Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Radek Martinek, All-Star?

I received an e-mail a few days ago from someone who has made it his mission to get Radek Martinek voted into the All-Star game. You may recall a similar effort last year in support of Rory Fitzpatrick, which nearly succeeded. As much as I like Marty as a player and value what he contributes to the team, I'm conflicted about publicizing this campaign.

The original purpose of the Fitzpatrick campaign was to point out the flaws in the NHL's decision to encourage people to vote as many times as they wished for the All-Star starters. It picked up steam because fans were attracted to the idea of rewarding a player whose contributions to his team were less tangible than those that were normally recognized. I admired the grassroots nature of the campaign, as well as the enthusiasm that accompanied it. I even got a little kick out of the subversive, anti-establishment angle of circumventing the intentions of the league.

But let's face it. Rory Fitzpatrick is not an All-Star. What didn't sit well with me was the idea that a deserving player would be denied the honor of starting in the All-Star Game. You could argue that it really doesn't matter because it's just an exhibition and the rosters are always flawed (a deserving player with an incentive clause might have something to say about that). You could also argue that a player like Marty deserves such an honor because his contributions are so valuable yet receive so little recognition. I kind of like that argument. I really like the quiet player who just goes about his business and gets his job done. But, again, is Radek really an All-Star?

So here's how I've decided to handle this dilemma. I have mentioned that this campaign to elect Marty to the All-Star Game exists. And that's all I'm going to tell you. Now it's up to you.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

10/27/07: Hurricanes 8, Islanders 3

As we headed to our cars after last night's 8-3 loss to Carolina, Ken Dick of Okposo Net noted that I had blogged recently about my elevated level of comfort with Rick DiPietro in net. It was a humorous moment in a mostly humorless night. My feelings about DiPietro haven't changed. He had a very bad night. He was not the only one. Rick left some bad rebounds that no one was able to clean up. On several occasions, the defense left loose pucks for loose Carolina forwards to bang in unimpeded. It was one of those nights when there really was nothing for the Islanders to hang their hats on.

In the first period, this looked like the type of game that the Islanders were going to let slip away because the mistakes they were making were leading directly to goals. Ruslan Fedotenko took an unnecessary hooking penalty just 59 seconds into the game. The Canes capitalized in the closing seconds of the man advantage. DiPietro mishandled the puck behind the net, a gaffe that resulted in the second Carolina goal. Chris Campoli took a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck into the crowd at the 12:07 mark of the 1st. Carolina went up 3-0 off a rebound just seconds after the penalty expired with Campoli not quite back into the play.

As it turned out, the Islanders would not look back at a couple of mistakes that were converted into goals as the root cause of this loss. There were many mistakes, too many to count. The defense appearing to stand around while pucks sat in front of DiPietro (some on bad rebounds) was merely one symptom of a team being mostly out of sync for an entire game. Carolina has a lot of talent making up its top 6 forwards and despite playing their fourth game in six days, these guys were ready to pounce. After the Canes went up 4-0 early in the 2nd period, it was apparent that DiPietro wasn't going to make it through sixty minutes. I thought it would take only one more goal, but partially due to Fedotenko putting the Isles on the board, DiPietro was not replaced until the score hit 6-1.

Despite the 6-2 deficit, the crowd really seemed to come alive after Marc-Andre Bergeron's power play goal at 10:27 of the 2nd period. A very good shift by the 4th line in and around the 13th minute of the period helped spark a good seven-minute run to the 2nd intermission when the team looked like it was playing hard and in sync for the first (and only) stretch of the night. By this time, Ted Nolan had begun to switch up the lines a little with Bill Guerin rejoining Fedotenko and Comrie, and Mike Sillinger centering Trent Hunter and Chris Simon.

The evening was well summarized on a power play in the 3rd period when an Islander dump-in took a funny bounce right in front of the Carolina goal and no one was there to bury it. When Sillinger deposited his first goal of the season with 5.1 seconds left in the game, the blaring horn that celebrated the tally seemed quite unnecessary. In the locker room following the game, Sillinger himself practically discounted his effort by referring to the final score as 8-2. All in all, it's a little early in the season to have already given up eight goals twice.

Post-game, the obvious question on everyone's mind was how much the week without a game affected the team's play. I think that's impossible to quantify, but let's just say that such a layoff is not a normal part of an NHL player's routine and I don't doubt that it had an impact. Still, when the puck drops, there are two teams out there and one puck. The team that takes care of it usually wins.

