Monday, October 27, 2008

Pre-Game Reality Check

Today's Daily News preview of tonight's tilt with the Rangers says all you need to hear about how it feels to be an Islanders fan right now. To begin, the headline of Michael Obernauer's article reads, "Rangers head to Nassau Coliseum to face lowly Islanders." There you have it. Seven games into the season and they're already the lowly Islanders again. Hapless and the rest of the Dwarfs shouldn't be far behind.

Then you get right to the first paragraph and read how Nikolai Zherdev scored the tying goal for the Rangers Saturday night with 8.1 seconds left in the third period. No problems with bad ice for Mr. Zherdev. No shooting the puck right into the goalie's chest with the game on his stick. Tie game. Rangers win in overtime to boost their point total to a league leading 17. Meanwhile, with four fewer games played, the Islanders sit at the bottom of the league table with four points.

And just to put some salt into the wounds, Brandon Dubinsky is looking forward to tonight's matchup because "It's like a second home game."

How do you get up for this game?

The starting franchise goaltender is out for the sixth time in eight games. Four of the top six defensemen are also out with injuries. We still have little grasp on what's ailing Rick DiPietro, Freddy Meyer, and Brendan Witt or how long they will be unavailable.

The promise of this season came in two packages—the quality of the roster was not one of them. One could reasonably hope that the implementation of Scott Gordon hockey would result in an exciting brand of competitive play every night. The jury is still out on that one. Some nights the players click and we see the promise. Other nights it's difficult to imagine this team competing very often. And the hockey isn't very entertaining on those nights.

We also had the promise of the future—young players developing into NHL players before our eyes. So far we have seen diminished returns there as well. Okposo, Tambellini, and Nielsen show occasional flashes of what they can do, but can't seem to take that first step toward being impact players. I'm not looking to them to lead the team, but no goals and 5 assists combined through seven games is disappointing. Josh Bailey remains in injury limbo (at least he doesn't have a limbo injury).

I find some Rangers fans to be insufferable when their team is good and, especially, when they really like their team. A big part of that is envy. Even with the Blueshirts having suffered through more lean years recently than the Islanders, it seems like their highs are higher, and their lows not as low.

No matter what you said in July, once the season starts there is always a hunger for winning. But for this team, there will be no dramatic upsurge. It seems unlikely that anyone will step up and find that career year that pulls everyone else along. There is no getting by on talent, only constant effort and precision.

All we have is the patience we promised ourselves we would have. Whether that means waiting another month for everyone to adapt, two months for everyone to get healthy, or two years for young players to lead the charge, I don't know.

Sometimes it's easy to forget what we signed up for.

No comments: