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Graziano: Familiar Problems Plague Early Part Of Islanders' Season

Andy Graziano
October 25, 2018 - 2:10 pm
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We are now three weeks into the 2018-19 NHL season. The New York Islanders just played their eighth game of the season Wednesday night: a 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. In an all-too-familiar sight from previous regimes, New York "carried" a 2-0 lead into the third period before allowing the Panthers to tie then win on an overtime one-timer from Mike Hoffman.

The schedule has had more holes than Swiss cheese, with extended breaks of four days once and three days twice, leaving a team trying to adjust to a new coaching staff gasping to develop any cohesion to its game. October’s end doesn’t look any more promising, with another two-day break preceding a stretch of three games in four nights against the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins.

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“We have not been here (Barclays Center) much since the start of the year," said forward Jordan Eberle, who finally notched his first goal of the season. "I thought, for the most part, I liked our game through two periods. Much better structure. But, in the third, you don’t want to sit back on your heels with a 2-0 lead. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves, putting a desperate team on the man advantage. They’re going to get their chances. At the same time, we have to learn how to play with the lead. Obviously, it’s being preached, but we need to find a way to win that game.”

You can point to the schedule all you want, but the Islanders look slow and, for lack of a better term, boring on offense in the early going. Defensively, the mistakes that have plagued this team in the past still seem to be evident. There are defensemen shooting attempted clearances off their own players, and there are forwards not being able to execute a simple breakout, thus leading to high-danger scoring chances for the opposition.

New York has a team Corsi (shot attempt metric) of 41.8 percent, as they have allowed 427 shot attempts at even strength through eight games while attempting only 307. Factor in a faceoff percentage of 48.4 percent and you can see why they are struggling. They are hardly possessing the puck. The penalty kill, which started out so positive at 8-for-8 after a dreadful 2017-18, has now allowed six power play goals in their last 16 times short-handed.

Anders Lee was equally disappointed in the result postgame.

“No, a 2-0 lead after a sleepy second, and we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity to put them away, get that third one,” said the newly minted captain. “It’s frustrating. We were gifted a power play there at the end and turns into we’re on the kill. It’s unacceptable and frustrating. We get a point out of it, but should have had two. You have to learn how to play with the lead and put teams away.”

If you feel like you are in an echo chamber, you might be right after reading the postgame comments from Eberle and Lee. It’s the same mantra that has been said repeatedly in the Barclays locker room over the past two years. Yet, for now at least, not much seems to have changed. Things have changed in a big way off the ice, with future Hall of Famer Barry Trotz behind the bench and Lou Lamoriello, who is already in the Hall, at the top of the organization. But it’s going to take some time for Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, Josh Ho-Sang, Devon Toews and others to save the team on the ice and make them more dynamic than they seem to be at present.

Trotz offered up his own interpretation to how the team let Wednesday night slip away from them.

“Nothing changed in our structure in the third," he said. "They capitalized on the power play and turnovers. They got some high-skilled guys, and they made some plays. We lost the special teams game tonight. We just weren’t on our toes enough in the third. You don’t want to sit back. We need to manage the game, put them on their heels.”

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Familiar refrain, familiar results. So far, that has been the story of the 2018-19 Islanders season. How you ultimately judge from this point forward will solely depend on what your personal expectations were. A slight adjustment could be warranted.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyGraz_WFAN