I grew up watching the Islanders, and then the Oilers, dominate the NHL. For me, these two organizations will always be connected, mainly due to their past greatness, but also because they’ve both struggled to gain respectability for the past two decades.
The Islanders have made the playoffs six times in the last 20 years, but they haven’t won a playoff series since 1993. The Oilers have made the post-season seven times in the last 20 seasons, and they’ve won five series, three of them in 2006. The past two decades haven’t been pretty for two of the most storied franchises in NHL history, and both of them are trying to regain respectability.
The Islanders and Oilers have stockpiled a plethora of high first round picks due to their losing, but neither franchise has found a way to turn those picks into consistent victories.
Kyle Okposo: 7th overall, 2006 Sam Gagner: 6th overall, 2007
Josh Bailey: 9th overall, 2008 Jordan Eberle: 22nd overall, 2008
John Tavares: 1st overall, 2009 Magnus Paajarvi: 10th overall, 2009
Calvin de Haan: 12th overall, 2009 Taylor Hall: 1st overall, 2010
Nino Niederreiter: 5th overall, 2010 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 1st overall, 2011
Ryan Strome: 5th overall, 2011 Oscar Klefbom: 19th overall, 2011
Griffin Reinhart: 4th overall, 2012 Nail Yakupov: 1st overall, 2012
Ryan Poluck: 15th overall, 2013 Darnell Nurse, 7th overall, 2013
Each team has traded away a top pick, Paajarvi for David Perron, Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck and the Islanders made the playoffs four years after taking Tavares first overall. They are making more progress than the Oilers, and if the Oilers are going to match the Islanders success after having the 1st overall pick, they need to make the postseason this year. If they plan on doing that, they must start picking up some wins in October.
The Islanders made the playoffs last season, ending a five-year drought, and there is lots of optimism surrounding the team led by Tavares. Over the past three seasons, including the start of this season, Tavares has been the 10th most productive player in the NHL racking up 202 points in 215 games.
|2||Martin St. Louis||213||77||166||243||66||11||0||566||13.6|
Notice how only four of the top-ten have been legitimate point-per-game players. It is hard to average a ppg if you are playing the majority of games, so keep that in mind when projecting how many points the top Oilers skaters will produce.
The Islanders have built a decent team.
Their top-six is a mixture of their top picks, Tavares, Okposo and Bailey, Frans Nielsen (drafted 3rd round, 2002) who has developed into one of the best two-way centres in the game, a smart waiver pick up of Michael Grabner (14th overall, 2006 by Canucks) and one of the best free agent signings of the past five years, Matt Moulson.
The Islanders signed Moulson to a one-year, two-way deal at the start of the 2009 season for $575,000. Moulson scored 30 goals that year, and then he signed another one-year deal for $2.4 million and produced 31 goals. He is now in the final year of a three-year deal for $3.1 million/year.
Their bottom six is a mixture of castoffs, reclamation projects, acquired players and draft picks. Clutterbuck, Peter Regin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Colin McDonald (former Oiler pick) and Brock Nelson, 30th overall pick in 2010.
They aren’t household names, but they have a mixture of skill, size and toughness.
The Islanders, similar to the Oilers, don’t have a dominant defenceman.
Travis Hamonic is a steady physical defender, with limited offence, who was invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp. He plays 24 minutes a night, and faces most of the top lines.
Andrew MacDonald plays 25 minutes a night, and most people likely have never heard of him. He was a 6th round pick in 2006, and he plays with Hamonic. He’s a decent puck mover, and he played more minutes than Mark Streit last season.
Lubomir Visnovsky is still serviceable at 37 years of age and quarterbacks their powerplay.
Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey, former picks for the Penguins and Kings, are their #4 and #5 defenders while Matt Carkner and Matt Donovan are sharing the #6 slot. Carkner plays when the want a physical presence, while Donovan is used for his offensive capabilities.
Evgeni Nabokov is off to a solid start with a 2.29 GAA and .924 SV%, and he’ll start his 6th game tonight.
The Islanders are more competitive than people think, and this will be another difficult game for the Oilers.
Eakins will start the game with the same lines as last game:
All eyes will be on Devan Dubnyk. It is unlikely he will continue to struggle as much as he has, 5.43GAA and 0.829 SV%, in his first four games. I’d be surprised if he suddenly was lights out, but you don’t go from a .920 SV%, to a 0.829% in one off-season.
