TODAY'S PAPER
Scattered Clouds 46° Good Evening
Scattered Clouds 46° Good Evening
SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Where the Islanders stand after loss to Canadiens

The New York Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck, center, moves

The New York Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck, center, moves in on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon, second from right, as the Canadiens' Nathan Beaulieu (28) and Devante Smith-Pelly (21) defend during third-period action in Montreal on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: AP / Graham Hughes

The first words out of the mouths of all three players available to the media postgame (John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Johnny Boychuk) and from Jack Capuano were about the Canadiens' go-ahead goal that was essentially set up by linesman Michel Cormier in Thursday night's lost at Montreal.

Now, clearly the Islanders didn't have a strong immediate reaction to a horribly unlucky, frustrating play. Nathan Beaulieu's long pass was headed harmlessly into the Isles zone when the puck hit Cormier's skate, flipped in the air, landed on Tomas Fleischmann's stick in stride and onside and sent the Canadiens off two on one, with David Desharnais finishing the play off.

About 30 seconds later, Brock Nelson had a semi-breakaway near the end of his shift that didn't even produce a shot on goal, only Nelson colliding with Habs goaltender Mike Condon after Nelson was stripped of the puck. The Canadiens went the other way, walked the Isles into some bad coverage in their own end and Brendan Gallagher tipped home the dagger goal.

So yes, the Islanders got the short end. And yes, they didn't respond well. But this was one of their most complete games of the last two weeks, dating to their 4-0 win over the Flames on Oct. 26. That probably added to the frustration, knowing they'd played the super-hot Habs very evenly and tightly until Cormier's skate helped turn the game.

The biggest problem, as it had been the previous four games, was a lack of offense. Not so much effort, really, just some basics in the offensive zone -- carry-ins, stops and starts around the net, traffic and bodies to the high-danger areas. All those buzzwords. John Tavares was around the net, but not too many other forwards were.

And much of it is falling on the defensemen. The current group of six has three goals this season -- or one more than Thomas Hickey had in the three games he played before getting hurt again. The Isles need things to start from their defense. Nick Leddy has picked up his game of late, but the Calvin de Haan-Travis Hamonic pair has struggled in transition and shot generation.

The Brian Strait-Marek Zidlicky pair hasn't been bad in its own end -- there was some snarling online about their play on Gallagher's goal, but a couple of forwards got caught flat-footed in switching coverage there -- but neither has generated much the other way.

Hickey, who still is 10-14 days away, would help quite a bit. But the Isles need all three pairs to move the puck and get the offense revving and none has done it well so far.

I've singled out the Kid Line members -- Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome -- for criticism and Capuano had to agree, at least as far as Strome and Nelson are concerned. Nelson in particular had a rough one Thursday night, fumbling away that chance mentioned above and two others when it was 3-1. He's got one point in eight games and this was the fourth game in the eight Nelson had one or zero shots on goal.

As for Strome, it's hard to say why this slump is happening. He's been a healthy scratch, he's missed a game because of illness and still has not produced a point in the last five games he's played.

Tavares will get his chances and points. But the Islanders can't win without Lee, Nelson and Strome generating offense and feeling confident. They're all still young, but not so young that they need external motivation to be effective. They're the next wave of the Isles' core. Time to start playing like it.

The Isles' 1-2-2 mini-slide has, as any bad stretch (or bad shift, bad period, bad intermission, bad postgame press conference or bad joke I crack on Twitter) for this team lately, brought out the "Fire Capuano!" crowd online.

We've had these discussions before, and when the team was far worse than 7-4-3. Many fans feel the job of NHL coach is motivation first, systems/strategy second and maybe time-out management third. In reality, systems/strategy is first. And second. And probably third. But let's grant the motivation bit for a moment.

If you look around the league, which coaches are considered master motivators? There's really only one coach who falls into the hard-case, my-way-or-the-highway category, and he was just hired to revive an 0-7-0 team, his third job in four years.

And most of you would never want John Tortorella as the Isles' coach.

Garth Snow has already shown he's not going to make a rash decision midseason with the coach. He did it once with personnel, two years ago, and he's still haunted by it. So it seems this team needs 60-70 percent of its core players to improve their play rather than shock them with a coaching change or a blockbuster trade.

We'll see how they respond Sunday against a Bruins team that outworked the Isles two weeks ago.

New York Sports