Wednesday, January 30, 2008

1/29/08: Senators 5, Islanders 2

I want to give them credit. I want to give them credit for not letting the floodgates open and not getting hammered the way the Lightning did right before the All-Star break. You know, the night Daniel Alfredsson's linescore looked more like an NFL defense. And I guess I can do that--give them credit for holding it together at 3-0, at least long enough to make a game of it. In fact, at about the 3-minute mark of the third, with the score 3-1 thanks to Sean Bergenheim's second-period tally, I actually thought that the Islanders had a chance to go for the steal. The Senators were being uncharacteristically sloppy with the puck, and the Isles were responding with spurts of sustained pressure in the offensive zone.

That's the reward you get for not completely collapsing against a powerhouse: the chance to grab points that you don't necessarily deserve. Before long, the score was 3-2 and that chance was a ripe piece of fruit on a low-hanging vine. Apparently, the Islanders are picky eaters and generous hosts. "Here," they said to the Senators, "have this fruit, which is neither ripe enough for our taste nor low enough for our reach." That is why I can only give the team credit where it is due begrudgingly. If I start giving things away, and they keep giving things away, we'll all be giving things away, it'll be anarchy. That is to say that the deficits the Islanders found themselves in during this game were the direct result of physical and mental lapses. It's one thing to be outclassed by world-class talent. It's another to provide the opportunities for that talent to stage its show.

I also want to feel positive about the power play producing the second Islander goal on a nice combination play by Miro Satan and Bryan Berard, two players whose offensive contributions have fallen well short of expectations. In actuality, my reaction was more along the lines of net half-empty than net half-full. The goal served more to magnify the frequent absences of these two players from the scoresheet, as well as the overall impotence of the power play. Yes, Berard has spent a good amount of time in the press box lately and it's really hard to score from there. But being scratched isn't exactly the kind of excuse you want to have in your back pocket.

Now for the good news (that's not to say that there isn't more bad news--five-game losing streak at home?). There was a time in this franchise's recent history when it seemed like every mistake, physical or mental, led directly to a goal by the opposition. These days, this collection of players seems more able to recover from such mistakes. They don't all end up in the back of the net. You can attribute that to greater composure in the defensive end and the instincts and reflexes of the goaltender. Against most teams, a number of lapses accompanied by a good number of recoveries may be good enough. Of course, just don't make those mistakes against Ottawa, because then they do all end up in the back of the net.

We don't want Rick lighting himself on fire.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

DiPietro Enters NHL's Star-Making Machine

Congratulations to Rick DiPietro for being named the starting goaltender for the Eastern Conference in tonight's All-Star Game. As an Islanders fan, it's a thrill to see a member of the team playing such a prominent role in one of the league's marquee events. The fact that the starting job became available as a result of Marty Brodeur's absence really doesn't taint the honor in any way for me.

DiPietro has represented the Islanders very well so far this weekend. You can follow his experiences in Atlanta by paying a visit to Islanders TV at, and by visiting Chris Botta's NYI Point Blank blog. Chris is doing his best to track Rick's every move. Mike Schuerlein of has also been very active in keeping up with the weekend's events.

It is obvious that DiPietro has been in high demand by the media covering the All-Star Festivities. It is also obvious that the higher-ups in the NHL are finally recognizing the star power that DiPietro can provide. He has finally arrived as a marketing tool for the entire league, not just the Islanders.

You can probably attribute some measure of DiPietro's visibility over the last two days to the gap in star power created by Sidney Crosby's injury. The NHL made a good choice in trying to fill that void with the Islanders' young goaltending star. The great thing is that DiPietro had already earned the respect of the most important members of the league, its players and coaches, for being a talented and hard-working player before being thrust into this role. There is no chance of him being dismissed as a pretty face, quick with a quip. He earned the attention he is receiving.

As many of you know, last night's Versus broadcast of the NHL Skills Competition made frequent use of a wired DiPietro. He offered insight and entertainment. Even my wife, who only knows him through his business-like, sometimes-bordering-on-surly answers (thanks to Jim at Greetings from Islander Country) in post-game interviews marveled at how engaging he was. Yes, an open mic did expose the audience to some colorful language from DiPietro.