Even Jim Carey didn’t see his SV% dip 91 points in one season. Carey won the Calder with a 0.913 SV% in 1995, then he dropped to 0.906 in 1996, 0.888 in 1997, 0.893 in 1998, before his final four games in 1999 with the Blues produced a gaudy .829 SV%.
No one can deny Dubnyk is struggling, but it is only four games, and way too early to suggest he find his form from last season.
TSN analyst and former NHL goalie, Jamie Mclennan, broke down Dubnyk’s struggles nicely.
"He is a 6’6" goalie, but he looks small in the net. He is playing too deep in his net. When he was locked in last year, he was limiting the goals through the body and his knees, when he went down, were close to the top of the crease. When a goalie lacks confidence they play deeper in their net. To me it is a combination of confidence (lack of) and positioning. He needs to get back to looking 6’6" in goal and stay at the top of the crease.
- The Oilers have to be more aggressive on their PK. Their PK vs. the Capitals was the most passive penalty kill I’ve seen in a long time. They can’t allow Tavares, Visnovsky and company to set up so easily. They need to pressure the puck and not give the Islanders time to make plays.
- The Oilers have given up a PP goal in all seven games, allowing 8 goals on 24 attempts for a putrid 66.7%. In 2009 they allowed a PP goal in eight straight games from February 28th, 2009 to March 17th, 2009, 11 goals on 27 chances. They had another eight-game skid, January 16th to February 04th, 2010 when they allowed 10 goals on 30 attempts. The Oilers finished 27th in PK in 2009 and 29th in 2011. The Oilers have to rectify their PK woes.
- The Islanders have four forwards averaging a PPG thus far. Tavares, Nielsen and Grabner have seven points in six games, while Bailey has six in six. Twenty-one of their combined 27 points have come at ES.
- Sam Gagner told me he was hoping to play before the end of the month. He had surgery on September 24th and was told he’d be out six to eight weeks. Next Tuesday is four weeks since surgery, and he was confident he’d be back earlier than six weeks. Next Tuesday might be a bit early, but if gets clearance from the doctor, he sees him in the next few days, to begin contact drills, Gagner could be back in the lineup when the Oilers return home on October 24th.
- J.Schultz only has 11 shots, while Petry and Belov have 7 each. The Oiler bluelines have to get more shots on goal. Andrew Ference has 14 and he plays less ES and PP time than all three of them.
- The Oilers need to get more traffic to the net, especially on the powerplay. To often J.Schultz or Belov have a good shooting lane, but no one is in front of the net, so they aren’t shooting. The Oilers need to funnel more bodies to the net, and the D-men need to put the puck on goal more frequently.
- Ryan Miller is never coming to Edmonton. Never. Stop talking about it. It won’t happen. Also if, big if, the Oilers ever trade Yakupov it will be for a top-pairing D-man, not a 33 year-old goalie. If you move Yakupov you need to get a player back who can contribute for at least the next 5-6 years, at least. Any return/rumour that involves something less is purely fabricated.
- I was happy to be asked to take part in SO Dance. I’m teamed up with Special Olympian, Jenny Murray, and we will perform a Swing dance routine tonight. I don’t have to wear a tight shirt like Struds, but I’m hoping to have as good of moves as Struddy. Our goal was to raise $1,500. We are at $1,405. If any of you generous souls would like to help us raise the final $95 that would be great. You can donate here.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: It is hard to predict an Oiler victory, even though they played fairly well in Pittsburgh. They will get closer to a W but come up short losing 4-3 in a SO.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gene Principe will interview Doug Weight at some point during the broadcast. The former Oiler captain is a good quote and current assistant coach and assistant GM of the Islanders. He’ll rave about his time in Edmonton, and claim the Islanders have a great young core. Also, Perron will score. He has 3 goals in 4 career games vs. the Islanders.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nick Schultz picks up an assist on the first Oiler goal, leaving Yakupov and Brown as the only skaters without a point**. Yakupov, well aware that he has zeros across the board this year, gives himself a pep talk during the first intermission and plays his best period of the season in the 2nd, by scoring a goal and adding an assist. After the game he says this about cracking his goose eggs before Brown. "Brownie is a great teammate, but I didn’t want to listen to Plums talk about everyone on the team having more points than me. Our next game is on CBC and I know he’d bring it up."
** Ryan Jones doesn’t have a point, but he’s only played one game, so I didn’t include him.**