penalty killers as last season, when the Islanders were ranked 20th, this year's penalty kill has been abysmal. Bad positioning, bad goaltending, poor clearing attempts -- you name the offense, the Islanders committed it this first half, with an overall success rate hovering near 70 percent for much of the season and buried in last. The power play, stocked with talent on the first unit, has had its moments and entered last night ranked 21st, but nothing can make up for the lack of a penalty kill.
COMMENTS: As a few Islanders players have said following blown leads or blowout losses, there isn't much else to say. This team is only still in the playoff chase because the Metropolitan Division has only one good team in the Penguins, who are decimated by injuries. The Islanders have played enough good minutes to have leads late in games, even against some of those good teams, only to implode. There is still, amazingly, time to turn it around and be the team many thought it would be. But the failures of the first half, from the front office on down, have been glaring.