From billboards to scoreboards, Islanders look dismal

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With two first and two second-rounders for the upcoming draft in hand, New York Islanders GM Garth Snow decided not to make a big gamble during what will either be the final trade deadline of John Tavares‘ current, bargain contract … or the final trade deadline of the Tavares era.

Ultimately, much of the outlook, from the big picture to more specific matters like how Josh Bailey‘s extension will be judged, hinges on if Tavares decides to re-sign.

If the last few months play any role in Tavares’ decision, it sure doesn’t look very promising with March about to begin.

It would be bad enough if fans were putting up “Snow Must Go” billboards if it felt like the executive and others were going down swinging.

Both on the ice and on the phones, it feels like the Islanders are instead going down with a whimper.

Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens felt like a sample of those recent frustrations. You had:

  • Mathew Barzal scoring a beautiful goal, and generally looking like a star even as a rookie. In tonight’s case, it gave the Isles a lead that didn’t last.
  • A frustrated Tavares, who slammed his stick to the ice after the Islanders’ futile attempts to make a rally down 3-1 late in the third period.

  • Awful defensive lapses, allowing a dead-man-walking Habs team to win.

It’s not like this is a case where Antti Niemi needed to absolutely steal a game. While he made some stops, the Islanders only managed a 28-26 shots on goal advantage, even with Montreal taking a lead and beefing it up to two goals around the middle of the second period. It didn’t feel like there was that sense of urgency, making these shortcomings that much more frustrating.

This marks the fourth consecutive loss for an Islanders team that should be fighting desperately to secure one of the East’s final wild-card spots. Instead, it’s looking more and more like the bubble battles might come down to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Florida Panthers (and maybe the Red Wings as a long shot), as the Carolina Hurricanes are sharing their own, less-desperate impression of the Islanders with six straight losses.

Final WC spot: Blue Jackets (69 points in 63 games)

Hurricanes (65 points in 63 GP)
Islanders (65 points in 64 GP)
Panthers (64 points in 60 GP)

The Islanders aren’t totally hopeless, though the road seems significantly bumpier after losing to Montreal. They’ll need to get revenge against the Canadiens in Brooklyn on Friday, because after that home game, the Islanders face a four-game road trip and five of six games away from Barclays from March 3-16.

By balking at the prices during the trade deadline, Snow demanded that the Islanders find answers from within. If these struggles continue, the Islanders will turn to scarier subjects, at least if this slippage makes Tavares question his future.

Even if that crucial situation ultimately breaks the Isles’ way, the bottom line is that the present looks pretty grim.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.