Friday, February 29, 2008

Core of the Four Resolved?

I think I finally have this discrepancy in the Core of the Four roster figured out. In the comments to the previous post, Joyce relayed Howie Rose's statement that there are 16 players and Al Arbour is the 17th member of the Core. That would be a suitable explanation from Howie if not for the fact that the list of players published by the Islanders includes 17 names. Let's look at that list one more time:

  1. Mike Bossy
  2. Bob Bourne
  3. Clark Gillies
  4. Butch Goring
  5. Lorne Henning
  6. Anders Kallur
  7. Gord Lane
  8. Dave Langevin
  9. Wayne Merrick
  10. Ken Morrow
  11. Bob Nystrom
  12. Stefan Persson
  13. Denis Potvin
  14. Billy Smith
  15. Duane Sutter
  16. John Tonelli
  17. Bryan Trottier
The confusion must come from the fact that one name on that list was with the team for all four cups, but was only a player for two of them. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lorne Henning, who stepped behind the bench as an assistant to Al Arbour starting with the 1981-82 season. Two cups as a player, two cups as a coach.

Again, the point of this was never to catch anyone in a mistake. Mostly, I just wanted to get the facts correct when I posted about it, and hearing the number flip-flop between 16 and 17 was unnerving. Perhaps I also erred in my interpretation of the list. It starts off with Bill Torrey and Al Arbour, so I assumed the remainder of the list to be players. In fact, it may have started off with just Bill Torrey, and then listed everyone else in alphabetical order, including Arbour and Henning.

And while we're tidying up, nice job by Greg Logan using his blog to clarify Ted Nolan's comments about Rick DiPietro's condition. It's one of the benefits of new media that situations like that can be set straight so quickly and easily. Thanks to NYIsles1 for getting the story of DiPietro's loss into the comments here so quickly, and best wishes to the DiPietro family...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

2/28/08: Islanders 5, Thrashers 4, OT

Congrats to Rob Davison on collecting his first point as an Islander (and his first point this season). Davison connected on a longball to Mike Comrie, who skated in from the blue line and then muscled the puck through Kari Lehtonen to give the Isles a 1-0 lead. For you Uniwatchers, the Isles’ newest defenseman was playing with no laces in his collar. And Davison's top under-garment looks like a Space Lizard uniform. I haven't seen an Islanders player wearing anything similar. I say protective scales for everyone!

I find it very odd that no one seems to know for sure how many players make up the Core of the Four. The list published by the Islanders definitely has 17 player names. (I've counted it at least ten times now.) For some reason, the number 16 keeps popping up. I've seen it in newspaper articles, heard it on game broadcasts, and one of the honorees even mentioned the group of 16 on the NHL's XM channel today. It's not that big of a deal, but it is odd. Looks like it's time to go to the Media Guide again.

After 20 minutes of tonight's game in Atlanta, I was mind-writing about how pleasantly surprised I was to see the Islanders dictating the play against a wounded team. My fear going in was that these must-have two points would be fumbled away and would have to be made up as part of some near-impossible winning streak against better teams. So the 2-0, and then 3-0, lead defied expectations. Now I'm sitting here wondering how the team could look so complacent in the second period. Another shorthanded goal, albeit a penalty shot. Including the penalty shot, the Isles have taken 4 penalties while playing with the man advantage. I also wasn't thrilled to see DiPietro give up a goal to Zhitnik on a shot that Rick had a clear view of. Maybe it was just a mental lapse or a wrong guess (left the post too soon), but his play continues to lack the sharpness it had before the All-Star break. Whether it's physical or mental, it's worrisome.

In his debut for Minnesota, Chris Simon received 7:42 of ice time, all at even strength, skated 13 shifts, and registered one hit, one shot, and a -1.

Early in the third, the Islanders are 0-5 on the power play with under 5:00 of man-advantage time.

Berard just chipped the puck into Comrie from the blue line and Comrie hit the top-right corner to put the Isles back in front 4-3.

This wasn't intended to be a live blog, but since I was writing while watching the game, it might as well be!

Originally, I was going to call this post "Atlanta Nuggets" and then make a joke about how Carmelo Anthony isn't actually being relocated to Georgia. But this way, if no one thinks it's amusing, there's really not all that much riding on it.

Rick is starting to make some big plays now. But the pressure on him has caused the Isles to take a penalty with just over 7:00 remaining in the third. Perhaps that's preferable to receiving a power play.

Successful kill. DiPietro stood tall, and held his position, the couple of times he was called on during that PK.

Holik given too much room, wrists one by DiPietro from the slot to tie the game 4-4 with 1:22 left in the third. Replays show that the puck glanced off of Davison's skate on the way in. Billy Jaffe argues that DiPietro would have been better positioned to handle the deflection had he challenged the shooter more. While there's no guarantee, it's a good observation.

In overtime, Joe Vasicek picks off a bad pass by Ken Klee behind the net and feeds Trent Hunter in front for the game winner. You know how there are high-scoring football games where they say that whichever team has the ball last will win? In this contest, the team that made the last poor play lost. Good finish by Hunter, though. Bank the two points and get out of town. There's no credit for style anymore.

