The bold move that the Islanders made this past offseason was not making any bold moves. Their feeling was that they have enough players, on the big club and in the system, to step up. Depth has been the running theme.
Now depth is a pressing necessity. Lubomir Visnovsky, one of the most indispensable Islanders, left with a concussion during the first period of a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at the Coliseum Saturday night.
"That was big," coach Jack Capuano said. "You lose a guy who logs 20-plus minutes a night, who's on your first power play, it hurts."
Besides hurting, it offers a chance for the Islanders to flex their depth. As Capuano said at the start of this season, "The one thing that guys should know here is that we've got some eager guys who would like to play for the New York Islanders."
No one has a resume to match that of Visnovsky, a cornerstone on the power play. And there is no telling how long he will be out. He will be evaluated Sunday, but someone will have to fill his minutes and try to fulfill his role.
All told, Saturday night could have been much worse.
The Islanders did put on a push in the third period with two goals in the final 6:41.
They also averted another huge problem when goalie Evgeni Nabokov got to his feet and remained in the game after sprawling on the ice following a second-period collision with teammate Matt Carkner. If you had to list the players the Islanders can least afford to lose, you would start with John Tavares, then you might go to Nabokov and Visnovsky, in that order.
So this night was a reminder of how precarious the Islanders' situation might be. By allowing Mark Streit to leave through free agency and not adding any veteran help other than forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck, the team rolled the dice. It bet that there is enough talent to get through an 82-game season and advance past the first round of the playoffs with basically the same roster as the team that reached the playoffs during a 48-game season and lost in the first round last season.
What Saturday night proved was that they do not have enough depth to play lackluster hockey for 40 minutes. Probably no team does. But the Islanders know that effort has to be their No. 1 component at this stage of their development. By 13:37 of the second period, they were down 3-0.
"There wasn't enough urgency there early," said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who wound up playing 30:25 (Visnovsky played only 5:23). "We were kind of standing around too much. We got burnt a few times. To me, that's unacceptable."
Tavares, having assisted on one of two power-play goals, said there is no guarantee that the team is going to improve no matter how much experience and maturity it acquired last spring.
"You know, we talk about steps and all that stuff. We obviously showed what we could do last year, but that's over. We've got to go out and prove ourselves again," he said. "It's just not consistent enough right now. That's all there is to it, it's just not consistent enough."
A spurt late in the game did not mean much to the captain. "We lost the game," Tavares said. "Right now, I don't think there's too much to be happy about. We have to come to work on Monday. It's not good enough to respond the way we did tonight."
With about nine-tenths of the season to go, it still is early. But it is time to see if the team has as much talent as management thinks it has. And it is time for every Islander to dig down inside, which also is a measure of depth.