To their credit, the players said the right things about not making excuses. In the post-game press gaggle, DiPietro, Sillinger, and Guerin all fielded questions from beat reporters and bloggers alike. You can view their comments and reactions on Islanders TV here. Ted Nolan was notably calm and controlled in addressing the media. If he was seriously bothered by the effort of his team, he wasn't showing it. I don't think that an 8-3 drubbing at this juncture called for any histrionics. He did make it clear that he was not happy about the performance.

With another four days off before playing again, I was curious about how the coach planned to approach the coming days. Would he try to dig down deep into what went wrong against the Canes and focus on that? Or, would he focus on what went right (Bergeron scoring on the power play?) and try to turn the page? Of course, trying to be concise, the question came out as, "How do you approach the next four days now?" In reply, Nolan said, "I think the toughest thing is the way we were not in action. It's kind of like we're just sitting here waiting for a week and now we're sitting for another four days. We're not really in the action part of the schedule here. It's tough, it's tough, so we have to compensate somehow and we have to create our own energy some way." Nolan scheduled a practice for Sunday to start creating that energy. To view the rest of the coach's comments, go here.

Notes:

  • It was Law Enforcement Appreciation Night at the Coliseum. The team donated $20,000 in ticket-sale proceeds to local law enforcement charities. Before the game, members of the Bureau of Special Operations S.W.A.T. unit rappelled down to the ice from the rafters, and NCPD officer Brian Enoch offered a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
  • Nice jersey sightings: Early 90s vintage Hogue and Ferraro jerseys
  • Random jersey sightings: Mole and Holland
  • There was a large contingent of Canes fans, all decked out in new RBK Edge jerseys, sitting in section 228 (possibly the fathers of the Canes players accompanying them on the trip?)
  • The Blog Box banner has been replaced by a semi-permament wallpaper-like version that gives the impression that is painted on the wall behind section 201. The usher in our section said, "Congratulations...you guys must be doing a good job!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Opening Night II?

We had Opening Night and Kids' Opening Day. After a week with no hockey, tonight's tilt with Carolina almost feels like a second beginning to the season. You have to wonder how the team will respond to seeing game action for the first time since last Saturday's win over the Devils. My hope is that the week off won't be nearly as big a deal as we've all been making it out to be (hey, we needed something to talk about). Certainly, I'd expect to see the team come out flying and then skating hard for a full sixty minutes. With four full days off before the next game on Thursday, there's no reason to be conserving energy. Tonight will see Marc-Andre Bergeron back on the blue line and replacing the injured Bryan Berard at the helm of the power play. We may also see the return of Shawn Bates to the lineup. All in all, it feels like we're rebooting the season. And doing so with a 5-3 record means that the reboot feels like it was necessitated by a software upgrade rather than a fatal error. Let's hope the updated version runs as smoothly as its predecessor.

I finally had a chance to read Michael Farber's profile of Chris Simon on SI.com. It was interesting to digest it having already read Chris Botta's strong reaction to the piece. From an outsider's perspective, I thought it was a reasonably balanced piece. Yes, there were some cheap shots taken:

But Simon's apparent haze sounded like a hockey variation of the Twinkie Defense; instead of sugar, a concussion had made him behave aberrantly. Judging by his record, however, the concussion just made him more like himself.

Farber did, however, show that Simon is multifaceted and highly respected by many in the NHL brotherhood. You cannot tell his story without revisiting his previous transgressions, just as you can't tell it without quoting multiple players on how there's no better teammate with whom to go to battle. Of course, I don't work with Chris Simon and I don't know him, let alone consider him a friend. I completely understand how, in his position, Botta feels like he got burned after providing generous access for the story. I also understand how Botta and Nolan want to be protective of a guy who has made such strides in turning his life in the right direction.

But when Simon admits that he's a different person when he plays than he is in everyday life, you have to set limits for what is acceptable conduct by that on-ice persona. Simon has operated outside those boundaries on more than one occasion. His handling of the consequences of this incident has been right on target. He has been appropriately contrite, paid his penance, and is moving on with his career. We know that Simon can be a tough, effective NHL player and a great teammate without over-the-top acts of aggression. The future of his career depends on him continuing to do that.

