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Friday, January 20, 2012
Daily Debate: What's up with the Islanders?


Today Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun talk about -- wait, is that right? -- the New York Islanders. And other stuff. Go!

CUSTANCE: Happy Friday to you, Pierre. Lots of action last night and plenty more this weekend. But I want to lead with a team we rarely praise in this spot (and for good reason): the New York Islanders. They beat the Flyers 4-1 in a rare Islanders win in Philadelphia. Evgeni Nabokov was outstanding, making 40 saves, and John Tavares pushed his point streak to 11 games. The Islanders have won four of six games, and that includes impressive wins over Detroit and Philadelphia and a shutout win over the Capitals. In Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau, the Islanders have three 40-point scorers. As pointed out recently by our friend Katie Strang, Tavares has found another gear here lately and has 15 points in nine January games. So what do we make of this mini-resurgence by the Islanders? Another meaningless second-half surge when they're already out of the playoff hunt? Or the evolution of a young, talented team?

LEBRUN: This is the Islanders team I thought we’d see from the get-go this season. I do believe this is indeed the evolution of a young and talented team that will make the playoffs ... next season. The Isles dug too big a hole for themselves this season, much to the chagrin of their loyal and maligned fan base. I respect few fans more than I do Islanders fans. To stick with this team this long after what they’ve been through, that’s true loyalty. I agree with Katie on Tavares; in fact, I’d argue he found another level in his game in October compared to last season and now has raised his game yet another notch in January. Moulson, meanwhile, doesn’t get the national attention he deserves. He’s on pace for a 40-goal season, which would easily eclipse his high of 31 set last season. The 28-year-old Toronto native has 89 goals in 238 NHL games over two and a half years. Not too shabby. Parenteau, meanwhile, is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1. Good timing on his part to be putting up career numbers as well. Veteran agent Allan Walsh, who represents Parenteau, told me Friday morning that talks about an extension with the Islanders have not begun.

CUSTANCE: Yeah, safe to say Parenteau will be getting a raise over the $1.25 million he's earning this season. Isles GM Garth Snow is going to have some decisions to make this offseason because this team is loaded with UFAs, especially on defense. I found this section a little confusing because it starts off “Let’s talk about a playoff team, the Sens!” and then goes and talks about the Sharks, a likelier playoff team. …
But let's move on to a team that will make the playoffs this season: the Ottawa Senators. What an impressive win last night in San Jose. I spoke with Sharks GM Doug Wilson before the game and asked him to assess where his team was at right now, and he seemed pretty pleased.

"We're playing well," he said. "People forget we integrated nine new players."

And he's right. The Sharks had won seven of nine games and are threatening to turn the Pacific race into a two-team fight between them and the Kings. That's what makes Ottawa's 4-1 win last night so impressive.

So here’s what I changed it to:
But let's move on to two teams that will make the playoffs this season: the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators. I spoke with Sharks GM Doug Wilson before the game and asked him to assess his team’s performance, and he seemed pretty pleased.

"We're playing well," he said. "People forget we integrated nine new players."

And he's right. The Sharks had won seven of nine games entering last night’s tilt and are threatening to turn the Pacific race into a two-team fight between them and the Kings. That's what makes Ottawa's 4-1 win so impressive. Craig Anderson survived a barrage of shots early, and Colin Greening scored twice. Kyle Turris, who opened the scoring for Ottawa, has 13 points in 16 games since being acquired from Phoenix. With so many teams eager to add a top-six forward, not to mention a center, Sens GM Bryan Murray is looking really smart for his aggressive move to land Turris when he did.

LEBRUN: Murray has had the golden touch this season. Let’s start with his hiring of Paul MacLean, who is making a serious run for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year along with Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis. When I spoke to Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips earlier this week in Toronto about their coach, they could not say enough about the way in which the players have bought in to his approach and his game plan. In the end, NHL coaches are as much salesmen as they are teachers. They have to get their players to buy in on what they’re selling in terms of a system, etc.

You mentioned the Turris trade. The initial reaction around the hockey world from most people is that Ottawa overpaid for Turris, that it'd regret moving a young defenseman such as David Rundblad. And I do believe Rundblad is going to be a good player for the Coyotes. But Murray looked at this team and saw an organization deep on defense but still short at center, so he acted. I remember talking to him the day before the trade and he felt he wasn’t the front-runner to land Turris. He changed that by upgrading his offer and getting the No. 2 center his team has craved for years. Turris left behind a Coyotes team, meanwhile, fighting for its playoff lives in a Western race for the eighth and final spot that is shaping up to be quite the battle. Colorado is eighth with 52 points, followed by reeling Minnesota (51 points), Dallas (50 points), Calgary (50 points) and Phoenix (50 points). Five teams separated by two measly points and all fighting for one playoff spot. Which team do you like to win out, Craig?

CUSTANCE: When in doubt, I bet on Dave Tippett. The Coyotes played the Red Wings tough last night, losing in the shootout. They had to be gassed coming off a loss to the Ducks the night before, but they gave visiting Detroit all the Red Wings could handle and were perfect on the PK. Tippett also had to play most of the game without Daymond Langkow, who took a puck to the face in the first period and didn't return. I worry a little that the Coyotes won't have the depth to survive extended injuries to key players such as Langkow, but there's something admirable about the unity in that room, a point Shane Doan brought up when we chatted about the possibility of being traded at the deadline.

"I love the guys, I love the dressing room," Doan said. "I can't say enough about how great a group of guys we have. It's so enjoyable to come to the rink here."

The Coyotes' schedule has been brutal until now, but last night's game was the first of a long home stretch. I wouldn't be surprised to see Phoenix make a little run here to get back in the top eight.

LEBRUN: Hard to believe the Coyotes salvaged a point in the standings last night despite taking three too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties. Mercy, you don’t see that every day. I doubt Tippett slept a wink last night, just thinking about that. I should know better than to bet against Tippett, but I’ll take the Stars out of those five teams. Besides, the Stars have games in hand on the other four teams. Is that cheating on my part? If Dallas can survive playing without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro until they return, I like its chances to make it in.

Well, my friend, have a terrific weekend. And I’ll see you next week in Ottawa for the All-Star Game.