|I trust all of our D.|
Yesterday morning, Arthur Staple held a mid-August live chat for Islanders fans (for those who missed it, here's the link). Arthur gave very fair answers to very fair concerns for the upcoming Islanders season, one of them being the Islanders' current defensive unit. One fan said:
"Arthur, snow is killing me with the defense, especially the top 4, does he anticipate on giving strait top 4 min...i see him as a third pairing guy, same with Hickey and Carkner, does snow think this defense is good enough to compete in the tough Metropolitan division or will he look to add via trade? or do you think Donavan is ready for top 4 mins?"In a response that may have been a surprise to many, Arthur Staple mentioned that the Islanders staff feels "their D is in very good shape." While this may not be the popular opinion, I'm willing to defend (pun) it.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago concerning the forwards, do not get too caught up in the "numbers" game - you know, where we start providing each player with a numbered label of where they stand in the line-up. Consider the Isles defensive unit full of guys who can just play. Last season, the Islanders went to war without any big names on their blue-line, instead going with guys who knew where to be. No, it wasn't flashy, but it got the job done, especially as the Islanders made their miraculous end-of-season push for a playoff spot.
And how can you argue that? Over a 9-game stretch from March 30th to April 16th, the Islanders allowed two goals or less - the best stretch of Islanders defensive hockey since the 2003-04 season. The Islanders also allowed the 10th least shots against per game, giving up 28.2 shots on average during the lockout shortened 2013 season, an improvement from the previous season's average of 30.1 shots allowed per game. In the postseason, you could argue the Islanders defense played even better, allowing 27.8 shots per game against the league's best offense, including two games in which the Islanders held the Penguins under 20 shots through regulation.
No, there was no specific standout on the Islanders blue-line either. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald struggled for a good portion of the season. Lubomir Visnovsky took a while to show up. Matt Carkner was a bit slow, Brian Strait fell to injury, and Thomas Hickey played his role quietly. Mark Streit, the team's captain, was a a-12 on Long Island, the worst rating for any Islanders player in 2013.
And Mark Streit's gone. Arguably the Islanders biggest detriment on the blue-line, Streit will no longer be on the team. It's very possible the Islanders feel the effects of Streit's departure with the man-advantage, but in his own zone? The Islanders should only improve with his replacement, one of whom may be Matt Donovan, a +14 on an overall shamefully defensive Bridgeport Sound Tigers team. Sure, it sounds like a stretch to place confidence in a rookie over a former All-Star, but let's all be honest: How much worse could Donovan be in his own zone?
Listen. I don't buy that the Islanders defense isn't going to be a formidable one for the 2013-14 season. When you're telling me that Thomas Hickey is the supposed #6 defenseman, but he's posting a +9 rating alongside Lubomir Visnovsky, I'm OK with that. When you're supposed #2 defenseman - in this case Andrew MacDonald - finishes the season as a -2, but finished the season as one of the top shot blockers in the NHL, I'm going to say we have a defenseman that is doing something right.
The Islanders are loaded with these guys - players who can just play the game of hockey the right way. The Islanders are returning next season with [basically] the same defensive unit as they had in 2013, with the exception of their "weakest link" in their own end.
Personally, I feel the Islanders defense will give them more of a chance to win hockey games on any given night. Am I alone in feeling this way?
*Sorry for the writing rust, all.
I'm Chris Triants, and this is my blog.
Let's go Islanders!