Like most Islanders fans, I imagine, I was far less concerned with the expletive as I was with the rest of what the franchise goalie said, which was something to the effect of, "I just f----d up my hip again." Anyone else's heart skip a few beats there? Fortunately, DiPietro did not leave the ice and could be seen smiling later on. I haven't seen a flat-out denial that he tweaked something, in fact he basically acknowledged it in one interview, but both DiPietro and Botta seem comfortable enough with his condition that I'm still looking forward to watching him represent the Isles in the starting lineup. I think DiPietro takes winning seriously enough that he wouldn't endanger his season for the sake of an All-Star game appearance.

This week's edition of Islanders Insider in Newsday featured Richard Park as the team's unsung hero. The piece reminded me of an exchange I had last week with another blogger at the Coliseum, which didn't make it into my post from that game. Jon Jordan was up from Florida making his first appearance in the Blog Box. We ended up seated next to each other and traded comments and observations throughout the game. Early in the first period, Jon asked me if it was difficult to keep our cheering in check in the Blog Box. I told him that I tend not to be that demonstrative at games anyway, but that a big goal will certainly give rise to some high-five in the Blog Box. He asked me what defines a big goal. After thinking for a moment, I replied, "Pretty much anything Richard Park scores."

Moments later, Park scored on a breakaway. The goal came 22 seconds after the Flyers had scored, and tied the game at one. Jon and I shared a quiet high-five. Thanks to the unsung Parkie for providing one of my favorite moments of the season so far.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Meyer Re-Ups, Campoli Down and Out

At least now we know that the dour expression on Chris Campoli's face in the locker room Saturday night wasn't simply the result of watching his mates blow a two-goal lead. Still, it was quite a shock to get home from work, turn the computer on, and find that Campoli's step-forward season has come to a premature end due. Just as surprising was the announcement that the contract of Freddy Meyer has been extended two years. How closely the two events are related is hard to say.

It's possible that the extension for Meyer was rushed into being in order to instill confidence in him as his role suddenly becomes that much more secure. However, I tend to doubt that Meyer really needed such a boost. His overall play over the last 20 games likely had more to do with Garth Snow being convinced that it was time to give Meyer more security. Let's not forget that despite being demoted, scratched, and bounced around the country this year, Meyer was always a well-regarded prospect, and he now seems to be fulfilling his potential. Certainly Meyer is at least as deserving of the two-year deal as Brent Sopel was of the three-year pact he just got from the Hawks.

To me, the key factor as far as Campoli is concerned is the loss of continuity in his development. The season-ending surgery surely leaves a hole in the roster, but it's not one that the rest of the corps can't come together to cover up. Campoli took a step forward this year, not a giant leap. Defensively, he has been physically stronger, more positionally sound, and generally a responsible, reliable blueliner. Offensively, he was just barely on pace to match his rookie-season numbers. No, he didn't have Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin to play with the way Mike Green does. But at some point, the Islanders need a quarterback whose presence in the lineup is not subject to his defensive shortcomings. It's disappointing that we'll have to wait until 2008-09 to see if Campoli can be that guy.

Happy Birthday to Mike Bossy, born on this date in 1957.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spotlight on Aaron Johnson

Before last night's game, a giveaway 5-3 loss to the Flyers, I decided that my focus for the evening would be on Aaron Johnson. I'm sure that having a blogger watch his every move is exactly what a young defensemen returning from injury is hoping for. I'm also sure that it would not make the least bit of difference to him. If, in some fantasy world, he did care about what anyone other than his coaches had to say, he would be relieved to know that the game provided plenty of distractions for these eyes.

Johnson was pressed into service after two and half months on the shelf with a knee injury, and two rehab games at Bridgeport, as a result of injuries to Radek Martinek, Brendan Witt, and Chris Campoli. Johnson opened the game playing the left side, paired with Marc-Andre Bergeron. Johnson's mobility looked good from the start. Early in the first period, he made a nice recovery from coughing up the puck on offense to break up a rush by the Flyers. Ted Nolan showed confidence in Johnson from the beginning by giving him time on the penalty kill, where he played on the right side paired with Andy Sutton. This pair was on the ice for the Flyers' first goal, scored on the power play at 5:21.

Despite a couple of instances of sloppy play along the boards in the offensive zone, Johnson came through his first period back in the NHL looking like he belonged. Meanwhile, Rick DiPietro tied Chris Osgood's team record for assists in a season by a goalie with his fourth helper on Richard Park's breakaway goal, which tied the game 1-1. Bryan Berard turned in very mixed results in the first with two assists and three giveaways. Johnson finished the first frame with 8 shifts and 5:38 in total ice time. Substantial power-play time for the Isles likely cut into his minutes.

