Sunday, December 30, 2007

Measuring Expectations

Let's take a look at where we we've been over the last several days. I had very low expectations going into the Ottawa game on Thursday night. Take a middle-of-the-pack team on a three-game winning streak and send it on the road to play the second night of a back-to-back against one of the elite teams in the league. Sprinkle in a rusty backup goalie and all of the ingredients for a loss were precisely measured. To be honest, I was fine with that. Yes, the Isles played the Sens tough enough last time to pull out a shootout win. But I wasn't looking at this as a critical game. It was an opportunity to see how they currently stacked up against the best team in the conference. The game played out much as I thought it would. The Isles kept things tight as long as they could, but eventually the discrepancy in talent was too much to bear. I guess you could say that my acceptance of this indicated that I was pleased with the direction in which the team was headed. Three hard-fought wins in a row will allow for that.

That brings us to Saturday, where my perception of the game's importance was radically different. A home game against the division-leading local rival following a loss elevated my expectations. The Islanders' 3-0 record against the Devils this season made me want another victory even more. The Isles did their fans proud. The outstanding performances in this game were such that I don't feel it's necessary to repeat what has already been reported in so many other venues. But I will highlight my favorite moments and aspects of this game:

  • The Isles delivering the victory in front of a raucous crowd and refusing to be deflated after giving up a 2-0 lead.
  • The Isles finally being on the plus end of a shorthanded goal, and Richard Park's vision resulting in the opportunity.
  • Park picking up two more assists, giving him six helpers in the last three games, seven points in the last four, and a point-per-game pace over the last nine.
  • Trent Hunter's exceptional patience and strength with the puck while waiting for the rest of his mates to join him in the offensive zone leading up to Andy Sutton's game winner.
  • Mike Comrie mixing it up and putting home a rare empty-net goal for the Isles.
  • Sean Bergenheim being rewarded for his energy with a loose puck in the slot and a gap in the net.
  • Wade Dubielewicz standing tall in the net and inspiring his teammates to play their hardest in front of him. If this was Dubie's last game filling in for Rick DiPietro on a full-time basis, I have to consider the stint a big success.
So that's where we've been. To figure out where we are, I thought I'd take a page from Matt Cerrone at MetsBlog and do a little confidence poll. The difference is that we will focus specifically on the playoffs rather than on the overall state of the team. If you would, please take a moment to register a vote in the poll over there in the sidebar. How confident are you right now that the Islanders are a playoff team? If you are absolutely sure that they will finish in the top 8, vote 10. If you are convinced beyond a doubt that they are destined to miss out on the post season, vote 0. And, of course, you may vote anywhere in between. At this moment, the Islanders occupy the eighth spot in the conference and stand only 5 points behind fourth-place Montreal and second-place New Jersey.


Update: It looks Dubie will be backstopping the defensive effort for one more game. A late article on the Islanders' Web site reports that DiPietro did not make the trip to Carolina and will take the opportunity to get additional rest for his knee before returning on Thursday. The more surprising news is that Mike Sillinger is also staying behind to recuperate from various minor (presumably) injuries. Ben Walter was recalled from Bridgeport, and the Sillinger news explains why this HF Boards poster spotted Walter at Iceworks earlier today participating in practice. Walter centered Blake Comeau and Tim Jackman, so look for Andy Hilbert to move up to the second line in Sillinger's place between Ruslan Fedotenko and Trent Hunter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Islanders 4, Maple Leafs 3, OT

Comrie's Two Goals, Park's Three Assists, Help Isles Overcome a Depleted Back Line

While the stakes were certainly lower, tonight's victory over the Leafs rivaled last spring's playoff-clinching, shootout win over the Devils in terms of pure excitement. It's not often that a December game gets you to jump out of your chair and pump your fist in triumph. In fact, I think the last time I did that was for Dubie's now-legendary poke check. Circumstances conspired to make this an absolutely thrilling victory.

Let's start with the late news that Radek Martinek was scratched with a hip injury that is being termed day to day. Certainly, the Isles are fortunate to have two veteran d-men waiting to break back into the lineup, and Bryan Berard got the call. But Martinek's quiet, responsible defense is not easily replicated, especially not by a more offensive-minded player like Berard. As the game began to unfold, and the Leafs took an early 1-0 lead, it looked as though the Isles back line would not be able shoulder the load without the steady Martinek.

Much to the delight of Islander fans everywhere, the defense bent but didn't break. Meanwhile, the offense picked up its play to the tune of three first-period goals causing Howie Rose to invoke the spirit of opening night as well as the defunct New York Arrows of the old MISL. That brought back great memories for me, as my first trips to the Coliseum were not to see the Islanders, but to watch Steve Zungul, Branko Segota, Shep Messing, Renato Cila, et al., lead the arrows to four consecutive championships of their own. On this night, it was Andy Hilbert, Mike Comrie, and Bill Guerin filling the net, with Richard Park picking up assists on the second and third goals.

The momentum from the offensive outburst in the first was stifled at the beginning of the second with the news that a knee injury would keep Rick DiPietro from returning. DiPietro tweaked the knee during the pre-game warmup, and FSN was right on the ball with bird's-eye-view footage of the injury as it happened. DiPietro is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Thursday. With a rusty Wade Dublielewicz in net and the hulking Leafs finding more than enough room to operate, the outlook wasn't brilliant for the Long Island Locals. You could see the difference in positioning between Dubie and DP. You could also see the difference in physical skills. But Dubie pulled it together, shook off the rust, and became a key player in a scoreless second.

A boring third was just what the doctor ordered. Alex Steen would not cooperate, however, notching his second goal of the game, a shorthanded seeker to the top-left corner, to square things just 1:15 into the final (or not so final) frame. From there it was a battle of chances. When Comrie is battling people like Hal Gill for the puck and winning, despite the action looking like a deleted scene from Lord of the Rings, you know there's something to cheer about. Dubie held strong, but was matched by Andrew Raycroft, and we found ourselves in overtime.

In the extra session, a hard-to-figure hooking penalty (the Isles' fourth of the night) against Park put the home team at a 4-on-3 disadvantage. Having already missed on a couple of prime scoring opportunities, the odds of the Isles coming away with the second point looked slim. The Toronto power play put on as much pressure as you can imagine. A power-play OT game winner seemed inevitable. Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton, exhausted from being pinned in their own end and following quick passes back and forth, found the reserves to get in the way of pucks and clear them. Dubie saw the puck better and better and wouldn't let it through.

Park returned to the ice with 43 seconds left, and a chance at a shootout win suddenly seemed more realistic. Except Park wasn't interested in waiting that long. He stripped Jason Blake of the puck at the Isles' own blue line and tore down the ice toward Raycroft on a two-on-one with Comrie. Park didn't get all of his slapper, but Raycroft left a rebound after stopping the puck with his left pad. Comrie swooped in and knocked the loose puck under the Toronto goalie for the game winner, setting off a jubilant celebration on the ice and in the stands. Park recorded his career-best third assist on the play. The Islanders deserve a lot of credit for overcoming some key losses, sticking together, and entertaining their fans with an exhilarating victory.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

12/22/07: Islanders 3, Capitals 2, OT

For the second consecutive night, the Islanders showcased balanced scoring, tight checking, and solid play from all four lines. The result was a 3-2 overtime victory against the Capitals, in which the Isles survived the emotional swing of scoring a late go-ahead goal only to give up a later tying goal. Richard Park capped of the win by spotting daylight between the pads of Olaf Kolzig and hitting enough of that light to squeeze the puck through for the game winner with 1:17 remaining in OT. Park continues to make the most of his increased offensive responsibilities, but the 18 skaters that Ted Nolan has dressed for the past three games all seem to be settling into their roles, new or old. Seven different Islanders each posted a point on the team's three goals. When asked if he feels that he finally has four lines going that he can count on shift after shift, Nolan said the following:

"Certainly. You have to have certain guys come in, you know, with the Chris Simon situation, somebody's misfortune is somebody's fortune. And Blake Comeau had a chance to come up here and do his thing, and Jackman's been doing it for us, and Andy Hilbert jumped in where Richard Park used to be, so those guys have really fit in. Hopefully, Richard will get the big line going. So, right now, we have four pretty good lines."
By the way, Nolan was behind the bench for this game. A couple of blog reports on Saturday said that he would not be there because he was traveling to watch his son Brandon's NHL debut with the Hurricanes. I'm not sure where this information came from. There were no reports in the mainstream media indicating that Nolan would miss the game. Perhaps an assumption was made based on the reports that Nolan's wife and younger son were headed south to watch the Canes face the Lightning.

