Thursday, January 29, 2009

Okposo, Bailey, and Comeau Lead the Isles to Victory

If you are an Islanders fan searching for a reason to be interested in this season's remaining games, coach Scott Gordon has given you a dandy. By hitching Josh Bailey to Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo, Gordon is maxing out your chances for excitement the rest of the way.

The youth brigade should be energized by relying solely on each other. Putting this line together signals that it's really their time now. Okposo, in particular, looks so confident now, even on the penalty kill. It's almost hard to believe that he played only 14:08 in tonight's 5-4 win at Atlanta. It seemed like he was out there every other shift.

One difficulty that could surface for the Comeau-Bailey-Okposo line is a failure to have the puck. If Bailey doesn't continue to improve on faceoffs (he won 5 of 9 tonight—a good result), the line will waste precious seconds of its shifts forechecking and playing defense. Obviously those duties are necessities and all three should aspire to be solid two-way players, but this line is together to produce offense.

That they did so in the first period of their first game together, on a skilled Bailey-to-Okposo conversion, gives Gordon all the evidence he needs to keep them together without worrying about them needing a veteran presence.

And what more could you ask for than all three players on the line working to create the goal that saved the Islanders from complete collapse after coughing up three-fourths of their four-goal lead in the third period?

For most of the third period the team played its best tentative, we-have-no-idea-what-to-do-here hockey. It was easy to wonder what had happened to the tenacity best exemplified by Okposo's play in the first period.

Then Comeau made that chip-dump into the corner, and you could just tell by the way he pursued the puck that there was still something left in the Islanders' tank. Comeau to Bailey to Okposo. Bang, 5-3, and the eventual game-winner.

Yes, the Atlanta defense was full of holes and starting goalie Kari Lehtonen looked like he was playing in roller skates. But when that happens, a team has to pounce. And the Islanders did. When Lehtonen dropped Andy Hilbert's harmless shot, Tim Jackman got to the net and put the puck across the line.

I love to see Islanders forwards show composure and be patient enough to score goals like Trent Hunter did to give the Islanders a lead just 55 seconds into the game. Too many times in the past, a forward would have let the goalie keep his angle and be rewarded with a harmless shot to the crest. Hunter made sure to hit the back of the net after not scoring in his previous 17 games.

The Islanders needed a game like this. Even if you're rooting fervently for them to cement their hold on 30th place, constant misery is no good for the fans, the players, or the organization. Neither is setting records for futility on the road.

So let them have this would-be-but-wasn't laugher and don't worry about the draft just yet. Remember, you don't know what the Islanders are going to do with that pick anyway. Maybe Luke wasn't the Schenn they wanted.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fantasy Update Continued: Specialists

With regular season action for the Islanders finally back within smelling distance, we conclude this latest look at the team's fantasy prowess with the Specialists. These are the players who ordinarily might not be on your roster because they are one- or two-dimensional, but their abilities in one or two categories make them options if you can absorb their low production on the rest of the board.

First, we begin with a tribute to one of the Islanders' recent top specialists, faceoff-man extraordinaire, Mike Sillinger. At times throughout his career, Silli was more than just a top-notch draw man, but if your league counted faceoff wins or winning percentage, he could certainly be your go-to guy. With his hip now getting the Zamboni treatment, we wish Silli the best.

And now for the rest...

PIMsTim Jackman is your team leader with 76 PIMs in 34 games. You can likely find better options on other teams. Nate Thompson is your next best bet, on a slightly slower pace than Jackman with 42 PIMs in 24 games.

(+/-)—The wasteland of Islanders fantasy hockey. Nothing to see here.

Shots on goal—It's still Bill Guerin and Trent Hunter up front and Mark Streit from the blue line. If Sean Bergenheim can stay in the lineup, he at least gets some shots away. If you want to package some SOG with some BkS, keep an eye on Andy Hilbert as he comes back from injury. And don't forget about Kyle Okposo as he gains confidence and his role continues to increase.

HitsHunter ranks 22nd in the league with 111 hits (Cal Clutterbuck leads with 173). That should give you a healthy idea of what's left when next on the team is Streit at 75 hits. When Freddy Meyer is healthy, he does become an option, having registered 71 hits in only 27 games. Brendan Witt is only at about 2 hits per game, and you're not going to endure his +/- for that. Jackman and Thompson are also good for about 2 per game.