In the second period, Johnson once again demonstrated that his knee was sound by performing a full layout dive to knock the puck outside the defensive zone. Nolan continued to eschew the idea of easing him back in by adding power-play time to Johnson's responsibilities. With the extra man, Johnson played alongside Bruno Gervais. The second period, of course, was the undoing for the Islanders in this game. The period opened with the Islanders failing to convert on the remainder of a double minor to Scottie Upshall. This was followed by Trent Hunter getting involved with more than he could handle in a fight with Derian Hatcher. It was not Hunter's idea to scuffle, and it showed. The period ended with the score 3-3, the Flyers having rebounded from a 3-1 deficit. After two, Johnson had 18 shifts, 12:15 of total ice time, 1:30 on the power play, and 2:13 on the PK. His number of shifts at this point was equal to that of Gervais and Freddy Meyer, and he had been on the ice for two of the three goals against.

The third period completed the Islanders' collapse. Early on, Johnson was again on the ice for a Flyer power play goal, but it was apparent by this time that bad luck and bad team defense were the root cause of evil, not a 24-year-old defenseman. Nolan confirmed after the game that the result was not the fault of the defensive corps, but a teamwide failure to play the simple brand of hockey that makes his players most likely to succeed. While the two goals scored with DiPietro out of the net were the result of bad caroms, I can't give Rick a free pass. He noted that 99 times out of 100, he stops the puck around the boards that led to the go-ahead goal, or it just goes by him. I thought he had little chance of stopping this particular one and should have stayed closer to the net, especially after already having been burned by a bad bounce.

Johnson concluded the evening with 26 shifts, which tied him for the team high with Gervais. His total ice time was 18:23 (6th highest), with 2:13 on the PP and 2:32 on the PK. Mark Herrman, covering the game for Newsday, was unintentionally very cooperative by asking for Johnson to be one of the players brought before the press. I had intended to ask Nolan how his utilization of Johnson compared to what he had actually planned going into the game. Unable to fit that question into a crowded press conference, I directed a similar question to Johnson, to which he replied:

"Yeah, I mean a little more than I expected, to be honest. I didn't expect to play as much, but anyone will tell you the more you play the better you feel, so it felt good. It felt good PK, PP--it's just a matter of getting better each game in here."

With Sunday's announcement that Martinek and Witt will return to the lineup for Monday's Martin Luther King Day matinee against Carolina, it will be interesting to see how soon Johnson gets another opportunity. Assuming everyone else is healthy, Berard is likely headed back to the press box. Based on his recent play, you'd have to guess that Meyer will receive the nod over Johnson. That's only a shame in that I'd like to see how Johnson could apply himself over a stretch of games.

Finally, I just want to take a minute to say that it was a great night in the Blog Box with six bloggers in the box and two more in their regular seats. Jon Jordan of The Long Distance Islander made the trip up from Florida for his first appearance in the Blog Box. He fit right in with the crew, and it was great to meet him and talk hockey. For more coverage on last night's game, check out what 7th Woman (Dee Karl, baker of delicious cookies), B.D. Gallof, The Tiger Track (Tom Liodice), IslesBlogger (Mike Schuerlein), and New York Islander Fan Central (NYIsles1) had to say.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

The Shadow from Above
I hadn't seen any mention of it anywhere, so I was all set to discuss Tuesday night's appearance at the Coliseum by Chris Simon. The Versus production crew caught Simon on camera having an involved conversation with Charles Wang high above the Coliseum ice. However, with Dee Karl now having published a sparkling essay on this latest development, I will defer to the impressions of my esteemed Blog Box colleague. Dee has elegantly captured all of the complexities surrounding the status of Simon and, quite appropriately I think, refrained from passing judgment.

What's best for the players? What's best for Wang and the organization? What's best for the NHL? What's best for Chris Simon? What's best for the fans? It is not easy to render a final verdict on Simon with all of these questions playing a significant role in creating the solution. Ultimately, as Dee's post posits, it is not our problem to solve. But understanding the difficulty of the situation is certainly something we can take on. One thing is certain: Simon's presence with the owner the other night is clearly suggests that the team was completely sincere in expressing its loyalty to Chris Simon the person. Of this, I had no doubt.

