May 9, 2011

Postseason Potpourri

While the Islanders may not have been able to participate in this year's playoffs, they certainly have been a treat to watch for the hockey fan in general.

I'm trying to think in my lifetime when I have seen a playoff season this crazy and I really can't think of one. The overtime games, the underdogs winning - it's all been really fun to watch.

When I think of what the biggest story has been thus far, I think you have to look at what the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing. Not only did they oust a Penguins team that was still very strong without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they also quickly dispatched of a Washington Capitals team that up until this point had looked the best of any Caps team I've seen in the playoffs in recent years.

The Lightning are getting top notch performances from Martin St. Louis, Dwayne Roloson and...Sean Bergenheim?!

As strange as it may be to say that, it's not uncommon for solid role players to elevate their game in the playoffs. Bergenheim has always been a very solid role player, and I'm glad to see him having the kind of success he is so far in the playoffs. Some fans may be biter about his departure from the Island, but the reality of the situation is that it just wasn't working out here, and it wasn't going to.

Bergenheim was at the age where you could no longer consider him "the future." That point had come and gone, and when it did Bergenheim was at a crossroads. With many similar players on the roster, Garth Snow had to make a tough decision. Bergenheim was essentially redundant, and cutting him loose gave the Isles the ability to bring in guys like P.A. Parenteau and give him a chance, along with guys like Matt Martin and Michael Grabner.

At any rate, it's good to see him, along with Nate Thompson play well as solid role players on a strong team.

Fans from Minny, Edmonton and LI are unsurprised by Roli.
Meanwhile, fans in Minnesota, Edmonton and Long Island are unsurprised at the way that Roloson has played, carrying the Lightning on a couple of nights too. We knew dating back to his days as an Oiler that he can come up big in the post season, but he remained one of the most underrated goalies in the league. When he became one of the top available goalies on the market, many questioned why a team would want him because of his age. Sure, that has to be a concern, but when it comes to his play I think anyone who had watched him closely enough would know he had plenty left in the tank. Steve Yzerman watched closely, and when it came to giving up a B-level prospect for him in Ty Wishart when other teams balked, he went ahead with the move. Now, he looks like a genius.

Obviously, if it's not clear by now I am pulling for the Lightning to get all the way to the finals. Ideally, it would be nice to see Roli finally add a cup to his resume. He's putting to rest a lot of the talk of age.

Other story lines include the lack of intensity from teams that are fighting for their lives. In their respective game fours, both the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals looked like they would rather be doing something else. Unless that something else was golf, I can't fathom why neither team really showed up. In that final game for Washington, Alex Ovechkin played well and looked good. Unfortunately for him, the list ends there.

While he didn't score in last seasons upset to the Montreal Canadiens, you can't say that Alex Semin didn't try. When you pelt 48 shots at a red hot goaltender, even if he stops them all you did your part. But I can't say I feel the same way about Semin in the 2nd round. He's a very talented player who perhaps got away from the things that make him successful.

The Flyers on the other hand finally hit a brick wall when it came to their goaltender by committee. Going for relievers works well in baseball, and it worked well for the Flyers in the 1st round. But no matter who they had in net against the Bruins, it didn't change the way they played. Of course, it didn't help that the Flyers were missing Chris Pronger and had Jeff Carter at anything but 100%, but they are still a strong team up front and on defense. Goaltending continues to be an issue here, and it will be interesting to see how they solve this problem. Do they continue on with Sergei Bobrovski after giving up on him quickly? Do they try and find a way to sign Tomas Vokoun, even if it means shedding some salary? Or, do they give a call to a team for a cheaper but unknown options, such as the Isles very own Evgeni Nabokov (more on this in a later post)?

One of the other cool stories so far is the rise of the Nashville Predators. This is something I'll comment on more in a few days or so, but I am enjoying the success they are finally having. The team and their fans deserve it.

ISLES IN THE WC: The Islanders sent six players to the World Championships: John Tavares (Canada), Al Montoya (United States), Evgeni Nabokov (Russia), Milan Jurcina (Slovakia), Radek Martinek (Czech Republic) and Jesse Joensuu (Finland).

So far, Montoya has looked pretty good playing for former Isles coach Scott Gordon. Montoya did have one bad start and was ultimately replaced as the starter by Ty Conklin. In general, goalies are changed quite frequently after a bad game when it comes to tournaments like this. Montoya did have a relief appearance though on Monday, and played well again. It remains to be seen if he took back the starting spot from Conklin though.

Meanwhile Tavares has been one of Canada's best players. As TSN pointed out in an article on Sunday, Tavares had four goals and eight points while only averaging 13 minutes of ice time. In Canada's 3-2 win over Sweden on Monday, Tavares added another goal to bring his total to five.