Blocked Shots—Surprisingly, there are no Islanders in the league's top 30. As a whole the team leads the NHL in blocked shots by more than 50 over second-place Montreal. Witt and Streit lead the way with Sutton out. Hilbert ranks sixth on the team, the only forward among the top eight.

Faceoffs—With our hero (see above) now lost for the season, options are few. Of regular shifters, only Richard Park is over 50% (51%, to be exact). Frans Nielsen is knocking on the door at 49.5%. Should he find his way back, Jeremy Colliton did a terrific job in six games, winning 64.3% of his 70 faceoffs.

Time on IceStreit ranks 14th in the league at 25:18 per game. The best forward, Doug Weight, comes in 48th among all forwards at 19:05. Of course, Weight is in danger of losing ice time, if not his New York address.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fantasy Update Continued: Prospects

As we get ready to watch fantasy stud Mark Streit represent the Islanders at the All-Star Game in Montreal, let's continue our review of the Islanders roster as it pertains to fantasy hockey.

In the previous post, we took a look at players who are viable contenders for your fantasy roster right now. In part two of this update, we examine prospects.

When we last did a fantasy roster review, the prospects list consisted of Andy Hilbert and Rick DiPietro. Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Joey MacDonald had fallen off the list since the previous evaluation. Without further adieu...

Kyle Okposo—The rookie right wing has been one of the team's most productive players in the second half, putting him back on this list. He seems to have decided not to struggle through his rookie season and is instead looking like the player that some were touting for the Calder before the year began. Since the Christmas break, Okposo has 5 goals and 5 assists in 13 games. His last two goals have come on the power play where he is playing the point on the first unit. The return of Doug Weight may shake things up a bit, but you can count on Scott Gordon continuing to give Okposo ample oppotunity with the man advantage and plenty of ice time overall. Okposo ranks 17th in rookie scoring, but should move up the table as the second half progresses. He is 8th among rookies in shots on goal despite missing 13 games to injury.

Andy Hilbert—Hilbert made this list last time and was enjoying somewhat of an offensive renaissance playing under his former AHL coach. Hilbert was leading NHL forwards in blocked shots before he got injured. It remains to be seen where Gordon will slot him in when he returns next week, but expect him to get plenty of time on the penalty kill and possibly time on the 2nd power play unit.

Joey MacDonald—Still on the injured list but making progress, MacDonald is unlikely to replicate his great November. However, when he returns he may face some competition for starts from Yann Danis as they battle for the #2 job next year. Perhaps the competition will elevate his performance and make him an option for those in need of a depth goalie.

In the first part of this update, I teased Danis as a fantasy prospect. I'm not seriously recommending that you pick him up, but his statistics over the recent stretch do deserve a mention. In fact, on the season Danis actually has the best GAA and SV% of all Islanders goalies. Of course, it's close enough and he's played few enough games that it could change very quickly. However, in his last five games, Danis has a GAA of just over 2.00 with a SV% of .940. Unfortunately, there's only one win in there.

In the third part of this All-Star Break update, we'll take a look at fantasy specialists.

DiPietro in the Man Cave

I saw a commercial today for the DIY Network's Man Caves show, which stars Jason Cameron and Tony Siragusa. This looks like a typical home makeover show that focuses on converting areas of homes into sports and entertainment paradises that put the local sports bar or clubhouse to shame. What's notable is that in one clip from the commercial, you could clearly see a framed DiPietro jersey hanging in the background.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fantasy Update: Villains

When I saw this photo on Point Blank today, I had two thoughts: The Islanders should have won a lot more games in the first half with Sylar in goal. And how did he get hurt?

My goal here isn't really to paint the Islanders as villains. But if you have been counting on any of them for fantasy production over the last while, you may think them a dastardly bunch.

As the team nose-dived in the standings, much of their worthwhile fantasy production also plunged to insufferable depths. Some were held down or held out by injury. Others hit Tailspin Road because their linemates hit the IR Express.

With only three wins since the beginning of December, are there no heroes left in orange and blue tights? Let's have a look.

When we last visited the Coliseum of Justice about five weeks ago, Mark Streit, Doug Weight, Trent Hunter, and Bill Guerin had been carried over in the Player category. Despite the Islanders' inability to post more than a goal or two per game recently, you can continue to hold onto these players. And I say this despite the fact that Hunter was dropped in my league on this very day. Here's what they can do for you.