By the way, I also think that the insertion of Simon into the lineup for the preseason game against the Rangers served to diffuse the bad blood more quickly. That's not to say that the two teams won't scrap again during the regular season. But at least the enmity between the teams hasn't been simmering all this time. Letting off some steam out of the glare of the regular season may have been the best of circumstances in this situation.

For those of you who are prospect watchers, note that Ryan O'Marra has been sent to Stockton of the ECHL. Thanks to bjoelson on the HF Boards for first bringing this to my attention. Read about the move here and here. O'Marra scored two power play goals in his first game for Stockton.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All the World's an Islander

Maybe we really are all Islanders. It's been fascinating to watch the page-view statistics generated by this blog over the past month, particularly as they relate to geography. I should point out from the top that I was a few days late in deploying any analytics software, so whatever data may have been generated in the first 36-48 hours after the Islanders announced the Blog Box roster are not included here. That being said, there are still some very interesting data points to note.

Of the approximately 2,000 page visits between September 22 and October 22, 91.5% have originated in the United States. Canada ranks second at 7.25%. After that, the numbers per country drop precipitously. However, aside from the U.S. and Canada, 12 other countries are represented (in order of most visits): Germany, Finland, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Thailand, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Jamaica, Croatia, India, and Hungary. We could speculate that the Blog Box has caught the attention of random Dutch, Jamaicans, and Hungarians. But I imagine that the hits coming from the less obvious places are either isolated Islanders fans abroad trying to stay in touch, or fans of particular players that are connected to the organization. Either way, I'm enjoying watching that list grow.

Drilling down a little deeper, Islanders Outsider has been visited by people in 355 cities (towns, villages, etc.). New York, no surprise, is in the lead with nearly 25% of the visits. Following New York (Manhattan) are Brooklyn and Massapequa. Then comes my favorite piece of data from this whole thing. The city with the fourth most visits to this blog over its short history is...Moncton! How great is that? We read all about how much of an impact the Islanders made on the locals during training camp and vice-versa. It's wonderful to see that some of that affinity for the team has carried over into the season. I can tell you that the hits from Moncton continue--they were not limited to camp. But look out, Moncton, because Hicksville is catching up fast!

It's funny to see seemingly random cities show up high on the list (St. Louis, Delray Beach), and then realize it's because other bloggers live there and are generating all of the traffic themselves. It's particularly gratifying to see place names like Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kelowna, and Mississauga checking in. It makes me feel like we're reaching the heart of the hockey community. And for every Farmingdale and Edmonton, there's a Zagreb and a Dresden to show that we're reaching the arms and fingers too.


The point of all this is that the Internet is doing exactly what it should be doing here: enabling those who are in close proximity to more readily share a common interest; and enabling those who are far away to participate in sharing that common interest at all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nice Numbers

Berard: 1G, 2A, 7 shots
Guerin: 3G, 4 shots
Campoli: 4A
Bergenheim: 1G, 3 shots
Satan: 2A
Hunter: 4 hits
Fedotenko: 5 hits
DiPietro: 27-29
PP: 3-5
PK: 6-6
Faceoffs: 24-46

That's a lot of very encouraging numbers to add up. One way or another, their sum equals a very convincing 5-2 win over the Capitals. Also encouraging was the way this team responded to giving away a 2-0 lead in the 3rd period, even after having a goal disallowed. Talk about finishing strong. The three-goal 3rd was exactly the type of killer-instinct/finish-them-off mentality that a lot of people thought was missing from Willie Randolph's Mets this year. I'd love to see the defining characteristic of this Ted Nolan team be that it takes care of business and closes out games in the third.

Watching Rick DiPietro now reminds me of what it was like to watch Ziggy Palffy in the 1995-96 season. Here was this guy who we had all pinned our hopes for Islanders' success on. He had the talent to be a super-star scorer in the league, but would he fulfill that promise? I remember watching with pride as Ziggy unleashed his first 40-goal season on the NHL. It was so satisfying to see him realize his potential. Obviously, Rick has demonstrated his ability to be a top goalie prior to this season. But through the first seven games of this year, I just don't think about him anymore. I know he's going to be there giving the team a chance to win almost every night. That's such a great feeling to have about a goalie. And the difference between Rick the goalie and Ziggy the sniper is that Rick can take the team places all by himself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back on the Ice: Isles at Caps

Saturday to Thursday is a long time to wait for the next game to come. I can't imagine what going Saturday to Saturday is going to be like next week. Not nearly as bad as the lockout, I suppose.

