When the New York Islanders entered the 2010-11 season with Dwayne Roloson and Rick DiPietro as their 1A and 1B goaltenders, it appeared that for the first time in years, the goalie position would be far from the top of the team’s list of concerns. Even as the Isles went on their fourteen game losing streak in October into November that essentially ended their playoff hopes, Roloson was one of the few bright spots, and DiPietro’s surprisingly good health was pointed to as another sign of optimism. But when general manager Garth Snow foolishly traded Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning in early January, the Islanders’ goaltending situation quickly and unsurprisingly became a disaster.
Nathan Lawson was summoned from the Isles’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and struggled mightily, posting zero wins and a 4.19 GAA in six games before injuring his knee on January 22nd. Lawson is now available to return to the team, but in his absence, the goalie situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse as the Islanders continue to plummet in the standings.
In desperate need of a goalie to back up DiPietro following Lawson’s injury, Snow boldly claimed former All-Star goalie Evgeni Nabokov off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings, who signed him from a Russian KHL team. Since the Isles had just traded a similarly effective and expensive veteran goaltender in Roloson, the move made little sense to fans, and evidently to Nabokov, who refused to report to the team because they were not in playoff contention. In an effort to fight off the embarrassment and backlash that came with this saga, Snow suspended Nabokov for the remainder of the season, but the damage had been done. The Islanders had failed to add a serviceable goalie in a very public negotiation that established them for the millionth time as an organization that no elite hockey players were interested in being a part of. But at least DiPietro was miraculously still in one piece…
Until February 2 in Pittsburgh, when Rick fought Penguins goalie Brent Johnson with 16.5 seconds remaining in the game. The left hook DiPietro took to the face landed on Sports Center and all over the Internet, and also landed him on Injured Reserve for 4-6 weeks with facial fractures and knee swelling. This night summed up the Islanders’ season quite well, with anemic offense spelling a 3-0 defeat, along with poor decision-making and bad luck creating yet another injury.
Prized 20 year old rookie Kevin Poulin then had his opportunity to carry the Islanders between the pipes, and he had Islander Country excited as he put up a 2.44 GAA in ten games. With the goalie situation somewhat stabilized for the time being, the Isles could turn their attention to other areas of need, such as another complimentary scorer to play alongside John Tavares. But last night in pregame warm-ups, Poulin suffered a knee injury that ended his season. Mikko Koskinen has been called up from Bridgeport as the Islander goalie carousel continues, and although Garth Snow cannot be blamed for such injuries, it is difficult to avoid making an analogy between the team’s goalie situation and their organization as a whole.
The Islanders’ season was seemingly doomed from the start, as the optimism of training camp was ruined by injuries to defenseman Mark Streit and left wing Kyle Okposo, arguably two of the team’s three most valuable players. The injury bug continued throughout the season, but the Isles’ inability to overcome injuries is partially because of the lack of depth on the roster Snow constructed. Poor decisions, such as Snow trading Roloson and DiPietro deciding to get into a fight with his well-documented injury history, have only compounded the goalie dilemma. Finally, the reluctance of free agents to come to Long Island, as exemplified by the Nabokov story, has added insult to injury. The Islanders goalie carousel is truly a microcosm of their overall problems, with a mix of all their major issues. Until the team’s weaknesses in the front office are fixed, their failures on the ice will continue.