This is another example of why we have to be careful with blogs--information gets passed around very quickly regardless of its accuracy. I'm sure Nolan would have loved to watch Brandon's game. But leaving his team before an important game simply did not strike me as something that he would do. Nolan did look the part of the proud father in discussing Brandon's debut after four years in the minors, a debut that included an assist on the first Carolina goal. Congratulations to the Nolan family on a great milestone.

Congratulations also go to Chris Botta, the Isles' VP of Media Relations, who was honored on the prior to the game for his twenty years of service to the organization. Botta, accompanied by his extended family, was honored with a personalized jersey and a Rolex watch.

Miscellaneous notes:
  • The Islanders' first power play featured forward lines of Park, Guerin, and Vasicek followed by Comrie, Sillinger, and Hunter. Satan manned the point with Campoli, who was eventually replaced by Meyer.
  • Miro Satan's goal to open the scoring at 10:03 of the second period was a clinic in effort. Satan gave his all, first to gather in the puck off a breakout feed from Vasicek, then to shield the puck from Caps defender Jeff Schultz, and finally to wait out Kolzig long enough to gain the upper hand. Satan's 666th career point delighted message boards everywhere.
  • With the win obviously contributing, the atmosphere in the locker room after the game was very light and carefree. Several players concluded their interviews by wishing the media happy holidays, and all seemed to be happily looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Winning is a mood.
  • The worst thing you can say about Freddy Meyer's play over the last three games is that he has been competent. Such was my evaluation during the game. A conversation with Mike Schuerlein, whose opinions I value due to his many years playing, convinced me that Meyer is deserving of greater praise for his recent play. It is impressive that someone of Meyer's size is able to assert himself so effectively. When asked about his childhood friend, Rick DiPietro offered this opinion: "You know what to expect from Freddy every night. He plays hard, plays smart in the defensive zone. It's good to see him in the lineup." He is doing what is necessary to keep himself in the lineup.
  • Richard Park makes for a very engaging interview. And Bill Guerin can really make a reporter squirm if he feels like it. Watch Park's insightful answers and Guerin's mock indignation at being asked again about his recent slump on Islanders TV.
  • The only real negative from the night was the continued struggles of Mike Comrie. While he did win the faceoff that led to Guerin's go-ahead goal, his offensive production and decisions with the puck remain below expectations for a #1 center. One gets the sense that dissatisfaction with his play is starting to go from a simmer to a boil among fans. It was hard not to question why Comrie was spending time during pre-game warmups practicing his puck juggling skills. Perhaps this is being overly critical, but if Comrie actually manages to backheel the puck up to his stick blade with his skate like a hacky sack during a game, then I'll be impressed.
  • Garth Snow took a lot of heat over the weekend for his response to Minnesota coach Don Lucia's comment about the Islanders putting Kyle Okposo in a difficult position. While I do think Snow would have been better off taking the high road, the vitriol directed at him and the organization has been way out of proportion and, in some cases, unconvincing:
    "Garth Snow? He's given his #1 goalie a rather stupid 15-year contract, dealt the house for a short-term rental (Ryan Smyth) who fled at the first opportunity, signed Brendan Witt for far too much money, and has pretty much won nothing of note in his career." --AOL FanHouse
    Very few people still think DiPietro's contract is stupid; Nilsson, O'Marra, and the #1 pick can hardly be considered the house; and Witt's value to this team is unquestionable. As for Snow not having won anything of note: it's kind of funny to read that in the context of a college hockey discussion. That 1992-93 NCAA Championship doesn't count? 21-0-1 not good enough? Another writer referred to Snow's failed term as a GM. That's an awfully quick judgment. And Charles Wang's organization does not deserve to be characterized as lacking class.
  • Overall, the Islanders looked more dangerous and focused Saturday night than they have in a while. It's not the kind of dangerous that comes from being gifted, but it is the kind that this team needs to pair with defensive responsibility if it's going to win more often than not.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Simon's Point of View

Good stuff today from Chris Simon, in so far as it at least explains some of his motivation to appeal the suspension. Much credit to Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail for getting the quotes and writing a compelling article (and to Mirtle and NYisles1 for leading me there.) I can't argue with the idea that other players have committed equally irresponsible and reckless acts on the ice without being so severely punished. There also may be something to the idea that Simon is the sacrificial lamb in the NHL's image campaign. Regardless, Simon is now a lightning rod for punishment. He likely will never be judged on a case by case basis again, a fate which he has earned. The Hollweg incident opened a new chapter in his disciplinary history.

My main contention with an appeal is that it diminishes the perceived acceptance of responsibility for the action. If he is going to be contrite and seek forgiveness, then part of the equation should be to take the penalty as assessed. Otherwise, it sounds like he's saying he's sorry, but not 30 games worth of sorry. Now we have quotes confirming as much. I don't agree that the kick was "...letting him know I'm there...like a shot in the arm." Because Simon does see it that way, it's no surprise that he thinks the suspension is unfair. It's heartening to read that he wasn't trying to cause injury, but he is still responsible for an action that could have caused one.


The strange thing is, outside of lost income, the length of the suspension is actually irrelevant if the Islanders and/or Simon determine that he's not ready to return after 30 games. There's little to be gained in reputation recovery by winning an appeal. And if anyone is worried about the length of this suspension influencing the length of the next suspension, then you really have far greater things to worry about in regard to Simon.

Here's a couple of other things that easily qualify as good stuff...

Another member of the Blog Box comes up with an impressive interview. Here's B.D. Gallof with Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Jon Jordan takes a fascinating statistical look at the goal drought. Did you know that the Islanders have scored only 40 goals in 18 home games?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Catching Up on a Busy Day

The Simon Suspension
I suppose thirty games is just about right. It had to be more than the previous, record-setting 25 games that Simon received last year. That punishment obviously did not serve its purpose, which should have been for Simon to examine his actions and take responsibility for his self-control. In reality, it's not the 30-game suspension that will do that either. It will take an honest effort at getting to the source of the loss of emotional control. Still, Colin Campbell had to raise the stakes. I wouldn't have been surprised or bothered if he had suspended Simon for the balance of the season.

I'm not thrilled to hear that Simon is appealing the decision. And at face value, I don't agree with Ted Nolan's assessment of the penalty as excessive. However, I think it's only fair to view things from other people's perspectives. So let's look at it like this: By NHL standards, Simon is not making a mint this year. NHLSCAP.com lists his 2007-2008 compensation at $800,000. I know, nothing to sneeze at, and Simon has cashed in many a sizable paycheck over his career. But although these guys make way more than most of us, often their expenses are in proportion to their income. So imagine what it would be like if someone took away 37% of your salary. You'd fight to get as much back as you could. Anyway, I'm just trying to see the other side of it, and this is one line of reasoning I came up with. Who knows? The motivation for the appeal may not be financial at all.

Okposo Leaves Minnesota to Turn Pro After WJC
Despite hearing rumblings about this yesterday, I was really surprised to see it come to fruition so quickly. I didn't expect to see Okposo playing for the Islanders this year (still not a given he'll be with the big club), but I could have envisioned a jump to Bridgeport after Minnesota's season ended. The move certainly puts a damper on the theory that playing another year at the NCAA level was good for Okposo's development. But things change. Maybe Okposo, the Islanders, or both determined that the situation in Minnesota was no longer his best option for making progress as a player.

I'm still very uncomfortable with the idea of Okposo coming to the Isles as a savior. But with Buffalo having just gone ahead 2-1 with a little over 2 minutes left, it's time to add a skill player by any means possible. What remains to be seen is whether he can elevate the skills he's demonstrated up to this point for competition at the highest level. It's long past time for an Islanders forward prospect to do so.

New Twist on Defense
Tonight, Berard and Bergeron both sat and Freddy Meyer entered the lineup for only the second time since rejoining the team. Why not? I had this notion that Ted Nolan might go back to Bergeron even after his poor performance against Pittsburgh. You know, a reverse shakeup. Silly me. Throw Freddy in there, see what he can do. Apparently it didn't make much of a difference tonight as the power play was blanked in five chances. If Nolan continues to bench Berard and Bergeron, what I'd really like to see is Chris Campoli take ownership of the power play.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comeau In, Tambellini Out the Back Door?

I've been thinking about the recall of Blake Comeau and what it could mean to the team. At this point, Comeau has more of a chance to provide the Islanders with a spark than another recall of Jeff Tambellini would. Comeau, his brief stint with the big club last year notwithstanding, is a fresh face who will be looked at as an energy guy. I don't know what the members of the team think of Tambellini or what their true expectations of him are, but bringing him in as a solution to the goal drought hasn't worked so far. Trying something different with that roster spot this time was a smart move, especially because no one is looking for Comeau to go on an offensive tear. Sometimes a little chemistry tweak goes a long way.

I was very happy to see Tambellini post a hat trick for the Sound Tigers on Sunday. As I've said previously, I think that a sustained period of success or dominance at a lower level can be a key ingredient to a player's development and future success at the next level. Tom Liodice's scoop (he's on a roll) about Tambellini not speaking to the media after the hat trick performance is definitely intriguing and bears watching. Of course, the explanation could be as simple as Tamby being in a rush to take care of some practical matters after spending a couple of weeks away with the big club. But it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he was upset at being passed over for promotion and didn't feel like talking. To give him more credit, maybe he knew it was best not to comment.

If you haven't already been directed to Mike Carey's excellent Q&A with Newsday beat writer Greg Logan, click away.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sorry Won't Cut It

Update: Charles Wang did the right thing in taking action with Chris Simon before the league, and by being the mouthpiece for the organization. As a heavily involved owner, it was only right for Wang himself to address the status of Simon rather than drop the obligation in the lap of Garth Snow, or worse, Ted Nolan. Snow and Nolan will undoubtedly have to field questions on the matter, but they will do so with the official position of the organization clearly defined.

As for the content of the statement, I'm sure it will anger many NHL fans, as well as Islander fans, that the team didn't immediately sever its ties with Simon. Contract and CBA issues aside, it's apparent that the organization views Simon not as a threat to its integrity but as a troubled member of the family. It is not a sin to be loyal and supportive of someone in need. However, if Simon's acts of unbridled aggression on the ice are symptoms of problems that require counseling, then he should enter counseling with the goal of preparing himself to live a productive life beyond that of a hockey player. That life may be right around the corner, pending the league's involvement.

The Islanders should not saddle themselves with expectations of when Simon will be ready to return and how he will fit back into the team's picture. You can only apologize and say "there's no excuse" so many times. The team needs to move on and address its on-ice goals without such distractions. There are jobs to be won and roles to be established. From this moment on, the Islanders and Chris Simon are fighting very different battles.

***************


The severity of Chris Simon’s punishment depends on neither the force of the blow nor the extent of the injury it caused. Simon has demonstrated once again that he has no regard for the well being of another human, even if that human is a hockey player of questionable ilk like Jarko Ruutu. Whereas another player would have dismissed Ruutu with a shove, a face wash, or even an invitation to engage in legitimate combat, Simon chose to expose his adversary’s flesh to the forceful delivery of a sharp blade.

It does not matter that the target of the blow was protected by a sturdy skate boot. The act was heinously irresponsible and within in an inch or two of causing a catastrophic injury. The NHL cannot tolerate such a degree of callousness.

Maybe in Simon’s mind there is a difference between Ruutu and other players. Maybe Simon believes that players like Ruutu and Ryan Hollweg are so low that brutalization and mutilation are somehow justified. If this were an isolated incident, we would be searching for an explanation. What did Ruutu do to incite Simon’s wrath? Wasn’t Simon just being a good teammate, protecting his boys? But the act is indefensible and so is the body of work.

Following the game, one could sense the hesitancy to react among the players in the locker room. Certainly, they were unclear about exactly what had transpired. Additionally, they appeared to disbelieve that this had happened again—a selfish act that compromised their ability to win a game, and would put them in the awkward position of having to explain the detrimental actions of a teammate. It’s tough to put your teammates through that once. To make them do it twice in less than a year leaves little room for recovery. How fast will they be lining up for the next round of apologies?

It's almost painful to think about how Ted Nolan must feel in this situation. He must know that no one wants to hear an unqualified statement of support for Simon. But given their well-documented personal relationship, one has to expect that Nolan will express some sort of concern for his once-troubled protege. It is sure to be a delicate balancing act. You wonder where the middle ground is among understanding, imposition, and a sense of betrayal.

Time permitting, I'll have some notes from the game itself later today. Islander Frontier has an excellent piece on the Simon story that is well worth reading regardless of your perspective.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Whither Tambellini?

It's a good thing Steve Tambellini didn't name his son Duncan. By now he might have a Chris Berman-caliber nickname like Duncan "Yo-Yo" Tambellini.

Ted Nolan said all the right things about the most recent demotion of the Islanders' not-so-next star forward:

“Jeff didn’t do anything wrong, but he needs to be on a top line to be effective. And with Ruslan coming back, we felt it would be best for Jeff to get those consistent minutes in Bridgeport for his development.” --newyorkislanders.com
The return of Fedotenko made it very convenient for Nolan to evaluate the situation this way. But doesn't a not-so-small part of you get the feeling that the coach has seen enough? More and more it seems like Nolan doesn't believe that Tambellini has what it takes to blossom in the NHL, or at the very least, under a Ted Nolan regime. And if he can't find the minutes to give Tambellini an extended look, then he obviously doesn't deserve the minutes. For what it's worth, I don't consider this recent five-game stretch an extended look.

If we are to assume that Nolan is going to be around for a while (seems like a safe assumption), and that Tambellini is unlikely to fit into Nolan's system, then it makes sense to convert Tambellini into another asset before he gets labeled as a marginal prospect. You can definitely get away with being 23 years old and in the AHL without losing your luster. But as each year passes and you haven't established yourself as a regular NHLer, words like fringe player start to surface.

I'd still love to see Tambellini develop into an exciting player for the Islanders. I hope I'm wrong and he really does need more consistent minutes at Bridgeport until the time is right to step into the Islanders lineup on a regular basis again. I just don't know how many more times we can watch him go up and down.

A couple of thoughts on last night's game...I spent the first 30 minutes of the game wondering why the Islanders never look dangerous or the least bit creative in the offensive zone. It seemed like no one was capable of making a move that created open space, a passing lane, or a path to the goal. I swear I see players on other teams to do this. They use their creativity and skill to create chances and make themselves difficult to contain. Even against a weak Coyotes team, albeit with improved goaltending, the Islanders once again seemed incapable of dazzling, or even amusing, anyone.

Fortunately, Bill Guerin went to the net and got some clean-up goals (garbage goals sounds too negative), and Marc-Andre Bergeron found the far side with a cannon shot on the power play. Billy Jaffe enthusiastically pointed out how, in that instance, Bergeron did use his feet to create the open space necessary to make a play. Still, I'm in the corner with those who say a win is a win, but this was not a great win. I'll let the team take the positives out of it. I'm looking for something more convincing against the Penguins on Saturday night.



Update: The Ducks have traded Andy McDonald to the Blues for Doug Weight, Michal Birner, and a 7th rounder in 2008. It looks like the Ducks have cleared the necessary cap space for Scott Niedermayer to return without giving up Mathieu Schneider, Francois Beauchemin, or Corey Perry. That's not to say that McDonald wasn't a major contributor to the Ducks' Cup team, but any of those guys could have helped the Isles in a trade. Perhaps another one of them will become available if Teemu Selanne decides that he's not done yet either.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Slap Shot: The Sequel

Yeah, I know, the other Slap Shot sequel didn't work out so well. Just a quick update to yesterday's post while the Isles try to keep their heads above water (Park just scored at even strength to cut Buffalo's lead to 4-2 with 3:15 left in the second). Anyway, Slap Shot is sporting a new subtitle. Gone is "Rangers, Islanders, Devils and News From the NHL." In its place is "News From the World of Hockey."

It may be a minor thing, but it makes a difference to this reader. When I first found Slap Shot, I expected thorough coverage of the local hockey teams. When I didn't get any coverage of a certain local hockey team, I developed a quick distaste for
the blog. But something has happened over the last week. I've started to enjoy the slice-of-hockey-world approach found on the digital pages of Slap Shot. It really is an interesting cross section of hockey news. And now that my expectations have been recalibrated, I can enjoy it more without being disappointed.