A Picture Is Worth More Than Two Points
It's amazing how easy it is for us, as Islanders fans, to take the smallest action by the media as a sign of disrespect. For example: The lead picture in today's Daily News article on last night's impressive 3-1 win over the Devils shows Rick DiPietro reaching back in vain to keep Travis Zajac's third-period shot from crossing the goal line. Yes, it is an exciting, telling action shot taken from the camera mounted inside in the net. But why, in a game in which the Islanders went to 5-0 on the season against the Devils and DiPietro was lauded universally for his outstanding play, does the lead photograph show him flopped on his back in his only low moment? The article does feature a smaller picture that shows the Islanders celebrating their victory. Shouldn't the lead photo be representative of the game? Where is the shot of DiPietro making one of a dozen outstanding saves? Maybe his reflexes are too quick to be captured on film. Anyway, these things just make me wonder sometimes.

Radio Tease
Here's another slight head-scratcher, but there are reasonable explanations for it. It was reported today that Long Island radio station WLIR is switching to an all sports-talk format. My immediate reaction was to think, "Hey, there's an opportunity to get some serious Islanders talk on the radio." Imagine the Islanders being the hometown team on a smaller version of WFAN. Of course, that thought lasted all of five seconds. It turns out that WLIR will simply be carrying the signal from 1050 ESPN Radio, which, by the way, is the radio broadcast home of the Rangers. So that accomplishes basically nothing for Islanders fans unless 1050 comes to the unlikely conclusion that its stronger presence in Suffolk calls for increased coverage of the Isles. Don't bet on it.

Overall, I'm not down on 1050 the way a lot of people are (despite some hosts that I can't listen to for more than two minutes). I like it as an alternative to WFAN, and I think the competition, as lopsided as it continues to be, is a favorable development for the listener. On the surface, the agreement between 1050 and WLIR makes good business sense for both parties, and may even benefit listeners who struggle to get a clear signal from 1050. So, I'm not going to kill them for trying this. It just seems like a missed opportunity.

Whereas I once thought it created some weird dynamics on the team, I now couldn't be more relieved that Garth Snow increased the defensive depth chart to nine.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tenacious O

And the D was nothing to sneeze at either.

First, let’s get this out of the way. I don’t care so much about Ottawa having played Detroit the night before. Back-to-back games are part of the schedule, and when there’s a game to be played, you come to play. I’ll line up the Isles’ 6,467 miles of travel against the Senators’ two games in two nights and call it somewhere near let’s-just-drop-the-puck-and-stop-worrying-about-this even. I won’t, however, discount the Senators playing without Dany Heatley and mostly without Jason Spezza. With the TV broadcast affirming that the Senators have lacked secondary scoring lately, you can’t lose that kind of firepower and expect to carry on as though nothing has changed. But the injuries to Heatley and Spezza made up only one of several storylines that competed for the headline of last night’s 3-1 win by the Islanders over the Senators.

So before anyone accuses me of raining on the parade, here's the bottom line: another game in Ottawa is off the schedule and two more points are on the board. And it was hard-nosed play from Freddy Meyer that left the Sens with only 2.67 slices in their pizza.

My biggest concern during this game was that the story would be how the Islanders frittered away a generous and potentially game-changing serving of power play opportunities. As the chances piled up and they only capitalized on one of the first seven, I figured it was only a matter of time before the disparate totals for the two teams began to even up in the 1-1 game. Marc-Andre Bergeron then showed that his long game is every bit as good as his short game by blasting home his second power-play marker of the game for the lead on the Isles' eighth opportunity with the man advantage.

They finished 2-for-9, which translates to a healthy 22% rate of success. It was remarkable to see the Islanders get the long end of the stick on power play chances against a team like Ottawa. The Islanders received only 11 chances in the first four games of the trip (one of those lasted only 18 seconds). As pointed out by Billy Jaffe on the first Bergeron goal, the Isles finally started taking advantage of actually outnumbering the penalty killers. And it was the players' tenacity on the puck and on the check that created those opportunities. As Ted Nolan told reporters after the game, "Give them full marks."

Mike Comrie: Creating the quality and quantity of scoring chances that the team needs from its #1 center.
Rick DiPietro: Will get that elusive empty-net goal.
Scheduling oddity: The Islanders play only four more Saturday home games this season, and three of them are against the Flyers. Five games remain with Philly, three of them on Saturdays in March.
Versus: Tomorrow's game against Montreal is on Versus at the usual 7 PM start time.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Rick DiPietro, All-Star

[Programming Note: Warm up for Isles vs. Flames with Cornell vs. RPI at 7 PM on SNY. Another hat tip to Neil Best. Great doubleheader!]

