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Pantorno: Islanders defense will be Garth Snow's dooming oversight

A decent defense would have the Islanders in a much better position to nab a playoff spot.
Islanders GM Garth Snow has time to right the ship, but any sort of inaction this season could spell the end of his tenure in New York. (Photo: Getty Images)

It has become exhaustingly predictable for New York Islanders fans this season. 

A defense that can only be compared to a sieve has constantly put the Brooklynites in compromising positions and has all but sabotaged their season. 

Through 57 games, the Islanders defense has allowed a whopping 210 goals, which is by far the worst mark in the NHL. The second-worst blue-line unit, the Arizona Coyotes, have allowed 17 fewer tallies. But the Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL with just 36 points. 

The Islanders are competing for a playoff spot, just one point out of the final Wild Card berth in the Eastern Conference. 

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Had it not been for New York's offense this season, which ranks second in the league with 193 goals for, they'd be right down near the bottom of the NHL standings with Arizona. 

It's been especially frustrating for the blue and orange faithful to see the defense attempt to repel the opposition as no lead is safe. In the past two months alone, the Islanders have allowed the tying or game-winning goal in the final two minutes of regulation five times. 

Granted, this is a unit that is without Calvin de Haan for the remainder of the season and dealt with an extended absence from Johnny Boychuk. A unit led by Nick Leddy has been supported by unproven, inexperienced or simply not-good-enough options in the likes of Thomas Hickey, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Sebastian Aho and Scott Mayfield (also injured). 

Regardless of who suits up, an NHL defenseman should know how to clear their own zone or their goalie's crease and also how to disallow opposing skaters to simply enter the zone and get clear scoring chances on goal. The Islanders defense has shown time and time again that they cannot do that.

It was none more evident than during Sunday night's loss to the Calgary Flames in which the Islanders allowed the game-winning goal with 1:05 remaining. The visitors had endless chances in front of New York's goal, making it a matter of time before Jaroslav Halak broke down to relinquish a 2-1 third-period lead:

The Islanders defense rarely does much to support their goaltenders, either. Out of 57 games, New York has allowed its opponents to record 30 or more shots 47 times, 40 or more shots 12 times and over 50 shots twice. In total, their 2,025 shots allowed is the most in the NHL, 104 more than the second-worst Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Yet Islanders general manager Garth Snow has simply chalked up his defense's struggles to injuries, stating that it was "one-hundred percent" the reason for this horrendous season along the blue line. 

Still, a team in a playoff race should be looking to make some kind of improvement to the defense then, right? 

So far, you're dead wrong if you thought the answer was yes. 

The NHL's trade deadline is rapidly approaching on Feb. 26 and the Islanders' names have not popped up much in rumored talks even with high-profile defensemen like Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson possibly available. They have also had an opportunity to acquire some defensive help via waivers, but instead let veterans like Brendan Smith, Cody Franson simply clear the wire and head to the minors. 

With captain John Tavares looking for reasons to stay with the Islanders as his contract expires after this season, Snow and his lack of action to better his roster won't make a long-term renewal any easier. Should they miss the playoffs and Tavares decides to test the free-agency waters and walk, the hockey world can point to Snow and the defense as the main reason why.

Loyalty can only count for so much. Why wouldn't a star like Tavares, who turns 28 just before the start of the 2018-19 season, want to play for an actual competitive team?

Should loyalty prevail and Tavares is gracious enough to re-sign with the Islanders regardless of the results of this season, that shouldn't mean Snow's job should be anywhere near safe. 

Islanders' ownership should make this simple and give Snow an ultimatum: Improve this team and put a legitimate contender on the ice now or you'll be looking for a job next season.

 

 
 
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