That was a telling answer by Ted Nolan in the postgame when he was asked by Greg Logan whether DiPietro is playing with an injury. Nolan all but confirmed that his goalie is far from 100%.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Isles Execute Perfect Dive at the Deadline

That is to say, no splash. Greg Louganis would be impressed. I can't say that I'm too disappointed at the way in which the day unfolded, especially considering my recent call for stability and continuity. My only concern is whether Garth Snow will be able to add a top-tier talent or two over the summer to boost this club out of the middle of the pack. That would have been a concern regardless of what happened today, barring an aberrant inflation in the value of Fedotenko, Vasicek, or Satan. I certainly wasn't expecting anything splashy.

It's good to see that Jeff Tambellini will continue to get a look, and I hope that when the season is over there's no doubt that it was a fair look. When Tambellini was sent down recently to accommodate Chris Simon's return, it didn't bother me that much simply because it was obvious that Tambellini wouldn't be receiving worthwhile minutes. He was better off back at Bridgeport getting first-line minutes than playing 6-8 minutes a night on the Island.

Here are some quick thoughts on the deals that were made...

Rob Davison from San Jose for a 7th-round pick. Here, Garth Snow simply filled a need. In his fifth season in the NHL, Davison has yet to establish himself as a no-brainer for a spot in the lineup every night, partially due to being injured frequently. However, his reputation as a tough customer and a tough, reliable defender should make him a welcome addition to the Islanders' depleted defensive corps. For now, Davison slots nicely into the role vacated by Andy Sutton. Brendan Witt's pending return will create job competition between Davison and Aaron Johnson for the last spot on the blue line--unless Ted Nolan becomes dissatisfied with Bryan Berard.

Marc-Andre Bergeron to Anaheim for a 3rd-round pick. This one is puzzling mostly because you have to wonder what Anaheim wants with Bergeron. He's not going to take power-play time away from Pronger, Niedermayer, or Schneider. Perhaps Brian Burke is sending a message to Francois Beauchemin, whose play has slipped this year. I have to think that Bergeron will be spending most of the next 20 games in the press box (Burke knows how to get tickets there). From an Islander perspective, it's not as though Bergeron's relative success on the power play was raising the level of the team's overall man-advantage play. The Islanders entered tonight's game succeeding with the extra man at a rate of only 16.2%, ranked 24th in the league. Given the choice, I might have kept Bergeron over Berard. There's little chance that choice was available because I doubt Berard had much trade value, let alone a third-rounder. Call this one moving on now, rather than sooner or later.

Chris Simon to the Wild for a 6th-round pick. I understood Ted Nolan's reasoning for wanting a player like Simon in the lineup. You don't necessarily need a guy who's going to beat the stuffing out of someone every game. But it helps when the other team knows that there's a guy around who can do that. That being said, my biggest concern about the trade of Simon is not the loss of his protection services but how it affects the relationship between Nolan and the front office. Mike Schuerlein of reported today that Nolan was "clearly unhappy" that Simon was sent packing. I don't think Nolan will punish Tambellini because he's taking Simon's spot in the lineup. I hope the coach doesn't take the deal as a personal slight, and I have no reason to believe that he will. The bottom line is that Simon would have had a diminished role with the Islanders and his roster spot is better spent on a player who is up and coming. I'd like to put a smiley face on the trade by telling you that moving on and getting a fresh start is the best thing for Simon, and that Nolan endorsed the idea for that reason. Of course, I don't know if that's really the case. I imagine that, like Brian Campbell, Colby Armstrong, and others, he would have been happier to stay where he was.

With only a few hours of perspective, I feel that the net result is that it became harder for the Islanders to make the playoffs today. The team obviously didn't improve its talent level and I have this fear that the power play is going to go 0-for-80 the rest of the way (0-for-7 so far tonight). The unusual thing is that if they do miss the playoffs, I'm already excited about next year. The Kid Line is looking more and more comfortable, and the biggest kid isn't even here yet. The GM has a plan, and so far he's sticking to it.

Some may think that the best thing now is to fade into a lottery pick. That just goes against all of my instincts. Maybe I still haven't recovered from seven straight years of being on the outside looking in (and 22-win seasons). With only 18 more games left after tonight, I still want the Islanders to be in the thick of things come April.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Full Steam Ahead (Ren McCormack Is a Good Hockey Name)

It's Monday night and the player-movement train has already started to pick up steam. Peter Forsberg has returned to the Avs. Vaclav Prospal has been sent back to the Flyers. Dan Boyle is signed in Tampa. I can't tell you how disappointed I am that the train will essentially be leaving me behind at the station.

For a hockey fan, the trade deadline brings about one of the most exciting days in all of sports. I put it on par with Opening Day in baseball, Opening Night in hockey, and any playoff game. The difference with those days, however, is that other than the game results, you know what's going to happen: games will be played. Anything could happen at the trade deadline. Even if you're 99% sure a player is going to be traded, the destination and return package remains mostly a mystery until the trade is announced. And then there are the shockers.

Unfortunately, trade deadlines, including the NHL's, usually occur in the middle of the day. On this occasion, this particular blogger is unable to set aside his actual job. I will be hard-pressed to even follow the action as it happens, let alone participate in it. As much as I would love to be joining my colleagues in the Blog Box tomorrow at the Coliseum, it's just not possible.