Mark Streit—Simply put, just play him and don't worry about it. Streit was recently the NHL leader in points by a defenseman and will represent the Isles at the All-Star Game with distinction. As of this writing, he still leads the league in power play points by a defenseman. And just for good measure, Streit is only a -3 on a team with no active plus players (Kurtis McLean doesn't count) despite acquiring 21 of his 34 points with the man advantage.

Doug Weight—Obviously Weight hasn't been doing anything for you lately. But if you were able to stash him in an IR slot, know that he skated today and should be back within two weeks (one of which has no games scheduled). Despite missing time, Weight is still only two off the team lead in points. He should continue to be very productive in assists and on the power play. Of course, keep an eye on his opportunities when he comes back as Scott Gordon has vowed to use his young players in expanded roles the rest of the way. And there's always the chance that a trade will come Weight's way and that could alter his production significantly.

Trent Hunter—Hunter is actually on the bubble here. Believe it or not, since we last did this in the middle of December, he has not registered a goal. In that time, he has managed only four assists. At 11-15-26, he's not that strong of a play anymore. But Hunter does still have a decent shot total at 118, and he's 20th in the league with 111 hits. Note that Hunter is currently recovering from a hand injury suffered in practice.

Bill Guerin—You can also see the downward trend in Guerin's stats. Last time, he was in the top ten in shots on goal. Entering tonight's action he was down to 20th. During this dry spell for the team, he does have three goals and nine assists. At 14-18-32 he may be a marginal play in some leagues, especially since he's added only six PIMs in the last five weeks or so.

I'll have to leave it at that for the moment, but check back later for news on specialists and fantasy prospects Kyle Okposo and...YANN DANIS?!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Playing to Win; Exclusive Comeau Quotes

"For the second half of the season, we're not measuring our success based on wins and losses, but whether we are giving up few chances and creating our own. We had a good number of quality chances against Boston, we just couldn't bury them."
When I first read that quote from Scott Gordon in the Islanders' preview of Saturday night's game against the Devils, I thought it was a refreshing and honest evaluation of where the team is positioned at this point in the season.

After reconsidering the quote, I wondered if it was a little too candid (along the lines of "Joey's not Ricky.") I think most fans will agree that regardless of development and the desire for the No. 1 overall pick in June, this team needs to throw in a few wins once in a while.

That idea was certainly strengthened by watching the 3-1 loss to the Devils. For most of the game, the Islanders looked like they had nothing to play for. Gordon certainly wasn't pleased with effort. I asked Blake Comeau, the Islanders' lone goal scorer on the night, about this approach of focusing on components of the game other than wins and losses. Here's what he had to say:

Islanders Outsider: Blake, with wins being tough to come by, is there any way you can sort of break things down to more specific goals and maybe progress from there? Building blocks, that kind of thing?

Blake Comeau: Well, I think any time you're going through a slump like this you have to start worrying about the little things and do the little things. Those are things that add up. And, you know, we talk about it, chipping pucks and playing physical. I think when we're playing physical as a team that's when we're playing our best hockey. And, you know, we've got to keep doing that.

Islanders Outsider: Coach Gordon had the comment yesterday about, you know, not worrying so much about wins and losses but things like getting more scoring chances than you're giving up. So is that the kind of thing you can focus on in practice and in the games to get where you need to be?

Blake Comeau: Definitely. I think that's where it starts is in practice. You know, when we got drills, we have to do them with a purpose. We have to shoot to score in practice and it's going to carry over into the game. We can't just go through the motions and hope things are going to turn around in games. That's something we gotta do. We gotta work hard and we gotta pull together to turn this around.

You do have to wonder how satisfying it could be for a player or a coach if the team consistently outchances its opponents only to consistently lose because it can't bury those chances. I like the idea of shooting to score in practice and not just going through the motions.

Regardless of how hard you work on generating your own chances and limiting your opponents' chances, there's an edge required for winning and establishing a winning culture. The Islanders should make sure not to put the pursuit of that edge on the back burner.

Live Blog 1/17/09: Devils 3, Islanders 1

0:46 Time called by the Isles. There's nothing to suggest a miracle finish is on the way so that's going to do it for now.

2:46 Break in the action and the building begins to clear out. We'll hang on for one more flurry here before packing up.

3:00 Isles are finally getting some sustained pressure but having trouble hitting the net.

6:35 The scoreboard and the Event Summary are claiming that the Isles are outhitting the Devils 26-7. Kind of strange considering the Devils had 7 hits in the first period.

8:30 Martinek and Comrie get the assists on the Comeau goal.