Just don't take this as my blessing to resume ignoring the Isles completely.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slap Shot Finds the Island

In the name of fairness, I must point out that Slap Shot, the hockey blog of The New York Times, finally posted an Islanders item over the weekend. Blogger Lew Serviss called attention to the Globe and Mail article on Ted Nolan, which I first saw linked on New York Islander Fan Central and Islander Frontier last week. The Nolan piece, written by Roy MacGregor, brings out new details on the coach's life, past and present. Although the Slap Shot entry was brief, the MacGregor article was certainly enlightening and therefore worth mentioning and exposing to a wider audience in additional forums. The most worthwhile portion of the post, which is titled "The Islanders' Special Coach," is the last sentence:

Nolan’s 10-year banishment from the N.H.L., is surely one of the league’s bigger embarrassments.
The more I think about it, it really is startling that a coach who is so capable behind the bench and in the locker room was kept in the freezer for so long. But for a complete outsider in Charles Wang, Nolan might still be plying his trade in Moncton. I'd like to think that repeated success there would have drawn the NHL establishment out of its fog. Fortunately, Mr. Wang was not beholden to any unwritten rules.

And do we have a trend? Today, Slap Shot treats us to its first in-depth post about the Isles. This is the kind of coverage that should appear regularly. "Fighting a Drought on the Island" by Mark Pargas contains both compliments and criticisms, in most cases deserved. The idea that the team cannot compete without a true scoring star is a fair assessment. The Islanders' draft record is certainly a legitimate target. It is a little odd that Pargas chose to go back to the Bergeron-Gallant quarrel, which happened almost a week ago. I said previously that there were plenty of Islander storylines for Slap Shot to cover while the team was being ignored. This was one of them, and the coverage should have appeared within a day or two of the incident. What's more telling is that Pargas is forced to link to a story in Newsday instead of in his own paper to provide more background.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Win-Win

I had a great time as guest co-host on Hockey Night on Long Island earlier today. Thanks to Steve for doing a great job running the show with a first-timer in the second chair and to all of the callers and chat-room participants who contributed with their comments and questions. If you missed the show, you can still listen to it right over there in the sidebar, by visiting the show page for this episode, or by downloading the podcast from iTunes. I haven't had a chance to relive the episode yet, but I'll probably let you know where I thought I screwed up and how I could have done better after I take a listen. Overall, though, it was a great experience and I was very pleased with how the show went.

Tonight I was treated to a wonderful night on the town (by my wife, not by HNLI), which included stone crab claws, tomato and mozzarella, and a delicious buffalo rib steak with mashed potatoes and sauteed mushroom caps. Perhaps the only thing more improbable than the thickness of the steak was the Islanders' 3-2 overtime win over the Lightning.

As though they were trying to answer the questions put forth by today's HNLI broadcast and the many previous criticisms of fans and bloggers alike, the Islanders put together the following elements to bring home the victory:

  • A goal by Bill Guerin, his first tally in 17 games (coincidently, his last goal was a game winner against TB).
  • A goal by Andy Hilbert, assisted by Trent Hunter--is this the beginning of the Hilbert roll?
  • A game-winning power-play goal by Mike Sillinger, who now sits at 6-5-11 on the season.
  • The first appearance of the year by Freddy Meyer, taking the spot of day-to-day Ruslan Fedotenko.
Guerin, Hunter, and Sillinger were all topics of discussion on HNLI today: Guerin for needing to do more than just being a great leader--he needs to back up his leadership with offensive production; Hunter for needing to be more than a role player--his hitting and gritty work are very valuable, but he has the talent to contribute more to the offense; and Sillinger for continuing to get power play time when he's not producing nearly as much as he did last year and at other points in his career. Well, they all stood up and made people notice them tonight.

Yes, the Islanders gave up a lead, and a precious point, to a team that was their equal in the standings when the night started. But this was no time to be picky. Take the two points, take a couple of days to get ready for Buffalo, and try to get the momentum swinging back in the right direction. The Isles still needed more than 60 minutes to come up with more than two goals. The power play went 1-for-8 while giving up two PP goals to the lightning in seven chances. 14:04 is a lot of time to spend with a man advantage and only come up with one goal, and that came on a 4-on-3 in OT.

As I said earlier today, this team can't wait around for a savior to come from outside the organization. I believe this group has people who can step up and be the answer. They can even take turns stepping up. Not everyone has to be firing on all cylinders all the time. They just need to pick each other up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blogging in a Small Market

A big thank you to James Mirtle for including Islanders Outsider in his reaction to the Hockey Night in Canada feature and the discussion it provoked in the hockey blogging circles. It's always a thrill when someone picks up on something you've written and deems it worthy of repeating--even more so when that person has a highly respected and widely read blog.

Speaking of repeating, many prominent bloggers made insightful contributions to the discussion, as did the readers who frequent their blogs. At the risk of holding onto this story too long, I'd like to go over some of the issues that were raised as they relate to this blog specifically and the circumstances in which it operates.

A perceived rivalry between bloggers and the mainstream media...
Has the Blog Box encroached on the turf of those who cover the Islanders for the mainstream media? Yes, it has. That turf, however, is not very well protected and there is plenty of it. On a given night, I'd say that between six and ten members of the media constitute the post-game locker room scrum. As Tom Benjamin wrote, "If I was an owner
I can't think of a good reason [why bloggers should be credentialed] unless I was in the Ted Leonsis boat and I couldn't fill my press box with MSM writers." Well, Charles Wang was last seen on the lido deck with Mr. Leonsis. The Islanders simply need more coverage, and that is where the Blog Box comes in.

Like Mike Schuerlein, I have not had a single problem with a member of the mainstream media in the locker room. Would it be different if bloggers were allowed in the press box? I can't say for sure, but I don't think so. The bloggers are a sharp group. They know their place and they adapt easily to expectations.

The blogosphere will become worthless if bloggers attempt to mimic the role of the main stream media...
Commenting on Mirtle's blog, beingbobbyorr said, "I enjoyed the piece, too, but was very disappointed to hear nothing of the main distinction between MSM & blogosphere: objective reporting (MSM) is not the same as subjective opinion essays (blogging)." I completely agree with the need to hammer home this distinction, especially as it pertains to the criticism leveled at bloggers for lacking objectivity.

However, beingbobbyorr goes on to say, "
This whole competition/encroaching-on-the-MSMs-turf debate is absurd, because the blogosphere will become worthless if it tries to do what the MSM does...." I think this may be true in some markets, but not on Long Island. At the start of the season, game coverage in three of the four major local newspapers was limited to news-service articles. Lately, those papers have had reporters on-site more often, but their column space is still very limited. The fans of small-market teams are starved for good local coverage. Bloggers can provide that.

This poses the question of what any one particular blog should be. I think in the Blog Box, we're all conscious of not trying to do the same things, at least not on a regular basis. Personally, I like variety. When I go to a game as a credentialed blogger, I generally play beat reporter for the night. That means recapping the game, reporting on the post-game comments of the team, and asking the players and coaches my own questions in order to get quotes on specific aspects of the game or the team that I think would be interesting to hear. Not only are some fans looking for this type of blogging, but they're expecting it to appear as though the content were on deadline. I have also heard a lot of support for live blogging.

Then there are those fans that really want the passionate and/or subjective opinion essays. I tend not to spout off or be overly analytical, but I try to throw in a little of everything from time to time, including entries like this that are kind of meta. I think that writing about what's going on with blogging and this whole experience is important, and I enjoy doing it. At the same time, I know there are people out there who are wondering why I'm writing this instead of reporting on the Islanders' 1-0 lead after the first in Atlanta. So, for me, the answer is...everything in moderation, including moderation.

The necessity of a hierarchy in the locker room scrum, and why it doesn't always apply...
From the outset, the Blog Box was told to let the mainstream guys get their quotes first. Someone out there had a good run-down of the hierarchy, detailing the order among TV, print, radio, etc., but I can't find it now. Regardless, the hierarchy makes sense, and right now bloggers come last. The mainstream media have deadlines, and the reporters are making their living doing this.

But the system is imperfect. We were told to hold our questions until the mainstream people were done. So we waited for a lull, not wanting to step on anyone's toes. And when the lull finally came, guess what happened? The team media representative thanked the player/coach and excused him from further questions. Now, I'm not criticizing this. I don't blame Chris Botta or Corey Witt one bit for letting the players off the hook as soon as possible. The bloggers learned quickly that we had to be a little more aggressive. We can't wait around for the lull that is a clear indicator of the mainstream reporters being done. If we do, we get shut out. So we risk ruffling a few quills.