So, to paraphrase the Reverend Shaw Moore: "I'm told that the charter class of Islanders bloggers has got use of the Blog Box in the Coliseum for the purpose of covering the trade deadline. Please...join me to pray to the hockey gods to guide them in their endeavors."

Let's dance!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have fun, guys and gal!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Building a New Core

Mark Herrman stole a little of the thunder of this post with his article on next Sunday's Core of the Four celebration in today's edition of Newsday, but since I've been planning to do this for several days now, it's as good a time as any to carry through with it. And now, with the re-signing of Trent Hunter, there's a new wrinkle to add.

What's the most remarkable aspect of the Core of the Four event? Setting aside the depth of talent on the list of players the Islanders will be honoring, it's the sheer length of the list. The following 17 players played on all four Stanley Cup Championship teams from 1980-1983 (I'm not sure why the Herrman piece states the number as 16, unless one of the honorees is known not to be attending):

Mike Bossy

Bob Bourne
Clark Gillies
Butch Goring
Lorne Henning
Anders Kallur
Gord Lane
Dave Langevin
Wayne Merrick
Ken Morrow
Bob Nystrom
Stefan Persson
Denis Potvin
Billy Smith
Duane Sutter
John Tonelli
Bryan Trottier

The ceremonies will also honor General Manager Bill Torrey, Head Coach Al Arbour, Trainer Ron Waske, and Equipment Manager Jim Pickard.

By today's standards, the idea that 17 players could remain with one team for 4+ years is simply astounding. Go back to the Islanders roster from just two season ago and you will find only 11 names that have made appearances on this season's roster. That includes six players who played in fewer than 30 games in '05-'06. Of course, the fact that those 17 players kept winning probably played no small part in keeping them together.

Yes, the times have changed and the rules have changed. Disregarding CBAs and NHLPA strategies, I still sometimes find myself longing for the days when we could root for a team of players rather than, as Jerry Seinfeld put it, laundry. Those days may be gone for good unless we witness a revolution in sports management. It just so happens that the Islanders have a revolutionary thinker as an owner.

One of the tenets that Charles Wang brought over to the NHL from his corporate career at Computer Associates is that when you find good people, you keep them around. That is why Rick DiPietro has a 15-year contract, and why Trent Hunter was just given a five-year deal. Fans will be able to debate who merits consideration as "good people" based on talent and character. Ultimately, Mr. Wang and Garth Snow will make those decisions. Hopefully, in doing so, they build a new core that is capable of winning championships.

Wouldn't it be great if every summer, instead of looking for five new key components for the lineup, the organization needed only to add one key player or a few complementary pieces? That's what having a solid core will do for you. Tuesday's trade deadline could bring about the exit of any of at least a half dozen players. I'm not saying don't trade anyone now. The new core is hardly complete. But it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the roster four years from now has about a dozen names on it that are in the organization right now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

You Say Ovechkin, I Say...Well, I Say Ovechkin Too

OK, so bad example.

Thanks to Islanders Army and Japers' Rink for picking up the previous post on the advertising travesty that is the Versus "60" commercial. I realize that "travesty" may be a little strong, especially if you're not an Islanders fan who views the commercial as a tremendous slight to Mike Bossy. And that is what this post is about: diverse perspectives.

Prior to Wednesday night's game against the Caps, I was looking forward to paying a visit to Japers' Rink to see what the opposition was saying about the upcoming game. Reading the Gamenight preview and its accompanying comments was an eye-opener.

Let me say right from the outset that the purpose of this post is not to stir anything up with Caps fans. The Caps have an outstanding blogging community and I have enjoyed reading Japers' Rink since the operators first contacted Isles bloggers for quotes before the first meeting of the season between these two teams. It's a very sharp bunch over there, as well demonstrated by this comment from Sean, who said after viewing the Versus commercial:

"Hull's name shown inside the crease...someone at Versus a Sabres fan?"
Now that was an inspired observation. The purpose here is to show how our opinions as hockey fans are colored by different perspectives and the biases formed by having an allegiance to a particular team. It is also an opportunity to get a glimpse of how the Islanders are perceived around the league.

In the Gamenight post for Wednesday, JP wrote:

"I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you're gonna make the playoffs, you've gotta beat the teams you've gotta beat. This certainly is one of those teams, and one with whom the Caps shouldn't have a whole hell of a lot of trouble."

Replace "Caps" with "Isles" and I was thinking the exact same thing. Granted, the Isles give away a lot in offensive talent to the Caps. The teams obviously have very different strengths at this point. The Isles have tightened up their defense and goaltending, and produced some timely scoring, to turn a seven-game losing streak around into what is now a six-game winning streak. The Caps have played much better under Bruce Boudreau and are in contention to win the Southeast. However, the teams entered the game with nearly identical records. In reality, neither of us had any real reason to dismiss the other team.

The first comment in response to the Gamenight post began with this:

"When a club sucks -- and the Isles do..."