I know a lot of fans were uneasy with Tavares going to represent his country, especially after the injury that he suffered last season. From my perspective though, it's definitely beneficial for a player like him. At that age, you want him playing as many games as possible. Since the Isles can't be a part of the dance this year, it's only natural to think that the next best thing is to play in some meaningful games to your country. While they may not be as important as the Olympic games, they certainly have a lot of weight up North especially for the non-Vancouver Canuck fans right now.

Now, on the other hand a player in Martinek's position should not be participating in games like this. Radek has always taken great pride in playing for two teams, however: the Islanders and his National team. I wasn't surprised Martinek decided to go, but raied an eyebrow when I took into consideration his contract status (UFA to be), his injury history and his desire to be re-signed by the Islanders.

Here's the conundrum now, however. Martinek sustained a nasty injury in the tournament, which ended his participation for the summer. His injuries are not as bad as originally feared, but still sizeable (concussion, but with no spinal injuries).

Martinek hasn't been the poster boy for durability, and neither has the Isles defense. Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau, Andrew MacDonald, Milan Jurcina and Mark Streit all sustained prolonged and season-ending injuries at some point last season, which obviously raises some red flags. Then you take into account that Martinek's injury history (excluding this past season, which we'll say is an outlier for now) isn't the cleanest, and I'm having a hard time convincing myself that the Isles have to keep him.

Martinek's decade on LI has been mired by injury.
Martinek is an excellent and very underrated defenseman, but does that mean the Isles should pay the price and possibly be scrambling for defensemen again next season? I think it's become quite clear that even this improved defense corps (from what it was in 2009-10) needs to be improved once more to add in durability.
When the Isles resigned Milan Jurcina, both Sean and I were happy about it. Not everyone was, and we had some good discussions about it on Twitter and Facebook. Truth be told, Jurcina is very injury prone himself. However, when he played and was used in the right situations he excelled and that's why I have no probelms with him coming back. When he was re-signed, I was under the impression that Martinek wasn't returning anyway.

Defense has become the number one issue facing this team right now in my opinion. It still could use a slight overhaul to add durability. If that means letting a very good defenseman go in Martinek, then so be it.

PLAYOFFS IN JUNIORS: Some of the Isles younger players are benefitting from some great play in the playoffs for their juniors teams too.
The most notable of the bunch is Nino Niederreiter, who is just tearing the WHL up in the playoffs with nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points over 18 games. His team is in the finals against Kootenay, who won the last game in a wild one 7-5. The series is tied 1-1. But for Isles fans, the story is Niederreiter and what he's done.

When you consider the slow start he got off to when originally going back down to the WHL, it is all the more impressive. I would be shocked if he didn't make the team next season - or, at the very least wasn't given a very long leash and every chance to grab one of the final spots on the roster (barring any unforseen changes upfront).

The experience is the reason why it was necessary for Niederreiter to go back down, and why it would have been as equally as beneficial if the Isles did right by Josh Bailey a few seasons ago. Hopefully Niederreiter's team can continue to streak through and make the Memorial Cup.

Casey Cizikas is also going deep into the playoffs as a member of Missagua in the OHL. Cizikas and his Majors are also in a dog fight with the seris tied 2-2 after a tough overtime loss on Sunday.

Cizikas has five goals and 10 helpers for 15 points in 13 games. For the OHL, those are very solid numbers. For Cizikas, each day he seems to add another chapter to a story that seemed very unlikely at one time.

As an Isles fan, you have to be thrilled seeing these two young forwards going deep into their playoffs. We have seen the past few years what Calvin deHaan was all about, as well as fellow defensemen Travis Hamonic and Matt Donovan. Hamonic of course is already up with the Isles, and deHaan had a solid year as the captain for the Oshawa Generals.

The forward picture was a bit more murky as we wondered what the ceiling was for guys like Niederreiter, Cizikas and others such as Kirill Kabanov. All three had solid showings in the post season, although each seemed to take a different route to get there. We want to have these battles in the future, even if it means making a tough decision to get better elsewhere in the organization.

OTHER NOTES: Obviously, both Sean and I have taken some time off to take care of some items we may have put aside. Those of you who have continued to follow us have most likely seen the Twitter and Facebook updates we've had throughout these fantastic playoffs thus far.

I've taken some time to think about what I'd like to write about as we enter some of the slower months and I have some good ideas kicking around in my head that I plan to have some conversations with the Isles on. Once I figure out what I'm able to do you guys will have a better idea.

In the meantime, feel free to continue to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and feel free to tell us what your favorite moments have been so far of the playoffs. As always, we continue to welcome all thoughts and questions, be it on the NHL or the Isles.

One last thing, don't be surprised if some things change on the blog here and there. I know over the winter I said I was going to change the format up, and I held off because I needed to learn some of the bells and whistles and by the time I got to think about what I wanted to do, there wasn't much left to the season so I put any renovations off until the offseason. So if you pop on one day and we're down, down fret and just sit tight.

I promise it won't be three weeks before my next post.


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