A few weeks ago, a player entered the room and said something a little edgy when the scrum didn't immediately commence with the questioning. After just a few questions, there was a prolonged (for the situation) silence. Given the player's earlier comment, which was humorous by the way, and the fear of losing the opportunity, I fired away. Nobody bristled, nobody complained. And as far as I know, there haven't been any incidents at the Coliseum resulting from bloggers "not knowing their place."

To conclude, I really like what CapsChick had to say at Hockey's Ladies of Greatness: "As someone who has benefited and will probably continue to benefit from the Caps' progressive policy towards bloggers I'm not convinced as to whether or not I belong in the press box. But I certainly appreciate the opportunity and try to make the most of it when given. I view it as a privilege, not a right, and I think there has to be that distinction made to some extent..."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Other Side and More

More on the Times
I was happy to promote Dave Caldwell's article in The New York Times the other day, both as a way of publicizing news on the Islanders and in recognition of the paper giving the team proper coverage. Now here's the other side.

In case you didn't know, the Sports section in the Times has started a hockey blog called Slap Shot. The archive only goes back to November 20, and it appears that the people behind Slap Shot are still trying to figure out what it will be all about. So far, it's certainly not the Islanders.

Slap Shot is subtitled, "Rangers, Islanders, Devils and News From the NHL." Just next to the subtitle, you will see that the "About Slap Shot" description states, "
Slap Shot, the New York Times hockey blog, reports on the Rangers, the National Hockey League and anything that glides quickly across a frozen surface anywhere on the globe...." So, maybe not so much the Islanders and Devils.

Despite entries being made on nine dates as of 12/2, only one focuses on the Isles. Naturally, it addresses attendance issues, specifically the turnout for the Dallas game on 11/26. Here is the entirety of It's Lonely at the Coliseum:

Announced attendance for the Islanders-Stars game Monday night: 8,161.

Capacity is 17,576. Do the math.

Granted, it’s the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend, but an alarm bell must have gone off at N.H.L. headquarters.

For the most part (exception: Nashville), the sure-fire solution to flagging attendance is a winning team. It worked once on the Island.

Let's do the obvious one first. 17,576? I don't have to do any math to call that one out. With so much attention paid to attendance at the Coliseum over the last decade, you'd think that 16,234 would simply roll of the tongue (or fingertips). Maybe I've been asleep for a few years, the Lighthouse project has been approved, and the Coliseum was already renovated and expanded. No, you say? Still 2007?

Why am I not surprised that the only entry about the Islanders in Slap Shot is about the attendance? I do not deny that a crowd of 8,000+ is problematic. But it is neither new, news, nor a signal that the franchise is suddenly in trouble. In fact, based on statistics and on-ice performance, attendance is one of the least problematic issues for the Islanders this season in general and over the last two weeks. Take a quick survey of Islander blogs and you will find no shortage of hockey-specific issues that merit discussion. It would be nice to see Slap Shot sink its teeth into a few of these.

I will give Slap Shot credit for one thing. It's blogroll does not shy away from linking to blogs belonging to organizations that are competitors of the Times, including Newsday, The New York Post, and The Daily News.

Hockey Night in Canada on Blogging
By way of James Mirtle's blog, here is Hockey Night in Canada's feature on bloggers mixing with the traditional media in covering hockey:



I enjoyed the piece and thought it was fair. I do wish that coverage of this story would cease mentioning Islanders bloggers being permitted to wear jerseys. It's rarely mentioned that those who do wear jerseys are not in the actual press box and are required to remove their jerseys before entering the locker room. More attention should also be paid to the idea that, league-wide, some bloggers are intent on converting their blogs into new-media careers, and others are content to blog for the sake of blogging. The groups can, and should, co-exist, cooperate, and benefit from each other.

Scoring
Twelve consecutive games with 2 goals or fewer. We already know it's a team record. Anyone with a lot of down time or a connection at a stats service want to weigh in on the league record?

When things go wrong, there are daily calls for major changes. The truth is that Jarome Iginla is not coming here. For an infusion of offense, the Islanders will most likely have to resort to a skilled young player who just hasn't clicked yet at the NHL level. Someone like a Brandon Bochenski, not that I'm recommending him specifically or reporting anything in the works (we bloggers have to be careful these days, or risk a good mocking). I hope that the season doesn't come down to relying on such a player finally fulfilling his potential as the result of a better situation. I hope that the answer comes in the form of elevated play from guys named Guerin, Comrie, Sillinger, Hunter, and Bergenheim.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quick Link: Isles' Mandarin Broadcasts Begin

Tomorrow's edition of The New York Times will have an article by Dave Caldwell on the Islanders' latest groundbreaking move: broadcasting a hockey game in Mandarin. The article is available online here now. The Mandarin broadcast of Saturday's game against the Thrashers will be accessible through the S.A.P. button on your television or remote control. Caldwell reveals that the Islanders hope to have a game televised in China this season. Without a Yao Ming or Yi Jianlian, it may be difficult for the NHL to replicate the success that the NBA has had in China. However, the Islanders have already broken barriers through Charles Wang's Project Hope. Following up that program with exposure to the game at its highest level seems like the next logical step.

Note: The online version of the article suggests that it will appear in the printed paper on Saturday, but it's entirely possible that this a Web-only feature.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

11/29/07: Rangers 4, Islanders 2

First blogger to make a "post-Senators hangover" joke wins. Oh. Well, there you go. I didn't say it had to be a good joke.

With Boston leading Florida 3-1 in the third, it looks like the Isles will be dropping to 7th place. The Panthers were only two points back themselves, so that game was going to make things more uncomfortable regardless of the outcome. And if you look at the games played column, those valuable games in hand have just about run out for now.

Sean Bergenheim lost his spot in the lineup tonight. I'm fine with that decision. Bergenheim certainly isn't beyond getting the "sit down and then come back and show me something" treatment from Ted Nolan that other players have dealt with. To date, the young Finn's contributions to the team simply have not been enough. It was his turn.

That being said, something has to give with this defensive corps soon. The seven d-man lineup is not going to be a long-term solution, so the sooner a consistent roster hits the ice, the better. Teams can succeed with d-men rotating in and out of the starting lineup, especially if they're well coached and well informed about the way things are going to be. If that's the way Nolan wants to approach it, I wouldn't mind seeing it for a while. Aside from Witt and Martinek, I think you can make a case for every Islanders defensemen to take his turn in the press box from time to time. Maybe be careful with matchups where resting Sutton is concerned.

Anyway, all of this talk about defensemen is probably misplaced frustration with the forwards. You have to feel for DiPietro knowing that he can't give up more than two goals, and even that only gets him to overtime. The failure of the power play in the first period once again set the tone for a drab performance by the offense. At the end of the game, it was suggested on TV that the Islanders may be tired. The schedule has been a little rough lately, but unless your nickname is DP, fatigue before December is not acceptable.


The guys over at Hockey Night on Long Island have invited me to appear on their show this Saturday. However, a family celebration is my priority for that day, so I will not be able to make the appearance. I hope they will be able to accommodate me at a later date. I would look forward to following in the illustrious footsteps of my pioneering blogger colleagues Michael Schuerlein and Tom Liodice, who have already made successful debuts on the show. Thanks to Alex and Steve for their interest in bringing Islanders Outsider aboard!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11/28/07: Islanders 3, Senators 2, SO

Have you ever cared less about the Islanders giving up a late goal and allowing a conference rival to take a point at the Coliseum? I don't think that I have. I had a social obligation tonight (postponed from the night of the first Islanders-Rangers game this season--thanks again to understanding friends) so I saw only the first 15 minutes or so of the first period. Coming home to read of a victory over the might Sens was a wonderful surprise.

Three cheers to Josef Vasicek, Rick DiPietro, Bill Guerin, and Mike Sillinger for coming through against the toughest of opponents and showing the rest of the NHL that the Islanders can compete with the best that the league has to offer. I'd like to think that were some defensive stars in this one as well, but that will require further investigation. I do see that Islanders won 60 percent of the faceoffs and the PK finished 6-for-7 against a lethal group of forwards. Meanwhile the PP went scoreless in four chances, so perhaps including Berard in any kind of d-man rotation will be a brief experiment.