This is where I ask, "Really?" And then I wonder, "Is this what the rest of the NHL's fans think? And, if so, is it merely a function of the recent losing streak that saw the Isles plummet out of the playoff picture?" I understand that no one looks over the roster and trembles with fear. But when a team has won four in a row and is a point ahead of you in the standings, where does the motivation come from to say that they suck? What followed, of course, was a reasonable assessment of how the Isles would probably win playing the style that best suits their circumstances. And it must be frustrating to anticipate losing to a team with marginal talent. But the talent level is far from the complete story with this Islanders team. Yet, the team still seems to be paying for the sins of the '90s and the accompanying joke-franchise label. The perception is that it's still one of the easiest teams to put down, and that it's deserving of those put-downs. The results achieved over the last six seasons, while not stellar or brag-worthy, should suggest otherwise.

After the game, there was more of the same in the Thursday Open Thread. One comment began:

"What an opportunity, a crappy team limps its way into town..."

And further down the line:

"This one really pissed me off. The FRIGGIN ISLANDERS for crap's sake!"

Maybe this is more about the current state of affairs--no superstars and injuries lowering the bar even further. I was simply taken aback by the lack of consideration given to the Isles by a few fans and wanted to muse about what's behind it. Is it the past? The present? A combination of both, and add in a hint of unconventional ownership philosophies? Perhaps some fans of other NHL franchises will let us know what still drives their perception of the Islanders. The team has no current claim to the upper echelon. I think it does have a claim against being summarily dismissed. But maybe I'm just biased. Or easily swayed by six-game winning streaks.

Let me reiterate that the point here wasn't to call anyone out. I'm fully aware that there are probably Islanders fans taking similar shots at the Capitals on some comment thread or message board. In a way, seeing our teams from the perspective of rival fans keeps us honest. At the very least, it provides us with an opportunity to do a critical examination of our own teams with less influence from our natural biases.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Few Questions

Can the Isles win five in a row?
I read the other day that the Islanders have not had a five-game winning streak since 1994. If not for the seven-year drought, I would have a hard time comprehending that. Even taking the dark days into consideration, it's a remarkable note. (Correction: I looked into this further. According to the Islanders 2007-2008 Media Guide, they actually won six games in a row in December 2003.) It would be nice to see this team, at this point of the season, put up a five-spot on the schedule. Nonetheless, I'm not going to pin down such a streak as a must-have. The Isles can still afford to lose a game here and there. They don't have to nearly run the table. What they can't afford is any more losing streaks, even of the two- and three-game variety. If you haven't checked out James Mirtle's playoff push, the latest version shows that the Islanders need to finish up the season 14-7-1 in order to earn the estimated number of points that will be required to qualify for the playoffs. Right now he's putting that number at 92 in the Eastern Conference. I'm not currently buying the premise put forth in the Yahoo! Power Rankings that the Isles have too many teams to climb over. At this point, they can still just take care of their own business and keep climbing.

How far can the defensive corps bend before it breaks?
The loss of Andy Sutton hurts because replacing a 6'6" defenseman with a 6'1" defenseman simply isn't an even exchange. Hopefully Drew Fata can bring to the table comparable toughness and shutdown defense, if not comparable size. When I heard that Sutton would be out 4-6 weeks, my first thought was that Garth Snow's trade-deadline mission was now clear: acquire a big, stay-at-home defenseman above all else. Then I realized that Bruno Gervais is still considered day-to-day and Brendan Witt is considered anywhere from one to three weeks away. On top of that, Islander Frontier presents a pretty convincing argument for standing pat with the defense. The only scary part is the lack of available depth should the Gervais or Witt injuries linger or if someone else (bite my tongue) gets hurt. But, as we all know, this team's success hinges on top-to-bottom effort and playing the system. As long as the team as a whole is giving maximum effort and playing the system, I'm willing to believe that a young, inexperienced defenseman can step in during the stretch run and play up to speed if necessary. By the way, another Mirtle metric, his Rod Langway Award, exposes exactly what the Islanders are missing in Witt. Going by this measurement, at the time of his injury, Witt was the tenth-best defensive defenseman in the league.

Forgetting Someone, Versus?
Versus is currently running a commercial for its NHL coverage that centers around Alexander Ovechkin's quest for 60 goals. To build up the prestige of the accomplishment, the ad displays the names of great NHL goal scorers who previously reached the standard for which Ovechkin is now shooting. I'm doing this from memory, so forgive me if my recollection is faulty. The names we see in the commercial include Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull, Esposito, and Lafleur. Can you think of anybody else whose inclusion would have been appropriate in a list of great goal scorers who put sixty pucks in the net? And it's not as though Mike Bossy occupies some lower quadrant of this list. See for yourself:

60-Goal Seasons
Milestone Breakdown
60(1x), 70(2x), 80(1x), 90(1x)
60(2x), 70(1x), 80(1x)
60(3x), 70(1x)
Br. Hull
70(2x), 80(1x)

That's right, Bossy is at the top of the list with Gretzky in this department. Granted, Bossy never hit any of those other sexy numbers. But his exclusion from this campaign is a shame.

Update: OK, so either I was imaging things or there's an edited version of the commercial. I just saw it again and the only names shown were Gretzky, Lemieux, and Hull. That would give the list a more contemporary slant, which certainly would be understandable in trying to relate Ovechkin to the recent greats who have accomplished the feat. If anyone has seen this ad with Espo and Lafleur included, please let us know. Otherwise, I have no idea why thoughts of those guys are in my head presently.