9:25 Comeau all alone in front grabs a rebound and easily puts it over a sprawling Clemmensen to get the Isles on the board. Devils lead 3-1.

12:16 Goal-mouth scramble with Sim hacking away at the puck to no avail. Clemmensen covered up.

14:12 Streit gets away with a dangerous cross-ice pass just inside the offensive blue line.

16:02 Rolston came in alone from the left side put pushed it just wide of the far post. Danis may have gotten a piece.

16:15 Witt being attended to on the ice. Now going to the locker room holding something up to the area near his left eye. Didn't see if it was a puck or a stick that got him.

17:40 Park danced between two defenders in the slot and got a good scoring chance on Clemmensen.


Second Intermission: There's still not much you can imagine a coach being happy about from this game. We'll see if they can generate anything in the third period to make Scott Gordon's post-game less prickly.

5:18 There's not much of a tempo right now, which is a good thing considering I feel a reboot coming on.

8:57 You can currently file this one under uninspiring.

12:15 Jackman and Salvador engage. Jackman landed a lot of what seemed to be forearms more than punches. But give him the decision and the takedown. Five each.

13:24 Devils fans are getting louder with each goal.

15:02 Madden works hard to get the puck out of the corner to Clarkson whose sharp-angled slapper beats Danis. Devils lead 3-0.

17:22 Good effort by Comeau to gain some speed at the blue line and work his way through the defense to get off a shot. Tough chance to score on though.

19:03 Langenbrunner sends a medium-soft shot/pass to the front of the net that deflects to a wide open Parise at the side of the net. No trouble for Parise to make it 2-0 on the power play goal.

19:48 Thompson to the box for boarding.


1st Intermission: The Isles are fortunate to be down only 1-0 after that period. You can't play that carelessly with the puck and expect to survive against the Devils. The good news is that they're still in this. The Isles do have 12 hits to 7 for the Devils. The home team should attempt to use physical play as a catalyst from here on. If you're wondering how the fan base would respond after the KC/Saskatoon news, it's a very strong crowd here. Plenty of Devils fans for sure, but it would be a good crowd even without them. There was one sign being paraded around the concourse with a very simple sentiment directed at KC. Something akin to the city having the main the feature of a vacuum cleaner.

0:45 Streit took a tough bump to the lower back but appears to be okay.

2:32 Langenbrunner flubbed a short-side shot at a half-empty net off a pass from behind the goal line.

4:46 Campoli with a nice hit on Andy Greene in the defensive zone. On today's episode of HNLI, one thing John Fischer was worried about was how the Devils would respond to physical play tonight. So for he doesn't have much too worry about.

7:23 Isles are making it too easy for NJ with giveaways. Danis just survived that mini-break.

10:04 Nothing doing on that last power play. If the Isles don't start putting some legitimate pressure on the Devils they're going to fall way behind fast. A goal-mouth scramble where Danis didn't see the puck right away almost made it 2-0.

11:44 Isles not moving the puck well at all on the power play. A poor pass results in a breakaway for Zajac who was only stopped from getting his second shorty by a quick glove from Danis.

12:55 Zubrus trips up Streit just outside the Devils' zone. Isles back to the power play.

13:54 Danis gets his pocket picked behind the net by Zach Parise, who gets the puck out in front of an empty net. Travis Zajac deposits it for the shorty. Devils lead 1-0 on a terrible goal to give up.

14:50 The No. 1 unit of Bailey-Nielsen-Hunter-Okposo-Streit goes of without generating much.

15:42 Today's press clips packet includes a couple of articles about Wade Dubielewicz being happy to be back with the Islanders. Talk about short-lived news. John Madden takes a 2:00 minute minor for high sticking.

16:59 Mike Comrie needs to get the offense going again. He has only 1 assist to show for the last 6 games after scoring goals in three straight.

18:00 Nifty pass from Streit to Park but Clemmensen gets a glove on it. That's the second glove save he's made from in close.

20:00 Thompson centers Sim and Jackman to start with Witt and Martinek on D. This is the Islanders' version of a crash line.


Just finished up the pre-game ceremony jointly honoring Bill Guerin for his 400th goal and Doug Weight for his 1,000th point. I'll post some video later if it looks worthy of posting.


After a couple of days of headline-making off-ice news, it's time to get back to some hockey. For those who are curious, Yann Danis is back in his #34 jersey and Peter Mannino did make it in time for pre-game warmups.