If you're curious about what the opponents' fans are saying, hop on over to Japers' Rink for their gameday post about tonight's Isles-Caps matchup. The kind folks over there invited Islanders bloggers to contribute quips, predictions, or analysis targeted at why the Islanders will win tonight's game. It's a fun way to bring two groups of fans together and I thank Japers' Rink for reaching out.

It's been nice to hear frequent Islanders ads on WFAN and 1050 ESPN Radio over the last few weeks. If most of the New York media aren't going to remind the local public that the team exists, at least the marketing department is putting forth a nice effort. Have you paid a visit to the Web sites of the New York dailies recently? Here's the page title for the Sports home page at The Daily News:

New York Sports - Yankees - Mets - Knicks - Nets - Giants - Jets - Rangers-NY Daily News

Thanks. Thanks for the mention. Over at the New York Post, the most recent Islanders article is an Associated Press account of last Saturday's loss to the Flyers. Now, I know that moving Bill Guerin off the top line isn't the stuff that Pulitzers are made of, but a little class participation never hurt anybody (I'm sure someone out there will dispute that). I know what the answer from the Post would be: "The Islanders home page on nypost.com has only received 77 hits in the last five days. It just doesn't pay to cover them." And that is why we have the Blog Box.

Were you wondering what was behind the interest of two professors from East Stroudsburg University in the Blog Box? Considering I somehow never met them at the home opener, I was too. In retrospect, I think I may have seen one of them at one point, but at the time it just looked like a random person stopping by the box to say hello. I've been mostly in the dark about this particular project. Here, then, is a short piece that sheds a little light on their study.

Enjoy the game. Watch out for Bengt Gustafsson. That guy can dish.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two-Minute Minors

Just a few notes to keep you busy...

  • Greg Logan reports in Newsday that Shawn Bates may return to the lineup as soon as Thursday.
  • Head on over to Voice of the Islander Fans to read FCT4NYI's entertaining "5 Things That Bug Me" posts. I had the pleasure of standing next to FCT in the Blog Box last week. He really knows his hockey.
  • Sports Business Journal has published Tripp Mickle's article on the opening night of the Blog Box.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

10/13/07: Flyers 3, Islanders 1

I had no expectation of seeing Saturday night's game. Despite teasing my wife about Cape May, where we were scheduled to be on Saturday, being close enough to Philadelphia for us to take in the game, it simply was not on my agenda. Imagine how pleased I was to walk into a restaurant that evening and find myself seated 20 feet from a TV showing the Flyers' pre-game show.

Of course, watching a game from 20 feet away with no sound while trying not to be completely rude to my dinner companions (who are very understanding) resulted in a very superficial absorption of the action. I did manage to catch the list of scratches, so I knew that Bergeron and Tambellini were not in the lineup.

We had a very leisurely (and tasty) dinner that took us well into the 2nd period. And then the harsh reality of being a hockey fan hit. The bartender acquiesced to a request for the ALCS, and Hockey Night in New Jersey was over. The restaurant had three TVs, but no room on them for hockey. At least I was able to catch most of the 3rd period back at the hotel. The Islanders put up a valiant fight trying for the equalizer, but it was not to be.

Ted Nolan's post-game comments indicate that he was pleased with the effort. However, you can't ignore the fact that the Islanders have been outscored 11-2 in the first two games of this road trip. Perhaps there has been a little too much line shuffling in the early going due to the Sim injury, the return of Chris Simon, and the use of seven defensemen.

The schedule won't be doing the team any favors either. Until November 6th, the Islanders will only play on Thursdays and Saturdays, and not even on all of the Thursdays in that period. The light schedule could make it difficult to keep up with the division and conference leaders. The Islanders will have to sit around and watch while their rivals have more opportunities to pick up points. On the positive side, maybe the team can use the time to get its lines clicking again.

New feature: No matter how good the Islanders are in a particular season, it always seems that they end up shorthanded more often than their opponents. Some years, you could attribute this to having a particularly aggressive team or an undisciplined team. But is it always one or the other? Or is there another reason? Whatever the answer, I'm going to shine the spotlight on this particular stat from time to time so we keep it in mind throughout the season. As of October 14th, the Islanders have had 26 power play opportunities, which places them 11th in the league. They have been shorthanded 34 times which ranks them 3rd most in the league. Currently, the power play is ranked 15th while the PK weighs in at #5.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

10/10/07: Islanders 2, Rangers 1

Last night's win was the kind of game that makes a fan giddy and stokes the belief that his or her team may really have something to be excited about. The power play put a big goal on the board thanks to the free agent who was brought in for that specific purpose; the PK kept a clean sheet, killing off six man-down (or two) situations; the young franchise goalie was outstanding; and the team that historically has trouble protecting leads closed out a 2-1 win in regulation against its biggest rival despite a 6-on-4 disadvantage to end the game.


