Pantorno: Islanders defense can't be swept under rug anymore

The Islanders are wasting a promising offense with shoddy defense and shaky goaltending. Now is the time to act.
The Islanders have been held back by bad goaltending and defense all season. (Photo: Getty Images)

Behold, New York Islanders fans: Your team is slumping. And it isn't pretty. 

 

Since the calendar flipped to December, the Islanders have gone 4-7-2, a horrendous follow-up to a 10-game stretch in which they went 8-2-0. It has sent them freefalling from Metropolitan Division-leading contention to looking up at the two Eastern Conference Wild Card spots. 

 

The culprits behind the slump are crystal clear as the team's defense and goaltending has been nothing short of insulting. Granted, it has been like this all season. What has really been highlighting their struggles is that the offense is not firing on all cylinders like it had earlier. 

 

New York's offense is second-best in the league with 137 goals for, though they've been held to two goals or fewer in each of their last three games. 

 

Now, usually, the mark of a good team is that the defense and goaltending can at least steal you a point or two when the offense suddenly goes cold. The problem is that just will not happen with these Islanders. 

Only the Arizona Coyotes have allowed more goals than the Islanders' 144. In their last 10 games, New York has allowed five or more goals six times. 

That's putrid. 

The Islanders have dressed nine-different defensemen in their first 40 games as injuries have played a part. Calvin de Haan, who is tied for the team lead with a plus-11 rating, is likely out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury that needed to be surgically repaired. Johnny Boychuk, a first-pairing defenseman, is out week-to-week because of a lower-body injury. 

Boychuk's first-pair partner, Nick Leddy, is carrying a minus-15 rating this season while the rest of the defense is being carried by unproven, inconsistent talent. 

Entering the 2017-18 season, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock combined to appear in just 93 NHL games. Not a lot considering these are vital second and third-pairing blueliners now. 

Thomas Hickey is an undersized defenseman that has fared better as a fourth-line left winger at times while 36-year-old Dennis Seidenberg does little to add much more muscle. 

This kind of defensive unit makes it difficult for the goaltenders behind them to succeed, but Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have made it painfully obvious that they are not bonafide No. 1 goaltenders in the NHL, regardless of their defense. 

With four and five-goal games becoming an almost-nightly habit, viewers will find themselves saying at least twice a night that there were soft goals allowed by Islanders goaltending. 

Entering the season with a platoon system in place, Halak has been getting the nod over Greiss recently, which is the lesser of two evils. But not by much. 

In 25 appearances, Halak is 11-11-2 with a .904 save percentage and 3.19 goals against average. 

However, Greiss has been even worse despite a 9-5-2 record. Thanks to his offense simply outscoring the opposition, Greiss has a winning mark despite a .884 save percentage and 3.82 goals against average.  

Without a doubt, the Islanders have the offensive firepower to be a playoff team, but general manager Garth Snow has to find a way to alleviate some of the pressure away from the scoring. The longer this season progresses without a change being made at the back, the tighter the offense will be holding their sticks, which won't end well for a team that should make the postseason this year. 

The NHL trade deadline is on Monday, Feb. 26. Snow has to do something before then to ensure his team remains in contention through the winter. 

I know, this is a statement we've been saying about Snow for years now. But with a take-action ownership duo of Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, a slumping team that is trying to sign John Tavares to a long-term extension while preparing for a bright future in a new home, Snow's status with the team could be in jeopardy if he can't piece together a contender.

 
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