Congratulations to Rick DiPietro on being selected to appear in his first All-Star Game. I have no doubt that he will represent the Islanders well in Atlanta and I'm really looking forward to watching him perform in the festivities. Some may point to his numbers and say that they are not quite on par with All-Star status and, based on numbers, other goalies should have been selected ahead of him. However, his actual play and his value to the team certainly support the honor. It is apparent that the league has taken notice of his performance under those criteria, and DiPietro deserves to go.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if there could be some debate over who should represent the Isles? The only other name that seemed to surface with any frequency in such discussions was Brendan Witt. Going by the same criteria of quality of play and value to the team, Witt would not have been a bad choice. But the lack of skaters who merit serious consideration of being celebrated with the league's best troubles me. And it reminds me a little too much of a time in this franchise's history when Scott LaChance was being sent to represent the Isles because anyone else would have been laughable. Fortunately, this team gets much better results on the ice that those teams did. In the end, having All-Star talent is far less important than having a good team.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Odd-Man Rushes and End Boards

That's just an inefficient but hockey-tinged way of saying odds 'n' ends.

Ricky looked tired competing in that shootout the other night in Vancouver. You can't blame him. Cross-continent travel, back-to-back road games, overtime in three out of the last four, throwing himself in front of countless (okay, 45), unfettered shots all night...not to mention running back and forth to change his pads all the time. I'm tired just writing it.

My hopes for a shootout victory against the Canucks were dashed the instant I saw Trent Hunter lumbering down the ice toward Roberto Luongo at 2 mph.

Another acknowledgment for Ted Nolan, this time by way of Slap Shot. In his Half Season Awards, Lew Serviss gives Nolan the nod as Best Coach. In the comments for this same blog entry, we get this gem from poster Stacey Ross about Matt Niskanen: "When a rookie can come in and not only fill a full-time shift with a potential Hall-of-famer in Zubov, but actually help Zubov be a better Zubov, you got yourself an amazing rookie right there." I'd like to be a better Zubov. Wouldn't you? This would be such a better world if we were all better Zubovs. I love when a little phrase makes me laugh. But the real question is, can Niskanen help make the better babka?

Thanks to Corey Witt, Chris Botta, and the Islanders for continuing to plug the Blog Box on the official site. I appreciate the support.

Greg Logan has launched the titular opposite of this blog with Islanders Insider, now appearing weekly in the online edition of Newsday. Logan unleashes Islanders Insider with a midseason evaluation of the Islanders, which presents a fair and accurate look at what ails the team and how it may overcome its shortcomings in the second half. You can hand in your own grades for the Islanders by answering this Newsday poll.

Update: Charles Wang gets less crazy every week. You certainly can't accuse the Caps of lacking commitment to their franchise player. Let the future cap issues discussion begin. Still, I think it's good for the league when its marquee players maintain an identity with a team.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's Cooking?

An overtime loss to a team missing its two biggest stars and playing a goalie making only his second start in nearly a month. A complete wipeout against a team that hadn't won a game at home in regulation since November 30th. Combine that with a road trip that now travels to Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa (6, 7, and 14 points better), and you have a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, this Islanders team seems to have a knack for cooking up disasters and then following them with something just sweet enough to remind you what the playoffs taste like. That doesn't make it any more fun. We spent years rooting for this team when it rarely won. That was bitter. These days, it wins just often enough to make it fun. I'd like to see the progression continue to where the team wins more often than not. Another offensive slump does not mix well with Roberto Luongo.

What else is cooking?

I guess Steve Downie's actions weren't quite reckless enough or indicative enough of a pattern of dangerous behavior. What if he got Jason Blake a quarter of an inch higher? Would eye damage be enough of an offense? Yes, players sometimes get hit in the eye during fights, but they shouldn't have to worry about it when they can't defend themselves.

In his midseason report a few days ago, James Mirtle gave Trent Hunter and Brendan Witt honorable mentions for Best Penalty Killer, and Ted Nolan an honorable mention for the Jack Adams Trophy. Always nice to see recognition for the hard workers. Mirtle also advocates a rule change that I wanted to see implemented when the shootout was introduced: a 10-minute overtime. I'm also growing tired of points being awarded for losses, and ties never bothered me that much. Calgary is currently 22-14-7. That doesn't look as good at 22-21 or whatever it would be with a few ties thrown in.