Now, let's go back to Monday for a moment. Following the game, Miro Satan served up a quote that had firestorm sprayed all over it. That is, of course, if anything that an Islander did outside of illegal stickwork or testing positive for a banned substance could cause a firestorm in the local media. However, I did see the quote repeated on a number of blogs and forums. When I first read it in Greg Logan's recap of the game, the quote immediately set off alarms. "Fans are going to pounce all over this one," I said to myself.

For those who missed it or don't remember, Satan said, "
Our record is fine, and there's enough experience and grit on this team to go through that." The first few comments attached to the Logan article were critical of Satan. But the conversation soon moved on to other topics. Satan has more or less escaped unscathed.

Saying "Our record is fine" reminded me of Tom Glavine's reaction to giving up seven runs in less than an inning of the Mets' final game this year, virtually guaranteeing that the team would not advance to the playoffs. When asked if he was devastated by the performance, Glavine replied that no, he was not devastated. For a pitcher who has lasted as long as Glavine has, and has accomplished as much as Glavine has, the fact that he was not devastated by one bad game neither surprised me nor enraged me. However, by declaring so in such a matter of fact tone, Glavine raised the ire of many a Met fan. That fan base was devastated by the loss and the season. Glavine miscalculated how his honesty would be perceived. Or he didn't care. For many Mets fans, Glavine's future standing as a Met was sealed by his lack of hurt regardless of whether he returned to the team. He was branded as complacent.

Was Miro guilty of the same transgression? After a tough loss, is it okay for a player to rationalize the result by saying it's okay, we're doing fine? Does that show a lack of fire? The vastly different circumstances make it much easier to excuse Satan and eviscerate Glavine. I decided to give Satan the benefit of the doubt, and judging by the diminutive outcry, it seems that most Islander fans did the same. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with Satan. At this point of the season, 12-8-1 was fine. And 13-8-1
looks a whole lot better.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

College Hockey Special

Tonight, if you'll indulge me, I bring you coverage of a special event. Yes, I cheated on the Islanders. Instead of being in the Blog Box to watch the Isles and Bruins conclude their home-and-home, I was at MSG for another New York-Boston matchup: Cornell vs. Boston University. Billed as "Red Hot Hockey," the game rekindled an old rivalry that had been reduced to a few glowing embers since BU defected to Hockey East from the ECAC for the 1984-85 season. Since then, the teams had met only 8 times, the last coming in 2002-03. Cornell entered tonight's contest with a three-game winning streak against BU and a 23-16-1 advantage in the series overall.

Cornell and BU first battled in 1925. Back then, the Big Red played its home games on Beebe Lake on the school's Ithaca, NY campus, which it continued to do until 1948 when warmer weather put the outdoor sheet out of commission. The Cornell hockey program stayed dormant until the fabled Lynah Rink opened in 1957. That storied arena remains an extremely difficult venue for opponents to succeed in to this day.

The rivalry between the two schools ignited in the 1960s thanks to the leadership of legendary coaches Ned Harkness (Cornell) and Jack Kelley (BU). For a comprehensive look at the games that carried the rivalry through the 1970s and into the 1980s, please visit Milestone Games of the BU-Cornell Series. You will see that the series features a pantheon of hockey greats, including names like Dryden, Hughes, Eruzione, Silk, and O'Callahan, as well as some Islander-centric names like Stirling and Bates. If you go back through the historical rosters of both schools, you will find many more familiar names.

I am proud to report that Red Hot Hockey was a smashing success. 18,200 students and alumni of both universities filled the Garden. And, no, this wasn't your usual MSG sellout where 18,200 tickets may be sold, but several thousand of them remain in the desk drawers of Manhattan executives. There were no empty seats. The scalpers along Seventh Avenue were doing a brisk business and, in some cases, even arguing with each other over rights to customers.

The arena was divided in half with one end designated for Cornell fans and the other for BU. It looked like the Cornell end was solid Big Red supporters, whereas the BU side was sprinkled with pockets of Cornellians. Let's call it 60-40 Cornell on the attendance sheet. Everywhere you looked it was red and white, as both schools claim those colors as their own (although Cornell's is really "Carnellian" and white).

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Cornell hockey game, do not pass it up. The intricate and relentless participation of the Lynah Faithful, underscored by the Big Red Pep Band, is unlike anything you will ever experience at an NHL game. At an NHL-sized arena, with a vociferous and proud contingent of opposition fans, the effect is somewhat diluted. So your true goal should be to attend a Cornell game at Lynah. For an introduction and insight into what it's all about, visit ELynah, particularly the Other Pages section. And, to be fair, to explore all things Terrier, try The Terrier Hockey Fan Blog.

Much in the way that the Islanders hit all the right notes in honoring Al Arbour, the organizers of Red Hot Hockey were right on the ball. The two coaching legends, Harkness and Kelley, emerged from the penalty box area to participate in the ceremonial opening faceoff. During the first intermission, Cornell and NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk joined Harkness to welcome members of the 1967 and 1970 Big Red National Championship teams. This was followed by a video tribute to the great players and coaches of Cornell.

For the second intermission, the crowd was treated to an on-ice appearance by former BU players, and U.S. Olympic Hockey legends, Mike Eruzione, Dave Silk, and Jack O'Callahan. Fans from both teams stood and cheered that group, and rightfully so. The BU video tribute feted current Terrier coaching great Jack Parker.

And, yes, there was hockey played. When the event was first announced earlier this year, the matchup may have given Cornell reason for concern. In the early part of this decade, the Big Red returned to elite status in the NCAA behind the leadership of coach Mike Schafer and the stellar, and record-breaking, goaltending of David LeNevue and David McKee. However, despite achieving a #1 ranking for the first time, several berths in the NCAA tournament, and a trip to the Frozen Four, Cornell was unable to return to the top of the heap. In the last couple of years, Cornell has taken a few steps back toward mediocrity. Meanwhile, despite not having won an NCAA championship since 1995, BU is still more readily recognized as a modern hockey power.

As the beginning of the season unfolded, the matchup became more favorable for the Big Red. Cornell started off 4-3-0 (4-2-0 ECAC), while BU came out of the shoot 3-6-2 (3-3-1 Hockey East). Both teams have young rosters. Only four seniors dress for Cornell. On this night, it was apparent that the Red could use a little seasoning.

At times, watching Cornell tonight was a little like watching the Islanders go through their recent struggles, particularly on the power play, only without Rick DiPietro to back them up. Cornell finished the night 2-for-7 with the man advantage, but the second marker came too late to make a difference. BU erupted for 3 goals in just over three minutes in the middle of the first period. The power plays awarded to Cornell that could have produced an early lead or turned the momentum after the BU outburst were marred by point shots that sailed wide of the net or never made it through the wall of Terrier defenders protecting goalie Brett Bennett.

On the other side of the ice, the Terriers were peppering Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens with 42 shots, despite being shorthanded 7 times, including one brief and one lengthy 5-on-3. BU finished the night 1-for-3 on the power play. Even at equal strength, Cornell simply gave the BU skaters too much space and left Scrivens wide open to be beaten. The sophomore goalie also seemed to be fighting the puck a little, as there were too many rebounds to be had. Scrivens entered the game with a 1.85 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Cornell struggled to find open lanes to the net all night. Final score: BU 6, Cornell 3.

Thank you, Islanders fans, for permitting me this little departure. And how fitting that it should come on a night when DiPietro, former BU goalie, backstopped the Isles to a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Score one for New York. (And Andy Hilbert!)


Tradition dictates that the Lynah Faithful announce their presence with authority.

video

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Boston Nooner

Rick DiPietro is in net for the Isles today as they take on the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden. Last week, Ted Nolan was asked whether DiPietro would be getting a day off soon, especially with three games in four days on the schedule including the home-and-home with Boston. At the time, Nolan indicated that he would be giving serious thought to getting Wade Dubielewicz some action during this stretch.

After Wednesday night's game against Montreal, DiPietro was asked if he anticipated sitting out one of these two games. If you only read his answer, you missed out on part of the story. DiPietro absolutely bristled at the notion of not playing, not only in this two-game set but going forward. Check out the video on Islanders TV if you're curious (around the 5:30 mark). It will be interesting to see how Nolan manages the goaltending duties. Obviously, the team's best chance to win is always with DiPietro in goal. He's young and in superb condition, so playing the lion's share of the games is not a problem. The only question is what constitutes the lion's share: 70 games? 75 games? 78?

In this case of a home-and-home, DiPietro gets a little extra rest with the noon start today and a 7:00 PM faceoff tomorrow night at the Coliseum.

