The New York Islanders have been the talk of the town: with their 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals, the Isles are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place — it is the first time the team on the island has had a share of first place this late in the season since 1990, nearly 25 years.

At the same time, December has been one of the weaker months for the Islanders: they will finish the month on Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets, but at the moment they are 7-4-1. Now, this record does not look poor on the surface — especially with the most recent four game slide by the Pittsburgh Penguins who are 6-4-3 — but it hides a sinister secret that has hindered the Islanders in the past: goaltending and defense.

The team that has seemingly been on fire has blown three goal leads in four separate games: the most recent during the aforementioned Monday’s night win against the Washington Capitals. They also did it during the December 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues, the following loss to Minnesota Wild and Saturday’s shootout loss to Buffalo.

Now, this could partially be blamed on the back up goaltending: lets face it, besides Jaroslav Halak the Islanders’ goaltending has been severely lacking. Compared to back up Chad Johnson, Halak’s numbers look MVP caliber: Chad Johnson gives up 3.54 GAA and has an abysmal save percentage of .867 — yet somehow New York is 5-5 when he is in net. And this Saturday, the Islanders decided to bring back Kevin Poulin from the minors: despite going up early, Poulin’s aggressive play waned in the third, letting in a savable short hand goal that in retrospect meant the game.

However, the back ups can only account for two of the four games, with the other blown leads coming from star goaltender Halak: who is sporting 2.27 GAA and a save percentage of .917, which is 19th in the league. Perhaps, one can say both the Blues and the Capitals have a top ten offense; but it is very rare for teams to go up three goals and lose the game, let alone do it four times in one month. So while goaltending has not been the greatest — despite Halak’s numbers he has picked up pace from November on — the other half of the blame has to be put on the defense.

Even with Poulin in the net, the defense seemed to be nonexistent against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday: allowing them to skate freely through the crease or down the middle of their zone — basically they were allowing the team ranked dead last in goals per game to get back into the contest. Yes, the Islanders have been playing increasingly better than last season: winning one goal games shows that Garth Snow somewhat addressed their defensive issues with the acquisition of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. At the same time, blowing four leads does cause one to worry; are they tired therefore these games are flukes or are they showing a lack of discipline — the latter has plagued Coach Capuano’s career.

So should Islander fans be in full panic mode: no, it is an 82 game season and the Isles still happen to be in first going into January. But it is important to be aware of this problem because blowing leads is something that could severely affect them down the road.

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