Corey Witt's Road Trip Blog has been an enjoyable read so far. Good stuff from the Islanders' media relations coordinator.

Tip of the hat to Neil Best for mentioning in his Watchdog blog Mike Bossy's appearance with Fran Healy on Halls of Fame. If you missed the show, it airs again Friday at 8:30 PM and Sunday at 6:30 PM.

I'm not going to tell you to enjoy the game this time.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

We're All Confident

Well, most of us anyway. Thanks to everyone who participated in the first Islanders Outsider Playoff Confidence Poll. At the moment, you can still see the results of the poll over there in the sidebar, but I certainly don't expect anyone to do any math. Here's what you can see at a glance: the respondents to this poll are an overwhelmingly confident bunch. Adding up the numbers, 5/6 of the respondents expressed some degree of confidence that the Islanders will make playoffs. Those 20 voters ran the gamut from just barely confident to supremely confident that the Islanders will play beyond April 4. The relatively even distribution of votes from 6-10 was notable. 46 percent of the total respondents can be classified as being very confident.

We have one voter who is sitting right on the fence, and three more with serious doubts about the Islanders' chances of finishing in the top eight. I was somewhat surprised by how few people voted in the lower half of the scale. As much faith as you may have in Ted Nolan and the team's ability to play winning hockey, the conference is so tight that it's difficult to feel comfortable with the positional jockeying. Unless the Islanders suddenly display an inclination to take over the Atlantic, I will remain cautiously optimistic about their playoff future.

I tried to time this poll so that it didn't coincide with a busy, emotion-swaying portion of the schedule, and I think that worked out fairly well. That being said, how do we all feel now after two straight overtime losses? I sense disappointment over losing two points that
easily could have been in the Islanders' bank, but no frustration or panic. Such is the effect of the NHL's charitable distribution of points in the standings.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Winter Classic

In addition to the accolades I gave out earlier this week, kudos also go to the NHL, NBC, and the people of Buffalo for putting on a great event New Year's Day. The Winter Classic was enjoyable to watch in so many ways. I don't think that snowfall during these games should always be desired, but for this inaugural game, it certainly added the Wonderland aspect to the Winter. The classic uniforms looked terrific. The players showed contagious enthusiasm for the event. And the crowd was second to none in its hearty spirit. My appreciation for the outdoor display was such that I started thinking some crazy thoughts...Every team should play an outdoor game every year! Wait! Every team should have a designated outdoor arena and play multiple outdoor games every year! They can have an indoor home schedule and an outdoor home schedule! What if the NHL became a mostly outdoor league? I told you they were crazy ideas.

All that being said, it struck me that the Winter Classic was really programming for the hockey fan. I'm not sure that it accomplished much in the way of conversions. After the initial appeal of the spectacle wore off, it was easy to see how the slower pace and the numerous interruptions to clean and repair the ice could have caused the non hockey fan to lose interest. For all the Sidney Crosby hype, he wasn't that noticeable for long stretches between the first goal and the shootout clincher.

In contrast, it may have been the slower pace that added something special to this game for me. The game seemed more pure, maybe because the playing surface, while literally bumpy, was figuratively more even. With everyone competing against the elements, it was all about giving the extra effort, staying focused, and persevering.
Maybe watching the Islanders having to grind it out for so long has changed my perception of the game. Plus, it was nice to actually see the puck wind around the end boards and have the goalies be able to play it without looking like they were trying to hurdle the net to get there in time.

Based on the early response, I imagine we will see the Winter Classic again. How soon? Assuming the right people made the right amount of money, probably next January 1. Some have suggested that only the All-Star Game should be played outdoors. That's not a terrible idea considering that playing outdoors does introduce an element of inconsistency to the schedule, let alone the game itself. But I imagine that most Islanders fans would like to see their team compete on such a stage.

The Islanders have two things working in their favor to get the nod: (1) Their own enthusiasm for making it happen; and (2) The fact that their rival happens to be a team that the networks love to put on TV. On the other hand, I think the networks have become wary of featuring New York-centric sporting events because they don't seem to garner significant interest across the rest of the country.