Update II: Ha, I'm not crazy! I guess Versus is showing this thing just about every commercial break now. Indeed, there is a version that includes the Esposito and Lafleur names! And a gaping hole where #22 should be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wait, Don't Trade Us Yet!

"Oh, big scrum today. We must be winning." --Rick DiPietro

Yes, it was, Rick. And yes, you are. What better way to confront a large media presence in the locker room than on the heels of the most dominant performance by the Islanders in recent memory? Want to feel good about how your team is playing? Have them up 43-7 in shots with 9:30 left in the third. Shots on goal don't always enable you to make a good correlation to winning. In fact, the Islanders have a better record when they are outshot than they do when they outshoot. But 20 shots in the first period indicated that something was going right. And the final margin of 49-10 left no doubt: one of these teams played like it doesn't want to be broken up at the deadline. The other one played like it knows Marian Hossa's bags are packed.

Let's take a look at the ins and outs of the Islanders' three-game-winning-streak-producing 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers...

In a remarkable slap in the face to the rising cost of everything, the price of free chili has actually gone down to 3 goals. More on that later.

Miro Satan entered this game with an impressive resume against Atlanta: 21-20-41 in 29 games. More on that later, too.

Andy Hilbert took a holding penalty 50 seconds into the game. For those of you scoring at home, the injuries to Sillinger and Witt have caused Ted Nolan to adjust the penalty killing units as follows: Vasicek and Hunter came out first with Martinek and Sutton. The forward pair was relieved by Park and Fedotenko, while the defensive pair gave way to Meyer and Bergeron. Bergeron, however, would end up with only :28 of PK time for the game. Aaron Johnson joined Martinek, Sutton, and Meyer in killing off 5 of 6 Thrasher power plays.

Regardless of how the Islanders finish in the standings, this final portion of the season may be best known for the emergence of Sean Bergenheim (note: I wrote this in the first period, before he scored again). Of course, if Bergie finishes the season as strongly as it looks like he will, it will mostly be to avoid the Wrath of Karl. And, yes, Dee does type insanely fast. Her fingers seem to fly around the keyboard as though not attached to her hands.

The New York Lottery Seat Upgrade contest was won tonight by Neil Diamond. Not kidding. But not that Neil Diamond.

Kudos to Game Ops for playing Counting Crows. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings hits stores March 25.

With about 5:40 left in the first, it looked as though Vasicek had banged home a rebound. Apparently, though, it was clear to everyone on the ice that it had not gone in. Imagine that. They all saw it better than we did.

Just over 30 seconds later, Richard Park drove behind the net from right to left, turned back away from his defender, and headed back from left to right. Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen followed Park, who then flipped a backhand pass across the grain from behind the net to Satan, who was streaking in from the left wing. With Lehtonen now at the left post looking for Park, who wasn't there, Satan easily put home the first goal of the game. That's 22 goals and 42 points in 30 games for Satan against the Thrashers. (See? I told you there would be more.)

It was a good first period for the Isles, and the fans let them know it with appreciative applause as the clock wound down.

If you're reading this and it ends here, please tune back in Sunday afternoon/evening for the rest of our story, at no extra cost...

And here it is...Ruslan Fedotenko is just tenacious around the net right now. Early in the second, he went behind the net to gather in the rebound of a Vasicek shot and skated out the other side with a wraparound stuff attempt. Lehtonen made the initial stop, but Fedotenko was not to be denied. He roofed his own rebound to put the Isles up 2-0.

Four minutes into the second frame, DiPietro took his second delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. As Satan headed to the box to serve the minor, just seven seconds after vacating it from his own high-sticking infraction, the PA announcer alerted the crowd to a car in the parking lot with its lights on. The car's license plated started with DPE. Yes, error on DiPietro.

Just past the halfway point of the game, some hard skating behind the net by Franz Nielsen resulted in the first power play of the game for the Isles. 1:01 later, Atlanta took a bench minor for too many men, giving the Isles a 5-on-3. Early in the two-man advantage, Marc-Andre Bergeron made a less-than-stellar attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone with his backhand. Shortly thereafter, Bergeron had another opportunity to keep the puck in the zone, which Ken Dick implored him to do before predicting that having been properly admonished, Bergeron would now score. With the crowd growing typically impatient for a shot on the 5-on-3, Bergeron reared back and fired a slapper home. And there was cheap chili for all.

Without about 3 minutes left in the second, Blake Comeau flattened two Thrashers in about five seconds in the offensive zone. I was sure at that point that Comeau would have a target on his back for the rest of the game.

In the third, the Isles kept the pressure on. They were not content to lay back and protect the three-goal lead. They were rewarded for this style at the 7:50 mark. Freddy Meyer skated the length of the ice, dumped in, gave chase, and bumped Toby Enstrom off the puck to regain possession. Meyer then fed Bergenheim for his seventh of the year and a 4-0 Islanders lead.