Today's game has been somewhat of an odd one so far. In the first period, it didn't seem to be the case that the players didn't have their legs due to the early start. In fact, both teams seemed to be skating well, but to no benefit. The Bruins put together some nice passing, but didn't generate many quality scoring chances as a result. The Islanders simply were not able to mount any sort of sustained attack. Bryan Berard did lay out Milan Lucic with a solid step-up hit. Overall, I'd have to classify the play as tentative and a little sloppy.

This continued until about halfway into the second period when things got a little chippy. Tim Jackman and Jeremy Reich squared off in an uneventful fight following a scrum around the net. Radek Martinek leveled Mark Savard with a questionable hit around the shoulder blade near the boards. Martinek probably got away with one there. These incidents seemed to add energy to the game, and a number of quality scoring chances followed. The Islanders had a stationary two-on-one in front of the Boston goal with Miro Satan finally ripping one off the post. The Bruins were awarded the game's first three power play opportunities and Glen Murray capitalized on the last one to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

The Islanders received their first power play chance with 13 seconds remaining in the second period. Their fortunes were boosted when Aaron Ward took a hooking penalty just 7 seconds into the third. However, the Isles executed poorly on the 5-on-3, low-lighted by Berard missing the net on a slapper, which rounded the boards out of the zone, and then getting blocked on a subsequent shot from the point.

With that opportunity to draw even squandered, we have now also witnessed Andy Hilbert clanging one off the post while the open space between the post and Tim Thomas dared him to hit it.

A Glen Metropolit gliding slapper from the left boards has beaten DiPietro to the short side, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead. This was an atypical goal for DiPietro to give up, and the puck may have grazed Bruno Gervais on the way in. You can count the number of the times that the Isles have looked dangerous during this game on one hand. A 2-goal deficit with six minutes remaining looks insurmountable.

Wow, I just reverse-jinxed myself. Gervais, skating along the right boards in the offensive zone threw the puck toward the crease. Mike Sillinger, skating hard in that direction, deflected the mid-air puck past Thomas to halve the deficit with 5:39 remaining.

Brendan Witt took a high stick to the face with about 4:00 left, but no call was made. The Islanders get that power play chance back with 2:05 left when Berard is tripped by Zdeno Chara on a hard rush to the net. A conversion gets them a point and a chance at another. Failure, and they go home with another 2 points gone by the wayside.

Final score: Bruins 2, Islanders 1. Howie Rose sums it up nicely by saying that coming in, the Islanders' struggles on the power play have been noteworthy, but today they might have been the difference. There's little doubt about that. The team didn't do much to generate its own chances, but it was given enough opportunities to steal at least a point in this one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey Stock

How does it feel to be a fan of the New York Islanders on November 20, 2007? If you're anything like me, you're almost afraid to answer that question. You know, sensitive hockey gods and all. Considering, however, that this team does not seem in any way fragile, I will allow myself to bask in the glow of some numbers:

6-0 combined start against the Rangers and Devils.
10-1 against teams that appeared in last season's playoffs.
7-3 in the division, with four games in hand on the division leader.
6th in the conference, still with the fewest games played in the league.

Rather than leaving myself open to blame (from myself) should things start to go sour, let's allow some other people to chime in on the state of the Islanders...

They dig in and play hard, and when they get an edge, they do not let up.
Lynn Zinser, in The New York Times

...this is hands-down the best group of players I've been associated with in my ten years on the PR side.
Chris Botta, at NYI Point Blank

We just have a team that loves playing for each other, and that shows with guys blocking pucks and sticking up for each other.
Rick DiPietro, in Newsday

We kind of got on our own individual pages. And when that happens, five guys on the same page are going to make you look stupid.
Brendan Shanahan, in The Daily News


I think that last one is my favorite.

The blog entry by Chris Botta mentions that Garth Snow has recently done interviews with the Canadian Press and USA Today. That the Islanders are fielding those types of interview requests is news in itself, because the only current news related to the Islanders is their play on the ice. And considering how Chris likes to stick it to the media, it's a wonder anyone comes calling. (Just kidding, Chris. I'm actually impressed with the way you use NYI Point Blank to defend the organization against criticism from the very people whose ink you need.)

Congratulations to Rick DiPietro on his 100th career victory. He may not be the youngest to get there, but it's a nice accomplishment for a 26-year-old whose talent has been under constant scrutiny.

Finally, Islanders Outsider wishes a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all who may stop by this page over the next several days, and especially to my great colleagues in the Blog Box. I will not be able to attend Wednesday night's game against Montreal, but I hope that all who do are treated to a great game and double chili cranberry sauce.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who Is That Unmasked Man?


Magnum, D.P. Bests the Greatest Canadian Hero Again

Now that's the way to turn around a road trip. Losing two 1-goal games against division rivals on the road is acceptable, especially after you start the season 9-4. Three in a row would have caused the questions to begin. Were we kidding ourselves thinking this was a .692 team? Is it really more of a .500 team that got off to a hot start? Maybe somewhere in between? What do we really have here? With tonight's 1-0 shutout of the Devils, we can set those thoughts aside for another day.

Of course, no team is going to play .692 hockey without an Alfredsson-Heatley-Spezza level of talent (Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom-Lidstrom-Rafalski-Hasek-Osgood seemed like overkill). But with just six points separating 6th place from 14th in the Eastern Conference, staying in the thick of things early in the season seems key now more than ever. The Islanders already survived the test of an unusually light schedule. Now they must come through during an uncharacteristically busy stretch. A 2-2 road trip would be a good place to start.

I'm still looking for Marty's view on who actually won the game tonight. So far, I've only found something unconvincing about creating your own luck and not crying about bad bounces.

I know I keep saying it, but it's a joy to watch this team close out games with a lead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Selective Selections

Murph's post on Islanders Army today reminded me that I meant to comment last week when it was announced that Rick DiPietro and Bill Guerin are on this year's All-Star ballot. I'm glad that I didn't have time then because now that the voting has begun, and I've looked more closely at the ballot, there's even more about this process to rail against.

My first thought last week was that at least they managed to get DiPietro on the ballot this year. If I remember correctly, last year he was excluded when there was no sensible reason not to put him on. Was there any doubt who was going to be the Islanders' starting goalie last year? Do you actually have to merit inclusion beyond simply being a legitimate goaltender to get on the All-Star ballot? Apparently you do, and that requirement has carried over to this year. How else can you explain that the 15-team Eastern Conference
has only ten goalies on the ballot? Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay fans simply cannot vote for their team's goalie to start in the All-Star game. Why the limit? Yes, a lot of those teams entered the season with murky ideas about who would spend the majority of the time between the pipes. But making an educated guess for the sake of a complete ballot wouldn't have hurt anyone. These things can never be projected perfectly anyway. Dan Boyle and his troubled tendons are on there.

Ah, but the NHL had a solution. As Murph pointed out, instead of allowing fans to write in a vote for a player not on the ballot, you could select one from a list. This, we assume, to prevent the Rory Fitzpatricks and Radek Martineks of the world from spoiling the starting lineup. The initial list was laughable. It included no additional Islanders even though a number of them deserve to be there based on their performances this season. Well, go back now. It seems the lists have been updated. You can now select Sean Bergenheim, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Chris Campoli, Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bruno Gervais, Andy Hilbert, Trent Hunter, Radek Martinek, Richard Park, Miroslav Satan, Mike Sillinger, Andy Sutton, Josef Vasicek, and Brendan Witt. What, no Dubie?

Okay, then what's the point of having a ballot with 30 forwards, 12 defensemen, and 10 goalies listed for each conference when you can also select nearly any other player? The voting home page makes no mention of paper ballots being distributed at games, but under that scenario I could understand limiting the number of players. Maybe they just didn't want to have to link to videos of more than 104 players. In the end, this looks like one more thing that the NHL has thrown together before getting all of its ducks in a row. At least they fixed the omissions before too many of us had the chance to complain.

Oh, yeah, and about those All-Star jerseys? If you want to buy one, look in RBK's product catalog under "We just finished designing 60 other new NHL jerseys so this is the best we could do."


Finally, I don't know which is worse: Carton complaining about having to talk hockey, or Boomer saying, "You gotta love Sean Avery, though." No, I don't.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11/10/07: Islanders 2, Devils 1

DiPietro, Isles Shut Down the New-Look Devils on Military Appreciation Night

This simply is not the same Devils team you're used to seeing. Martin Brodeur can still stifle an offense single-handedly on occasion. Other than that, the Devils defense does not suffocate opponents the way it has for over a decade, and the offense fails to mount a consistent attack.