The Isles work the power play

I wanted to try something a little different for the post-game portion of the evening. Instead of taking stills during our player interview, I tried grabbing some low-quality video clips. Unfortunately, my camera kept cutting the clips short, so I have mostly questions with truncated answers. However, in the name of giving you a peak at what it's like in the press room, here's a brief clip of Bruno Gervais answering my question about managing ice time with seven defensemen in the lineup:

video

In case you're not sure what he was getting at, Gervais said that he really doesn't feel extra pressure with a seventh d-man available. He just waits for his name to be called, jumps over the boards, and goes at it as best he can.

The Blog Box had a great experience talking to Bruno. Hockey players have long had the reputation of being down to earth and more cooperative with the media than most athletes. Bruno Gervais epitomizes the good-guy label. He started by introducing himself to each of the bloggers and shaking their hands. He then answered every question thoughtfully, insightfully and with a sense of humor. If you're looking for a guy on this roster to throw your support behind, you probably can't do better than Gervais. I haven't really had a favorite Islander since Kenny Jonsson left, but I can see Bruno filling that void. He also had the following things to say:
  • On playing against a superstar like Jagr: the team always has to be aware of him, but maintains focus on its own game.
  • On playing back-to-back games: the Isles' strength and conditioning coach, Chris Schwarz, keeps the players in phenomenal condition.
  • On the team's atmosphere: the team is close and always has fun together whether in the locker room or at a team event.
  • On reading the blogs: coming from the hockey hotbed that is Montreal, he learned early on to focus on his game and what's going on inside the locker room instead of what's going on in the press.
During the game, I wondered whether Berard would have trouble getting into the flow on the power play without taking a regular shift on defense. I guess he answered that question. Still, it's something to watch as long as the team keeps dressing an extra defensemen. In his post-game press conference, Ted Nolan answered a number of Berard questions, so I chose not to pose this one. Nolan did admit to having a connection with Berard as another guy who was away from the NHL for a while and felt fortunate to be given the opportunity to get back in the league. Nolan also reiterated how impressed he was with Berard's desire to be on the team.

I was in the car for most of the game in Toronto tonight. As I listened on the radio, my mind traveled back to when the Islanders signed Dubie to his one-way contract and annointed him the backup goalie. I had two thoughts at the time: 1) He really deserves this shot. 2) Despite his heroics in the last week of the season, I question how effective he can be at the NHL level playing as sporadically as he will. Playing backup to a stalwart like Rick DiPietro wouldn't be easy for anyone. Maybe tonight was just a really bad night.

Monday, October 8, 2007

First Things First...

Best wishes to Jason Blake and his family as they take on this unwelcome challenge. Jason's intensity and determination to proceed with his life and career shine through in his statement.

I know there are some issues with the way Firefox sometimes displays this blog. I'll try to keep the problematic layouts to a minimum.

Today's loss against Washington: I wasn't able to watch the game so I'll just point out some statistical observations. The Caps controlled the faceoffs 55% to 45%. The Caps had six power plays to the Islanders' four. Neither team capitalized. The Isles outshot the Caps 31-12. It certainly sounded like a winnable game. I know that at least a few of the other bloggers were in attendance today, including Tom, so pay a visit to the Blog Box to get their views on the contest.

Now I'd like to get back to a story from Saturday night. When the horn blew to mark the end of the first period, I headed out to the concourse in search of food. I had tried to get something to eat right before the game started, but the lines were too long. This time, I put myself on a line with a very reasonable 8 or 10 people in front of me. At least I thought it would be reasonable.

By the time I arrived at the front of the line, I could hear the team being welcomed back to the ice for the 2nd period. I was told, much to my dismay, that a number of items would not be ready for at least five more minutes. So I made do with what I could get right then, which wasn't the most satisfying selection. Perhaps the concessions are still working out the kinks. After all, the Islanders only had one preseason game at home.