It was just two minutes later that the target on Comeau's back was finally engaged. Comeau hit Garnet Exelby behind the Thrasher net. Exelby pushed Comeau down as they began to head back up ice. As Comeau skated away, Exelby placed the blade of his stick between Comeau's legs and gave him an upward hack to the groin. When Comeau turned around to face him, Exelby put his hands around Comeau's neck and choked him. The Atlanta defenseman then started throwing punches while Comeau's hands remained at his side, gloves on. Exelby never seemed fully committed to hurting Comeau. The spear and the choke were kind of half-hearted and looked ridiculous. But make no mistake, the actions suggest a clear intent to injure, even if the execution was lame. My guess is that forthcoming punishment to Exelby will not be that harsh. Bryan Berard earned major points for being the first to Comeau's aid, and the young forward came out of the incident unscathed. And, apparently, amused.

The Islanders finished out the game strongly, despite giving up a shutout-ruining power-play goal with 1:17 remaining. They continued to hit the sluggish Thrashers through the final minutes. It would have been nice to see DiPietro pick up the shutout and for the Isles to hold the Thrashers to single-digit shots. However, the ten shots against still set a franchise record. The team was quite proud of the accomplishment.

They're not all the way back from the brink yet. But it's certainly a lot more fun this way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two-Minute Minors

In an effort to get the writing juices flowing again, here are a few things that have been bouncing around in my head without compelling me to dedicate entire posts to them:

Ted Nolan committed to a full-time pairing of Bryan Berard and Marc-Andre Bergeron to start last night's game against Philadelphia. He had previewed this twinning of offensive-minded defensemen for a shift or two at a time in a couple of games over the past few weeks, so I wasn't entirely surprised to see it resurface. Still, it was impossible not to question the sanity of the move even considering the absences of Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais. But maybe there was method to the madness. Maybe Berard and Bergeron, fully recognizing the perception (and reality) of them as a pair, are working that much harder to tighten up their game for each other. Against the Flyers, they each finished +2. Is Nolan on to something? Well, it's a theory. But it's only been one game. Now that Witt is down, we may have a chance to witness study carried out to its conclusion.

The buzz surrounding the return of Chris Simon is in full crescendo. The official Web site is full of pictures of Simon smiling. I've said all I care to about the issue for now, and thanks to Islander Frontier for recapping the generous amount of blogger coverage. Instead, the pictures of Simon provoked a funny thought in my head. What if Simon returns a changed man? I mean totally changed. What if he returns to the lineup with that smile fixed permanently on his face offering only pleasantries to opponents before politely skating around them? He could be like the hockey version of Pedro Cerrano in Major League II.

We often gripe about the lack of media coverage the Islanders receive. So I feel it is responsible to recognize when that trend is pushed back, even if only briefly. The New York Times recently featured a Dave Caldwell piece on the AHL rivalry in Connecticut between the Sound Tigers and Wolfpack, as well as a Tal Pinchevsky profile of Mike Sillinger. I read the latter in an actual print copy of the Times, and you can imagine my shock when I turned the page and saw Mike Sillinger's name in a headline. Anyway, good work Times. Keep it up.

Of course, not all of the Times's recent coverage was flattering to the Isles. But I never imagined that Lynn Zinser's Slap Shot post on the Pat LaFontaine/Brian Burke incident would give these guys another chance to take a swipe at the Blog Box. I had a long post on the subject of LaFontaine prepared, but various circumstances have conspired to confine it to my inner blog.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Notes from a Losing Streak

What follows are my notes from tonight's game, a 4-3 loss to the Penguins. In some places they will read like a live blog, in others like preparation for a recap/analysis.

First Period

  • Colliton off to a good start with a big hit on the forecheck.
  • Fedotenko follows with a big hit of his own.
  • Witt stands up Gonchar.
  • Hilbert takes advantage of Conklin misplay and feeds Comrie for an empty-net tap-in.
  • Islander players have been taken down twice on plays that I have to think would be penalties if they had happened the other way.
  • Of course, as soon as an Islander gets his stick in someone’s way, it’s a penalty.
  • Vasicek with Hunter up front on the kill. DiPietro is rewarded for robbing Malone by having the PK unit caught flat-footed. 1-1
  • Comrie gets involved in his second fight in a couple of weeks.
  • The Islanders are throwing the puck out in front of the net and there’s actually someone there to try to convert it.
  • Colliton tried to set the tone early for the Isles, and he did for a while until the Penguins reset it with a PP goal.
  • Not a bad road period.
Second Period
  • The intensity just doesn’t look like it’s enough, especially on the power play.
  • And then Hunter finds Fedotenko on the power play. Hunter has looked sharper this game, looking to shoot more and getting some pucks on the net. This was a good look to Fedotenko who did a good job finishing. 2-2
  • The Islanders always seem to be just a bit too slow or a bit too far out of position to take advantage of a fortuitous bounce around the net.
  • At least the shots are getting through tonight.
  • FSN picture is lousy again tonight. This time it’s grainy. Last time the color was dull and the contrast was bad.
  • Whitney scores on the PP, wasn’t much of a shot but DiPietro was probably screened. 3-2
  • Islanders have no chance if this parade to the box continues. Second in a row for Sutton.
  • PP for Isles with just under three minutes left gives them a chance to turn this from a poor period into a wash.
  • The Nielsen line hasn’t done much to distinguish itself.
Third Period
  • Best game Hunter has played in a long time.
  • Comrie’s near-impossible angle goal is giving legitimacy to Nolan’s preference to stick with his veterans. All of tonight’s goals so far have come from two of the oft-criticized, slumping forwards that the Islanders must get more production from. Meanwhile, the kids haven’t provided much of a spark, save for Colliton’s hitting.
  • And the power play has scored twice. Almost hard to believe.
  • Two power play assists from Freddy Meyer are making me look silly for saying just two days ago that the power play wasn’t going anywhere with him at the point.
  • Would the Islanders gladly trade the Crosby injury for one to Malone or Whitney?
  • Apparently Letang and Comrie are playing HORSE and Letang just matched Comrie’s sharp-angle deposit. 4-3 Pens
  • Amazing that they could win the faceoff in the key 6-on-5 situation and not get control of the puck.
  • Apparently it had been too long since the Islanders were the victim of a quick whistle that nullified a goal in the final seconds.
  • I don’t know if this was really the most painful of the six straight losses, but it was certainly the one they had the best chance to win.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Just a Matter of Time

