Saturday’s 7-0 loss to the Blue Jackets aside, the Islanders’ hot streak under Doug Weight has given them a chance to reach the playoffs. That gets fans excited not just for a playoff trip that seemed like folly five weeks ago but also for the prospect of adding a big piece or two to put the Isles in even better position before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Garth Snow and his staff certainly are covering their bases. Special adviser Claude Loiselle was in Florida this past week at a pair of Oilers games, presumably watching Jordan Eberle, a long-considered target to play on the right side with John Tavares, an old friend of Eberle’s.
But scouting and trade chatter don’t always add up to much, especially at the deadline. Snow has moved a first-round pick and/or an elite prospect at the deadline exactly once in his 11-year tenure as general manager. That was the deal in 2007 that sent two prospects and the Isles’ first-round pick, 15th overall, for winger Ryan Smyth. Ryan O’Marra and Robert Nilsson were both Isles first-round picks, but not by Snow, and he was willing to ship them out.
Matt Duchene and Tyler Johnson would fill needs for the Isles, but both would come at a high cost. And the 12-4-2 streak the Islanders brought to Columbus on Saturday might have Snow and Weight unwilling to tinker with a group that finally is playing the way they thought it would when those two assembled it last summer.
Weight had a big hand in bringing Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera aboard, having played with both. The way younger players have responded to Weight’s adjustments as coach perhaps has the Isles thinking that Ryan Strome, Anthony Beauvillier and even Scott Mayfield, who has been incredibly steady in supplanting Adam Pelech during the last two weeks, should not be moved around or included in any deals.
Is this Isles team good enough to make the playoffs and make a run? Hard to say yes to that right now. But if Snow took two or even three players off the current roster to make room for a Duchene or Eberle, would it be in a better position now and going forward?
Hard to say yes to that, too.
BEAU’S BIG WEEK
Anthony Beauvillier had quite the trip to Montreal, scoring a goal that turned out to be the game-winner for the Islanders on Thursday night and being named No. 1 star in front of his many friends and family at Bell Centre.
The 19-year-old’s move back to center the past five games has been a small but determined move by Doug Weight. The coach has challenged the Brock Nelson-Beauvillier-Ryan Strome trio to be a sort of shutdown line, putting them out against opposing teams’ top lines to not only get what he can out of the youngest line on the team but also keep opposing top lines away from John Tavares.
That started against the Kings on Jan. 21, Weight’s second game behind the bench. It’s even more of a challenge with Beauvillier in the middle, taking draws against veteran centers, and the trio’s shots for/against percentage has been consistently so-so. All are below 45 percent, three of the four worst percentages among Islanders forwards.
“I like the way they’ve responded because we’ve challenged those three guys a lot of nights,” Weight said. “They work. That’s what we need.”
Beauvillier has struggled in the faceoff circle, having won only 39 of 101 draws (38.6 percent) before yesterday. Without much practice time, he’s relying on video to help him against some of the league’s good faceoff men.
“You just try to learn as much as you can about them before you go out there,” he said.
No one can take away what happened on Thursday. Beauvillier led the team onto the ice for warmups and the Isles secretly stayed behind, letting the teenager take a few laps solo. “He had the hair gel working. He looked like a young Kerry Fraser ripping around out there,” Weight said.
The goal 5:28 into the game brought his dad, Sylvain, to tears, and the puck was set aside for Anthony to present to his folks after the game.
BRIDGEPORT STILL ROLLING
The Sound Tigers had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Friday, and Jaroslav Halak had his personal 12-game winning streak stopped in Providence, but the Islanders’ AHL team had won 15 of 17 entering Saturday night.
“It’s a real good mix,” said Bracken Kearns, Bridgeport’s leading scorer, who earned a recall on Wednesday with the injury to Casey Cizikas. “We’ve got Michael [Dal Colle] and Josh [Ho-Sang], a couple of young guys who are playing really well together, especially lately. And Jaro’s come in and been such a good influence in net. I play with Berny [Steve Bernier] and he’s just a rock, so solid. It’s a really diverse group.”