Luckily, a conversation I had while waiting on line made the slow march to sustenance very worthwhile. I heard a voice behind me, in an unmistakable Canadian accent, declare how cool it was to be at Nassau Coliseum watching the Islanders. Intrigued, I turned around and said, "Welcome!" to the first-time visitor. That's how I met Scott and Brock.

Scott is from Saskatchewan and now lives in New York. He came to the game with his cousin's teenage son. They were both very personable and I had a great time talking hockey with them. Here's what impressed me most: Scott is an Oilers fan, yet he spoke about the dynasty Islanders with the same reverence that any of us would. It just goes to show the indelible impact that those teams had on the entire hockey community. To this day, there are Islanders fans scattered all over the United States and Canada as a result of the work turned in by this franchise in its early years.

Anyway, I just wanted to relate that little tale because the chance meeting left an indelible impression on me. Scott and Brock, if you happen to have found your way here, I just wanted to give you a little shoutout. I hope you guys find your way back to the Coliseum often.

The greatest excitement of the night came after the game when the members of the Blog Box were escorted down to the locker room area. Once there, Chris Botta led us on a tour of the facilities (including "the smallest locker room in professional sports"), secured some interview time with Chris Campoli, and put us in position to participate in Ted Nolan's post-game press conference. We saw many members of both teams going about their business, including a comical moment with Mike Sillinger that none of us will soon forget.

One of my favorite moments was when Chris said goodnight to Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier as the two exited with understandably sour looks on their faces. I could give you the play-by-play on all that went down, including our meet-and-greet/photo opp with Deb Kaufman. Instead, I will refer you to the very capable hands of Mike, Jim, Dee, Michael (with pics), and Ken D for the complete picture.

NYI Blog Box in the News

Richard Deitsch's article on the NYI Blog Box is now available on SI.com.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

More on the Home Opener

Part of me wishes that I had stayed up as late as necessary last night to recap the events of the day when they were freshest in my mind. I was truly wired when I arrived home and that energy would have served me well in capturing the experience of attending my first home opener as a credentialed blogger (and a successful home opener for the team at that). Fortunately, I have pages of notes, ample chunks of available memory, and the excellent work of my fellow bloggers to help bring the story back to life. In the end, I think you will get a more measured account of the highlights (read: hundreds of words instead of thousands). At least, that's what I was hoping when I started this.

Fellow blogger Tim Marino of The Fantasy Fancy made the drive out to the Coliseum with me. I think we were both emboldened by each other's company. Arriving with a partner-in-crime certainly eased my nerves walking up to the press gate. We obtained our media passes without the slightest bit of hassle and began circling the outer concourse of the nearly empty coliseum in search of the Blog Box just above Section 201. It was remarkable to watch how quickly the old barn filled up as soon as the gates were open to the public.


So what does a Blog Box look like? Inconspicuous it was not. The Blog Box was formed by a series of high tables and high stools on top of risers, all backed by a giant NYI Blog Box banner. We each had an assigned seat with power outlets available. The team also provided us with game notes, media notes, the NHL's daily stats packet, and a packet of all the press clips that were relevant to the game.

It was an absolute pleasure to meet my fellow bloggers. The Islanders really selected a quality group of dynamic people. Also joining us in the Blog Box were Richard Deitsch of SI.com and Tripp Mickle of Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal. In an exciting twist to the debut of the live Blog Box, these gentlemen were in attendance to write stories on, well, us. It was fun to be interviewed and very interesting to get the perspectives of seasoned pros on what we were doing. I'm looking forward to reading their pieces and will certainly link them here when they are published.

Now, to break things up a little, let's stray from the narrative for some specific notes from the first period:

  • Radek Martinek received a huge ovation from crowd during the pre-game introductions in light of his contract extension. The fan base really respects him and rightly so.
  • Tim pointed out to me that Freddy Meyer was not in the lineup, nor was he announced as a scratch. This fueled speculation that a Berard signing was imminent. I later learned that Greg Logan, HockeyBuzz, and B.D. Gallof were right on top of the story, and I just hadn't heard it yet. Sometimes you're so close to the action, you miss it!
  • Humorous moment: When Christie Brinkley dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff, she immediately retreated, thinking that there would be some actual stickwork involved. She's a new fan, so we'll give her a break as she learns the details of the game.
  • Early in the first period, the crowd seemed a little tentative, but ready to explode if given a reason. It was around this time that I repeated to myself, and then to Tripp, that when the Coliseum is full and excited, there's no better building.
  • Five minutes in, it was evident that the Isles were playing crisp hockey.
  • With about 13:30 left in the first, the scoreboard showed highlights of the previous night's win against the Sabres. Right in front of the Sabres. I hoped that this didn't motivate them.
  • With about 12:00 left, Comrie took an elbowing penalty and was the recipient of a retaliatory hit. Captain Guerin was there to back him up immediately.
  • For all the talk of the Hilbert/Tambellini issue, one thing we have to realize is that Hilbert's greatest impact on the performance of the team probably won't be measured in ways that are easy to see. But Ted Nolan seems very in tune with that kind of impact. In his post-game press conference, Nolan would note that Hilbert is always first on the forecheck and first on the backcheck.
  • Eric Cairns was introduced to the crowd and shown on the scoreboard to a rousing ovation.
  • Ryan Miller was giving up some rebounds, which was a good sign at this stage of the game.
  • The Islanders finished the first period with a 9-7 advantage in shots. Still, I was concerned that Don Koharski and Dan O'Halloran would furnish another Islander opponent with a favorable margin in power play chances.
That is all I can squeeze in for now, but there are still more stories to tell. Perhaps I will skip the notes for the 2nd and 3rd periods and stick to the experience of the night. Please come back soon for even more on the home opener!

10/6/07: Islanders 3, Sabres 2

It was a tremendous night at the Coliseum. We were treated to inspired play by the Islanders, a solid win, a home-and-home sweep against the Sabres, and an evening that those of us in the Blog Box will never forget. I have a lot to say about what transpired tonight on and off the ice. Unfortunately, it is past 1:00 AM and I'll never get it all out right now. So this post is a little tease. I will provide full coverage of the evening as soon as possible. For now, I'll just leave you with a picture that speaks volumes about what the team is thinking with regard to Bryan Berard.

Yes, that is a Berard nameplate in the Islanders locker room


My apologies for the quality of the picture. We were on the move and I had to snap it quickly. After the game, I also had a chance to ask Chris Campoli if the Berard situation is having any impact on the team, particularly the defensemen whose jobs could be in jeopardy if and when Berard signs. Campoli, who was very gracious in answering questions from the bloggers, basically said that he can't be worried about a player who isn't signed right now, and in the end, it's up to him to work hard and remain in the lineup on his own merits regardless of who else is around. The consensus among the bloggers is that Chris doesn't have anything to worry about.










Chris Campoli fields questions from members of the Blog Box

Saturday, October 6, 2007

10/5/07: Islanders 6, Sabres 4

The Islanders traveled to Buffalo last night and, for one night at least, answered the questions of the doubters who said that this team was destined for the cellar. One game does not make a season, but there were plenty of pegs for the Islanders to hang their hockey hats on:

  • Against a team known for its skill and speed (even without Drury and Briere), the Islanders found a way to win a high-scoring game on the road
  • After the midway point of what was a wide-open game, the defense kept the Sabres off the scoresheet the rest of the way
  • The power play was 3 for 4 with Berard still unsigned
  • The Islanders outshot the Sabres 34-26
  • The shiny, new top line of Fedotenko, Comrie, and Guerin dominated
Tonight is the rematch back on Long Island. I will be there along with my Blog Box colleagues and 16,000+ pumped up Islanders fans. It's a great day for hockey!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Not Quite a Media Blitz, But It's Something

The Islanders received a double dose of attention from Neil Best in his column for Newsday today. First, Neil catches up with Jiggs McDonald, who was headed south from his summer residence in Ontario Sunday morning with Long Island as his destination. Somewhere along the way, Jiggs and his wife realized that the Mets were not going to come through, and Howie Rose would be free to make his transition from bats to sticks immediately. The McDonalds continued on straight to Florida. For many of us, Jiggs is the voice of the Islanders. I enjoy listening to Howie (despite his past affiliation), which is a good thing considering he does my teams' games year round. But any opportunity to hear Jiggs back behind the mic for an Islanders game is a treat for me. According to Best, we should have no fear because Jiggs will once again be here. He is scheduled to join the broadcast of the October 13th game against the Flyers.