It's just a matter of time. Not until the Islanders break out of this funk and win a game. Not until they manage to score a goal. It's just a matter of time is how I feel while watching them play any game lately. They can play any opponent close through the first period. They can kill off a bunch of penalties and be in position to force a change in momentum. But it's just a matter of time. It's just a matter of time before Scott Niedermayer threads one through on the power play. Just a matter of time before Todd Marchant and Doug Weight find enough room to put the game out of reach. Just a matter of time before the weaknesses in the structure are exposed and the inner wall is breached. It's not a fun way to watch a hockey game.

If you snap your head around very quickly, I swear you can still see the headline stating that the Islanders are going for six games over .500. It was that recent. Now, that team sits right at that delicate balancing point between unlikely and a lot of we-told-you-so's. And that's only if you discount the NHL's consolation-prize standings (just for appearing on our show today, you've won this valuable 1-point jar of Turtle Wax). Otherwise, they're really 24-30. But even at 24-24-6, they're looking at having to play at a clip they haven't achieved all season in order to qualify for the playoffs. This, at a time when winning with any kind of consistency seems unlikely. Right now, it feels like disaster. It feels like this team could struggle to win 30 games. And that's the doom and gloom report for February 6, 2008.

Let's look at the situation from a more practical perspective. There was a time when the lack of goal scoring was an annoyance, a mere impediment to the eventual playoff appearance that this team seemed likely to make. Now, it is the fatal flaw. How envious are you of Anaheim's lineup, despite their own recent slump? That lineup is stacked in comparison. Getzlaf, Perry, Kunitz, Selanne, Bertuzzi, Weight. I'm jealous of Ducks fans for just those six, and two of them are nowhere near what they once were. Weight is a complementary player on the Ducks at this point, but I see that he has nine goals and wonder, why can't we have a Doug Weight? I guess the algae is always greener on the other side of the pond.

The Islanders displayed an utter lack of discipline in this game. In what has become a trend, they took three more minors in the first period, which prevented them from getting their forward lines any kind of consistent flow. With new faces in the lineup and new combinations, this was especially damaging. Jeff Tambellini hopped over the boards for his first shift, but then had to circle right back to the bench because the Islanders had been whistled for another too-many-men bench minor. Fortunately for the Isles, through twenty minutes the Ducks were as off kilter as the Isles were undisciplined.

The management of the lineup is surely open to debate. I wanted to see Frans Nielsen center the third line in place of Andy Hilbert instead of starting on the fourth line. Hilbert hasn't done anything to distinguish himself as deserving of those minutes. He'll still get plenty of minutes on the penalty kill (seriously, plenty) where he really has distinguished himself and plays a key role. Why not give Nielsen, who has been every bit the impact setup man at Bridgeport, the opportunity to make something happen?

Then there is Tambellini. Early on, Howie Rose (along with Islanders fans everywhere) basically implored Ted Nolan to give Tambellini at least 15 minutes of ice time on one of the top two lines. It didn't happen. The AHL's leading goal scorer finished with 17 shifts covering 13:56. Nielsen was sent out 13 times for 9:01. Sean Bergenheim, who started on the fourth line with Nielsen, was entrusted with 7 shifts and 4:56 of ice time for his night's work. So much for the injection of youth. I don't want to ignore the fact that the Islanders were shorthanded six times, which obviously cuts into the ice time available to young players who do not have PK duties. But there was no concerted effort to see what these kids could do.

Finally, I'm not sure that the power play is being done any favors by scratching Bergeron AND Berard. You could argue that the power play hasn't been any good with them. I don't want to see both of them out there. However, the power play isn't going anywhere with Witt, Martinek, and Meyer as point men. Having one of Bergeron or Berard out there at least gives the opposing PK something to worry about. Perhaps we've reached the point where neither player is in the team's plans for next year, and so it's time to see what Aaron Johnson can do. If that's the case, the same could be said for some forwards who aren't pulling their weight. Did you catch the graphic on FSN before the game that detailed the scoring drought player by player? I'll have to see if I can reproduce it. It's truly sad to see how many players have scored 0, 1, or 2 goals over stretches ranging from two weeks to two months.

