After a slide of several weeks, the Isles have now earned 5 out of a possible 6 points. I thought they were asleep through the first 1/2 of the Boston game before awakening - they were lucky to come out of that one with two points. They were fantastic against the boring Devils - the only Devils' goal should have been whistled for a Brylin interference penalty - but they played hard for 60 minutes much like when they play the Rangers. If Nolan could capture that vibe in a bottle and use it in every game the Isles would be in first place.
That's not to say that their level of enthusiasm and effort is not exponentially higher than the Stirling period but I have noticed a trend. In the beginning of the season, the effort was there consistently almost every night, but lately there are many nights that the Isles show up for only one or two periods. Why? I think they are starting to get too comfortable with Nolan's player friendly ways. And I think that Nolan has realized this as well. That is why you are seeing more vets getting benched for periods at a time, and also more line shuffling of Vets from 1st line to 3rd line etc. During the past couple of weeks, we have seen Yashin on the pine, as well as Bates, Simon, and Kozlov. We have also seen line combo changes galore. Some of this has been a search for offense and some of it has been a wake up call to under producing vets. Either way it is a smart move by Nolan who knows that the only way to punish a player these days is to take away playing time.
It is hard to predict what the Isles will do next, both on the ice and in the front office. My opinion is that this team will stick around the playoff race if no other top vets get hurt. But this team is just a tad above mediocre and will not be better than what you have seen so far without a front office move or two. But in what direction? Are we buyers or sellers before the deadline? Do we just deal a Bates and Hunter for picks and bring up some kids? And if our kids are so impressive, why aren't they here already? Of course the newbies need time to develop, but Tambellini, Nilsson, and Nokelainen have all played in the bigs. Certainly one of them should be able to take Bates' or Simon's job. And, yes, you need a balance of vets and kids but the Isles already have that in Hill, Sillinger, Blake, Poti, Yashin, Kozlov, etc.
Bates has slowed a step and while I love his spirit, he is doing nothing out there. Simon adds toughness, but he hasn't really been a physical force on a consistent basis and while his reputation is that of having good hands, I don't see anything going on in the scoring department.
If I was Snow, err, Wang, err, Milbury, I'd be looking to get the kids into the lineup now. And I'd be trying to line up a second line center as well. With Nilsson and Tambs and a legit second line center (TB give us a call!!), I think the Isles would be a good team, better than average, and could go a couple of rounds in the playoffs.
The Isles have TB, Pitt, and a recently improved Philly team this week. Keep an eye on the TB veteran centers - I still think one of them will be an Islander before long.....