Later in the column, Best reveals that the Islanders will have far fewer pre-game shows this year. However, they will finally be granted full post-game shows on a regular basis thanks to "MSG's Hockey Night Live." I'm not totally sold on this new setup. For one thing, MSG's Hockey Night Live will often be dividing its time among three teams. Also, post-game interviews are subject to the results of the game and the moods of the players and coaches. If the Isles have a bad game, all we're likely to hear out of the locker room is "We have to work harder, stay more disciplined, finish our chances, and improve our special teams play." I find that pre-game, players and coaches are more relaxed, more engaging, and more likely to give fresh quotes. Additionally, if a special feature is scheduled to run before the game, it can't get bumped if the game runs long.

Lastly, the Islanders finally got an article about them published in the Times today. I wasn't surprised to see coverage of the Devils and Rangers first, but the Times had an article about the Ducks the other day. On the positive side, it's a nice look at Bill Guerin and how he represents the kind of team the Islanders hope to be. And with that, it's almost time to drop the puck in Buffalo.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coliseum

Hey, first multiple-post day. Something HUGE must have happened. Well, no. But funny story! By the way, if you're planning on playing fantasy hockey through ESPN Fantasy Games this year, you might want to look into alternatives.

So, I had my fantasy hockey draft tonight. I can't say that I went into it all that enthusiastically. It has been years since ESPN made any improvements, or even changes, to its fantasy hockey system. My friends and I just haven't been able to break the habit. The baseball and football systems have received fancy new front ends and injections of back-end customizable feature performance enhancers. And those games are now free. Fantasy Hockey did get a front-end makeover this year so that it looks like the others, but under the hood it's exactly the same. And costs $29.95.

The first sign that we might be in for some trouble came in ESPN's "Your live draft is in 24 hours!" e-mail. Near the bottom, inconspicuous in its placement, was a note stating that the Java version of ESPN's live drafting system would not be available for hockey this year. Mind you, they have been using this technology for at least 8 years. But, no, we would have to use the straight HTML version of the live draft, which is a really great way to do it if you're drafting in 1997 (grab Palffy!). At this point, it's obvious that hockey is no longer just on the back burner. It's the carbonized crumb behind the stove that was flicked off the back burner.

Normally, you are allowed to enter an ESPN fantasy draft "war room" 30 minutes before the scheduled time. During those 30 minutes, there was no evidence that a draft would take place. Finally, at the appointed time, the draft went live. Only there was no discernible method of selecting players. I watched Sidney Crosby go #1 overall and wondered what I would do when my pick came up at #5. Thornton went #2. And then Crosby went again at #3.

By now it was obvious that the wonky system was making Auto Pilot picks for everyone. Fleury went #4. I got Heatley at #5. Heatley went again at #7 (I'm trying to work out a deal where I get him Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays). Then Fleury went again at 8, 9, 10, and 11. This was going to be some league!

After the first round, the system stopped repeating picks but continued to make our selections for us. We had no way to intervene, which led to some interesting rosters. One team has 9 defensemen, all of them good. Toskala is my #1 goalie. I have no idea if this draft is going to be preserved. If it stands, I'll have a lot of work to do. I doubt we will get our money back, and receiving a free team under current conditions is hardly just compensation.

But the funny part? Amidst all the chaos, guess who the system gave me as my 21st and final selection?

Jeff Tambellini.

The Final 23

My immediate reaction to the release of the final roster was shock. Eight defensemen, none named Berard. Thirteen forwards, no Tambellini. I really think this team needs another dynamic element on the blue line, and giving up on Berard at this point just looked shortsighted. Fortunately, we may not have all of the relevant information yet.

My Blog Box colleague B.D. Gallof, who has much better contacts than I do (I have none), tells us that the Isles may be working on a trade that will open up roster space and accommodate the signing of Berard. So there is some intrigue left before the opener at Buffalo on Friday.

As for Tambellini, he was the one player (formerly) on this roster that I was looking forward to watching this year. He was on my late-round-sleeper-pick list for my fantasy league. Mostly, I thought he was ready. I was looking forward to reading columns from around the U.S. and Canada giving different variations of, "The Islanders may really have something there in Jeff Tambellini." He certainly proved that he can be a top player in the AHL. Let's hope he goes back down to Bridgeport and does whatever is necessary to prove that he deserves a regular shift on the Island.

In other news, the Islanders have invited the twelve members of the Blog Box to attend not just the home opener, but also the Columbus Day matinee and the nationally televised Wednesday night appointment with the Rangers. Being invited to the first three home games goes well beyond my expectations for this role. Great job by the team in that regard. I will definitely be at the home opener and I should be able to work out attending one of the other two games as well. Hope to see lots of you there!