Monday, February 4, 2008

On the Roster

I'm as anxious as anyone to see how the most recent Bridgeport callups fare against the Los Angeles Just Ducks of Anaheim. Will Tambellini and Nielsen be paired on the same line with an incumbent? Or will they be assigned to different lines, thus giving the team a transfusion on three of its four lines (assuming that neither one was going to play with Brennan)?

The braintrust had some difficult decisions to make as far as where any callups would be slotted into the lineup (assuming that the decision to actually make callups was not difficult itself). It's rather unfortunate that the decision was rendered easier by injury (Sillinger) and illness (Park and Hunter). I'd certainly rather see a new-look squad that included both Sillinger and Park. While Sillinger's numbers have fallen off from last year, and Park's have fallen off in the last few weeks, they remain key components of a successful Islander team. As for Hunter, I have to admit that I am curious to see how the team looks with a little more speed and skill. The downside is that I like having a hitting machine out there, and Hunter's performance on the penalty kill cannot be overlooked. I don't imagine that he'll be spending additional time in the press box once he's recovered from the flu.

Then there are the ancillary stories. First, how will Okposo fare with new Sound Tiger linemates? It's not as though he can't adjust to playing with new faces. He went from Minnesota to Team USA to Bridgeport in a matter of weeks. But there will be a dropoff in talent no matter who fills in for Tambellini and Nielsen next to Okposo. Furthermore, Kyle will likely be looked to as more of a leader on his new line, whereas he was clearly the protege next to two guys with successful careers in professional hockey and tastes of the NHL. Of course, the convenience of having two forward spots open on the Island may last only a few days. Once Hunter and Park are healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see Nielsen and/or Tambellini right back next to Okposo.

Second, no matter how well Brennan fills Jackman's shoes, his big-club tryout has a finite lifespan. The Islanders have made it clear that the door to the bench is wide open for Chris Simon, whose return stands just over two weeks away. By then, the team will either have a lot of competition for jobs (if they turn things around) or a lot of vacancies to fill (if they're out of it).

Update: Now that I've had a chance to read the literature from the Islanders, I see that Nolan intends to play Tambellini and Nielsen together. I like this decision and it indicates to me that the pair will get a decent shake at quality ice time. Nolan also suggested that Park would be ready to go tomorrow night, but didn't mention Hunter. So, we should see Tambellini, Nielsen, and Brennan in for Sillinger, Hunter, and Jackman/7th defenseman, at least for one game. After that, it will be interesting to see whether one of the struggling regular forwards takes a seat.

Friday, February 1, 2008

1/31/08: Kings 3, Islanders 1

It really was as awful as they're saying it was. Instead of piling on one more heaping spoonful of disgust, which last night's performance undoubtedly deserves, I'm going to focus on the positive. What's that you say? I'm letting them off the hook? I'm looking at things through blue-and-orange-and-blue-and-white-and-
orange-colored glasses (that's some sleeve)? Well, the following is a list of things from last night that encouraged me. The list is not many, nor is it much.

Wade Dubielewicz: I now have complete confidence in Dubie when he's out there. He doesn't make me worry at all. He may not appear to swallow the puck up like the Death Star's tractor beam the way an elite goalie does, but he manages to get some body part in front of most pucks and keep them out of the net. Perhaps with more playing time, he'd demonstrate that degree of sharpness. He will not get that playing time, so this version of Dubielewicz is more than satisfactory.

Bryan Berard: The defenseman I called out last game looked different last night. He looked like he wanted to lead. Perhaps the first-period goal infused him with confidence. Whatever it was, Berard, more than anyone else, played with an I-want-to-be-the-one-who-gets-this-done attitude. In the locker room after the game, Berard's demeanor suggested the same. He seemed relaxed, poised, and quietly confident. Again, maybe he was simply happy about scoring. But with Campoli gone, it would be nice to see Berard step forward and stay forward (not literally). Berard also offered what I thought was the most candid comment of the night when he admitted that yes, he's kind of glad to be getting out of town for a few days considering how dismal things have become at home. He did qualify that statement by echoing what the other players said about the importance of being a strong home team. So, no, he's not looking to run away from the problems.

Josef Vasicek: On two occasions last night, Vasicek skated right up the gut of the offensive zone, strong on the puck, and looking like a player you don't want to see coming your way. His combination of size, skill, and mobility creates space, something that the Islanders just don't do with the kind of frequency that gets a defense worried and running around (another topic of conversation from last night's parking-lot postgame). I made an effort to get to the Coliseum last night specifically because I wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to watch western talents like Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, and Dustin Brown. No skater for either team really stood out last night (maybe Matt Moulson and Blake Comeau), but Kopitar and Frolov did each have a couple of moments where they showed why they are always a threat. They can singlehandedly create scoring opportunities using only their puckhandling skills. The Islanders don't have anyone who does this. When this season is over, Vasicek will have been exposed again as a player who doesn't produce consistently over the course of a season. But maybe he can have another 20-game stretch like the one that had him leading the team in goals for a time.

See, not much there. And that last one is a bit of a stretch.

By the way, if I were Neil Best, I would point out that Matt Moulson went to Cornell. But I'm not, so I won't.

Please join me Saturday at 4:30 PM EST as I fill in for Alex on Hockey Night on Long Island. Steve and I will host a special edition of the show following the 2:00 PM game between the Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens. Click the button at the top of the sidebar to go to the show page.