Despite my interest in the Winter Classic, I did wander away from the game at one point, leaving me with a dilemma for a couple of hours. FSN, in what can't be characterized as a great counterprogramming move, was airing a documentary called Ice Kings, which tells the story of the fabled Mount Saint Charles Academy hockey team. It was difficult to stay away. Mount Saint Charles won the Rhode Island Boys Division I (as it is now called) Hockey State Championship every year from 1978 though 2003. In other words, take the 26 World Series championships earned by the Yankees in their entire history and put them back to back to back to back get the picture.

This was such a compelling story. I won't get into too many details but one of the most outstanding themes was the pressure these kids felt not to be the ones to break the streak once it started getting up there. You just keep asking yourself, how does one school win 26 consecutive championships? There was also a strong Islanders tie to the story. Garth Snow, Bryan Berard, and Mathieu Schneider all played for Mount Saint Charles during their run. I managed to catch interview segments with Snow and Schneider during my flipping. If you have the opportunity to catch this documentary, I definitely recommend it.

One thing I wondered about was what happened to the program after they finally lost the streak? I suspected that repairing a break in that kind of momentum wouldn't be easy. This page confirmed my suspicion...Mount Saint Charles has not won another state title since the streak ended. But take a moment to scroll through that list of champions. Seeing the streak in print is really something.

Almost time for the Islanders and Panthers to get underway...enjoy the game!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Stand Up and Take a Bow

It's the first day of 2008, and I feel like handing out some accolades...

To the Islander players, for finishing 2007 with a strong 5 wins in 6 games, including a convincing one-off road-trip victory in Carolina on New Year's Eve. The only team out of reach at the moment is Ottawa. It's going to be a wild second half.

To Ted Nolan, for instilling in his team
the belief that a squad without a top-tier offensive player can reach the top tier of the league.

To Richard Park, for running away with the opportunity to break free of labels and stereotypes that limited the roles he had been given throughout his NHL career. Maybe he won't finish the year on a scoring line, but he continues to prove that he can be one of those guys.

To Wade Dubielewicz, for answering the call and those who doubted his ability to do so (myself included).

To Rick DiPietro, for transforming himself into a leader with presence, deserving of high praise.

To Jeff Tambellini, for being named AHL Player of the Week and making it difficult for people to forget about him.

To John Hynes, Kyle Okposo, Rhett Rakhshani, Tyler Rueggsegger, James vanRiemsdyk, and the rest of the U.S. National Junior Team, for advancing impressively through the preliminary round of the WJC and earning a bye into the semis. Isles prospects Okposo and Rakhshani have been overshadowed on the scoring leaderboard by vanRiemsdyk, Colin Wilson, and Jordan Schroeder (not to mention Isles propsect Robin Figren playing for Sweden) but their line has been recognized numerous times for dominating play and they made significant scoring contributions to Team USA's 4-0 start.

To Brendan Witt, for being the kind of warrior that every good team needs.

To Freddy Meyer and Blake Comeau, for making Aaron Johnson's return to the active roster a very interesting story.

To Bill Guerin, for filling the role of captain admirably, and for demonstrating that there's plenty of life left in him.

To my colleagues in the Blog Box (and some outside of it), for their outstanding work, which provides us all with an unprecedented richness of Islanders coverage, and for their
spirit of generosity.

This was not meant to be a recap of the 2007 portion of the season. These were simply some people who stood out in my mind recently.

And here's a fun one...The other day I was checking in on Team USA's performance at the WJC via the live updates at (thanks to Slap Shot). At the top of the page, I noticed the in-progress score of a game in which Skalica was trouncing Trencin 7-0. Remembering that Skalica was Ziggy Palffy's hometown, I clicked on the scoreboard link. Sure enough, there was Ziggy all over the scoresheet with a goal and 3 assists. That one brought a smile to my face.

Ziggy was the first player I can remember being proud of. I remember watching him quickly go from being a young, struggling talent to an NHL-caliber sniper and feeling proud because he became exactly what the Islanders hoped he would be. It's too bad that his 3 consecutive forty-goal seasons didn't coincide with better results for the team. Sadder still, that his time on the Island was cut short by frugal ownership.

Please note that the playoff confidence poll is still open. If you haven't voted yet, please feel free to voice your opinion. Vote "10" if you think the Isles are a lock for the playoffs, "0" if you think they have no shot, or any other degree of confidence in between.