It used to be that the Islanders had to play a near-perfect game if they had any hope of defeating New Jersey. Any less than that, and a 4-1 victory for the Devils was almost pre-ordained. Right now, there just isn't anything threatening about the Devils. Maybe the return of veterans Jamie Langenbrunner and Colin White will provide the red and black with greater stability. Even if they do, Brent Sutter has his work cut out for him. The team has not responded to the transition to a more attack-oriented style. The result has been a tentative effort that leaves the Devils ripe for picking off. The free-agent losses may be too much to overcome this time.

Entering the game, I wondered how well the Islanders would take advantage of a team off to a tepid start. Save for a pinball-action own-goal, they never really had much to worry about. Playing strong, disciplined hockey, the Islanders dominated play as much as a team that needs a third-period goal to win 2-1 can. For the game, the home team received 4 power plays, including a gift 2-minute 5-on-3 thanks to excessive griping from the opposing bench, and took no penalties of their own. Through two periods, the Isles had won 17 out of 23 faceoffs (74%). A busy third closed the gap slightly, but for the game, the Islanders totaled 30 wins out of 48 faceoffs (63%).

I asked Ted Nolan about his team's success in the faceoff circle and its effect on their ability to control the game. "Well, any time you have a guy like Mike Sillinger who's out there...you know, Mike, he takes a lot of faceoffs," Nolan said. "Mike Comrie was good on faceoffs tonight. Joe Vasicek's getting better because he gets to see a guy like Sillinger. When you win the draw, you have a good chance at having the puck a little bit more than the other team. Right now, it's good for us." As though we needed any more confirmation that the character guys on this team are turning everyone into character guys.

I also asked Rick "The Edge" DiPietro about the approach of the Devils, given that the Sutter-led version appears less like those led by Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Pat Burns, et al. DiPietro wasn't quite ready to turn the page on that era yet, saying, "Early on, yeah, they were a little different. Today, tonight, I thought they played a lot similar to the Jersey teams we played in the past, limited mistakes, and looked to capitalize on our mistakes. I thought we played a smart game."

I'll have more notes to add later on tonight. For now, I just want to say that the Islanders did a marvelous job honoring members of the military past and present. Special moments included messages on the scoreboard from soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, as well as an interview with Rick DiPietro's father, who was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

And we're back with some additional notes:

  • Michael Schuerlein of www.islesblogger.com has a great photo of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard descending from the Coliseum rafters to deliver the puck for the opening faceoff in his post on last night's game. He also got a great shot of Satan banging home the winning goal.
  • Leading up to the winning goal, the crowd grew impatient with the power play and cries of "Shoooot!" began raining down. I've seen teams respond to such encouragement by taking unnecessary, low-percentage shots, so it was nice to see the power play unit maintain its composure and be rewarded moments later.
  • The second line was consistently dangerous and the fourth line, before it was broken up due to Bill Guerin's eye injury, continued to effectively keep the pressure on the opponent during its limited minutes.
  • Brodeur deservedly has a reputation as a good puck handler, but given an opportunity to clear a puck while shorthanded, he seemed hesitant and was unable to get the puck past the blue line. When it comes to these plays, there's Rick DiPietro, and then there's everyone else.
  • About 13 minutes into the third period, the Islanders seemed content to ice the puck repeatedly in order to relieve pressure. Normally, this tactic is asking for trouble. However, on this occasion I just had a feeling that they would be okay. This is a team that continues to attack when it has a lead, and shows poise in closing out games.
  • What is with athletes discrediting the achievements of their New York opponents this week? First, David Wright's Gold Glove rendered Chipper Jones "speechless" and "confused." Then Brodeur fails to give the Isles credit for beating him. I understand the complaints, but verbalizing them was bad form.
  • Finally, it was a lonely night in the Blog Box. When this all started, I wondered if we would feel like we were in a fishbowl because the Box is highly visible. That hadn't been my experience until last night, when I occupied the Blog Box all by myself for most of the game. I got plenty of "Where are all your buddies?" and "What happened--all alone tonight?" from ushers and nearby fans alike. It was all in good fun. Still, it was nice to be joined by Michael Schuerlein and Tom Liodice of The Tiger Track, who were in attendance in different seats, for the final few minutes in the Blog Box and for the post-game locker room activities. If you have some time, check out Tom's great appearance on Hockey Night on Long Island.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Islanders 3, Rangers 2, and Notable Notes


Notable notes are like quotable quotes. Just in case you were wondering.

I am not in the Blog Box tonight. It's Versus time. While I am blogging during the game, I'm going to shy away from the traditional notion of live blogging. If you happen to be in search of such coverage, I think you will find the coverage of some of our usual contributors to your liking.

Earlier this evening I wandered my way over to ESPN's NHL home page. I was so stunned to see three separate Islanders items featured that I screencapped it for prosperity. In case things change before you read this, there's the proof to your left. (Okay, it's sort of above and to the left.)

Speaking of Versus, the audio quality started out poor for this broadcast, which, at this point, is inexcusable for this network. Then, during the first period, the picture disappeared and was replaced by a message saying something about poor signal quality. I'm not going to complain too much about this for fear that these problems will at some point be attributed to poor infrastructure at the Coliseum.

Speaking of ESPN.com, their fantasy hockey coverage includes a feature called the Boxscore Blog. In the main content section of the Fantasy Hockey home page, this is abbreviated to Box Blog. As a member of the Blog Box, seeing a link to the Box Blog on ESPN.com always throws me for a second.

Drury just scored a PPG on a slapper from the point. 1-0 Rangers. It was disappointing to see the Islanders close the 1st period with a sloppy power play. On the other hand it was nice to hear Keith Jones and Eddie Olczyk giving props to the Isles for playing physically and containing Jagr in the first twenty minutes. Of course, now I'm listening to them praise Lundqvist in the middle of the 2nd because technical difficulties have interrupted the broadcast of actual hockey activities. Billy Jaffe is on the broadcast as the roving reporter. At least, he was when there was a broadcast. Ah, okay, we're back now.

Last week, you may have briefly seen a power play scoreboard on this blog that was tracking the differential between the Islanders man-up and man-down situations over the course of the season. That feature will return periodically, but for now the stats are a little skewed by the fact that the Isles have played fewer games than most teams. Coming in to this game, the differential was -4, based on 52 power play opportunities for, and 56 against. However, it is notable (see?) that the team already trails the league leader in power play opportunities by FORTY. The Ducks, who have played five more games than the Isles, have been granted 92 chances with a man-power advantage. The Islanders rank 29th in the league in that category. The 56 times shorthanded places them tied for 27th (meaning that 26 teams have been shorthanded more times than the Isles). For comparison, the Leafs have been shorthanded 87 times in 15 games.

We'll be back after this intermission.

Going into the third, Billy Jaffe is reporting that Assistant Coach Gerard Gallant is happy with the way the game is going so far. Other than the score, I'd have to agree with that assessment. The Islanders have looked dangerous, generating an acceptable number of scoring chances. And just like that, Fedotenko finds Hunter for a wicked wrister to tie the game.

I can't imagine what series of thought processes led to Paul Mara being left wide open in front of the net. Rangers lead 2-1. Just prior to the goal, Gomez was given way too much room skating into the zone, but couldn't connect on a pass to Mara.

After tying it up, the Islanders continued to buzz for a few minutes, with Miro Satan failing to cash in on two good opportunities. The Rangers' goal seems to have changed the momentum, and they are now working on a power play. (Didn't I say I wasn't going to do this?)

Now that's how you execute a power play. Fedotenko from Comrie and Bergeron. 2-2.

I didn't see a good replay of the penalties that led to the 4-on-4, but I have to think that the Islanders were fortunate to come out of the sequence at equal strength. Girardi then took a high-sticking penalty for an undisciplined poke, leading to the Islander power play.

Vasicek has been very strong with the puck this period and his play (along with Park's) was no small part of the Satan goal that put the Isles up 3-2. Good for Miro putting that one home.

The call on Rozsival had to be made after they let Jagr's grabbing go. The call on Hunter was predictable and you couldn't have expected the game to end any other way. Scrambling always leads to the penalty box.

Great 3rd period. Great win. Fun game to watch overall. DiPietro came up big when he needed to.

I'm looking forward to hearing the reports from the locker room after this one.