It isn't likely to be a very restful Christmas break for the New York Islanders, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
"The team needs to take control of its own destiny," stated general manager Mike Milbury during what turned into a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. "It's not the coach, and it's not the talent level that's the problem; it's making a commitment to themselves and teammates."
Milbury was obviously distraught with the lack of consistent effort and level of play from his team. Although he admitted to counseling first-year coach Steve Stirling on some minor practice issues, he roared at any suggestion that the coach was the problem.
"Don't even go there," Milbury said. "He is organized and fair, that's not the problem."
Milbury might be particularly sensitive to coaching questions, especially considering Peter Laviolette, who was fired by Milbury after leading the Islanders to the playoffs the past two seasons, was recently hired by the Carolina Hurricanes, whom the Islanders are battling for a playoff spot.
But it shouldn't matter to Milbury, right? After all, he has the type of captain in Michael Peca who can help a new coach adjust and has assembled a defensive unit that matches up well against any in the league, both offensively and in its own zone. But both Peca and the Islanders' defense have failed to live up to expectations.
Earlier this season, Milbury publicly chastised team leaders, including Peca, for the club's struggles. Since then, the Isles have continued to take a step forward, two back, two forward, three back, and so forth in a maddeningly uneven season.
Milbury is so confounded by what has happened to the Islanders that by his own admission he harkened back to "ancient history" and pointed to the team's Game 7 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs two seasons ago. In his view, the Isles needed to win that series to know what it takes to win.
Coincidentally, it was also in that series that Peca suffered the knee injury that has seemingly altered his ability to play his typical physical and gritty game.
Since then, the Isles have managed to keep their heads above water, but barely.
"It's eating away at me, and I hope at them," said Milbury. "I don't know how we can enjoy anything right now, things are just so inconsistent."
Much of the problem has been a horrid power play that entered Sunday's games in 29th place at 10.6 percent. That is with a mobile and savvy defense that should insure power-play production.
"If we had the sort of power-play production we should be getting," said Milbury, " ... if our goaltending at times had been better ..."
There are a lot of ifs with the Islanders, but Milbury still sees them as a sure playoff team.
"The team has the talent to make the playoffs, and it will," he said. "But at this point (it looks as if) we've taken ourselves out of the first four spots, and we're down to fighting for the bottom four.
"We've got to get this straightened out. Somehow, the message has to get through about the importance of every game. Look, we're in a division where we play huge payroll teams like the Rangers, Flyers and the Devils six times. These games are crucial."
That's why the Islanders face a rough road leading up to and into the holiday season. The loss at Philadelphia on Saturday left them with just one victory in eight games against the Flyers (0-3), Rangers (0-2) and Devils (1-1-0-1). More importantly, they have a rematch with the Flyers on Long Island on Tuesday, and then face New Jersey twice before the end of the calendar year.
Detroit getting desparate?
The Detroit Red Wings are so desperate to move goalie Curtis Joseph that they are starting to truly consider a swap with the Rangers for Eric Lindros. Despite a lack of a real endorsement from their scouting staff, the Wings may make the deal, which would happen as soon as the Rangers decide.
The Rangers' loss at Ottawa on Saturday night was just another indication that the team will not be able to put together the sort of run to insure a playoff spot. Thus, general manager Glen Sather is going to be tossing and turning about whether to unload Lindros to the Red Wings to get Joseph, or to the Washington Capitals to get Jaromir Jagr, who should return just after Christmas from a thumb injury.
Jagr has been playing much better lately, but the Rangers have to consider that a large part of his turnaround is the result of wanting to play better to be easier to trade. Is that the sort of player they need in New York?
As time passes, the Rangers may start showing some interest in Bill Guerin. The Dallas Stars are still trying to drum up interest in Guerin. The problem is, of course, Guerin's contract. Enter the Rangers. It's come to the point where calling Sather is like calling a friend to marry an ex-spouse to relieve you of the alimony payments.
With Cassidy out is Johansson back in?
The dismissal of Bruce Cassidy as coach of the Capitals opens up the possibility of defenseman Calle Johansson returning to the NHL. Cassidy left Johansson on the bench during most of the Game 6 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who eliminated the Capitals from the playoffs. Johansson was reportedly set to sign a contract extension before the incident but opted to retire instead. While the Capitals all-time leader in games played likely has lost a step since May, his presence would lend much needed guidance to an inexperienced defense that is among the worst in the league.
Also something to consider is the better play of both the Capitals and Hurricanes after making coaching changes. It should be a warning sign to other coaches on the hot seat, especially Dave Tippett in Dallas.
The two teams had apparently made a deal, and then it fell through when the Oilers demanded some $2.5 million in what amounted to bad blood money from Comrie. It was supposed to be statement of lack of commitment from Comrie who collected huge bonus money his first three seasons. The problem is that the Oilers did not demand the same of Comrie when the trade was made with Philadelphia.
There is no precedent for a player buying his way out in the manner the Oilers demanded. And the Ducks made a deal based in the usual manner of which business is conducted when swapping players and contracts.
The situation was disgraceful, and the NHL should be thankful that Ducks' GM Bryan Murray did not make a bigger deal of the matter.
Jiggy regaining form ... finally?
Then again, Murray has a bigger problem on his hands. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the hero of last season's run to the Stanley Cup finals, has been struggling so much that he's all but lost his starting job. However, on Friday night, the Ducks finally looked like themselves when Jiggy shut out Colorado and Sergei Fedorov scored the only goal.