I'd like to thank Steve and Alex from Hockey Night on Long Island for allowing me to occupy Alex's empty seat on today's show. It was a great episode and Steve did a terrific job running the board with so much news to discuss. As always, the show is archived on the HNLI show site and also available to download as a podcast from iTunes. Further thanks to John Fischer of In Lou We Trust who was an excellent guest and provided an astute preview of tonight's contest from the Devils' perspective.

Back shortly with the opening draw!

Dubielewicz Claimed by Columbus

All the crazy details here. It sounds like Peter Mannino will be making a mad dash back from Central New York to back up Yann Danis tonight. Who knows? Maybe it will be Nate Lawson. Maybe it will be Nate Thompson. Maybe it will be Fred Thompson. Maybe it will be Fred Flintstone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two-Minute Minors for 1/15/09

Lots of news to cover quickly before the Isles take on the Bruins with Yann Danis starting in goal, backed up by Peter Mannino...

Isles in KC
Don't you love it when there's news that you couldn't even have imagined before it breaks? The Isles moving to Kansas City? Yes, that you could imagine as news. But the Isles agreeing to play an exhibition game in Kansas City, thereby sparking debate of exactly what that means? I don't know how you see that one coming.

Certainly, it could all be just a big coincidence: a city with a brand-new arena wants to host a pre-season game and the Islanders jump at the chance to gain some revenue that wouldn't normally be available on the exhibition schedule. But you also can't ignore the symbolism of the Islanders being one of the teams participating.

Charles Wang has refused to play hardball with the local government where the Lighthouse Project is concerned. No threats, no ultimatums. It has been suggested that he may have to give up his Lady Byng-like conduct in order to push development forward. (Note: I actually wrote that before I saw Jim Baumbach join the fray today.) Just the mere association of the Islanders with Kansas City could be one step toward doing that.

But it's also too early to assume this is a major milestone in the history of the Islanders or the start of a more aggressive political game by the club.

Oh, Dubie Boy

That was supposed to be "Oh, Danis Boy" but current #1 goalie Yann is no longer the big story. In one of the easiest reconciliations imaginable, Wade Dubielewicz returns to the Islanders to fill their ever-growing hole in net. Or maybe he won't so much fill it, if you take Scott Gordon's words to heart:

"He stops the puck. You look at him, and you say to yourself, 'There's a lot of net there.' But I imagine he competes really hard.
Perhaps Dubie should pay a visit to Lighthouse Hockey for tips on how to make himself look bigger in the net. No bears required.

Lessard-Skinner Trade

I can appreciate any attempts Garth Snow makes to bring more skill players into the organization. Any time "Hobey Baker Award Winner" pops up in conversation about a player, my ears perk up a little. That being said, when you take into account Lessard's age and professional track record, I don't have any expectation of him being a solution to the Islanders' goal-scoring woes. To make the obvious Heisman comparison, Lessard is proving to be more Gino Torretta than Vinny Testaverde.

Anyway, as discussed in the comments on IslesBlogger, the real impetus for this trade may have been simply to create more ice time for the remaining Bridgeport defensemen.


Join me this Saturday, January 17th, as I fill in for Alex as co-host on Hockey Night on Long Island. I've co-hosted with Steve twice before and it's always fun to do the show from the other side of the mic. Check the show blog for details on this upcoming episode and visit the show page on Blog Talk Radio Saturday at 3:30 PM to join in.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Islanders Take the Stage for Act II

The Islanders are officially one game past the midpoint of the 2008-09 season. But having just completed a western road swing followed by a four-day weekend off, Tuesday night's home date with the Rangers feels like the true kickoff of the second half.

Scott Gordon is doing his best to give Act II a distinct feeling—one that many Islanders fans have been clamoring for since the December dive, if not all season. The first-year coach has pledged to accelerate the development of his team's young players by continuing to put them in more prominent roles. If today's practice is any indication, Gordon is now clearly focused on the future.

As Chris Botta reported, the first power play unit at today's Iceworks workout featured Mark Streit, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Trent Hunter. The second unit was more veteran-laden with Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais manning the points for Richard Park, Mike Comrie, and Bill Guerin.

Things will get complicated for Gordon when Doug Weight returns from injury in 2-4 weeks and if the coach decides he wants to get Jeff Tambellini and/or Blake Comeau looks on the power play. In fact, as exciting as it is to simply throw all cares about standings and scoreboard away and concentrate on development, it's hard to ignore the potential for the second half to also include some hard feelings as veterans lose ice time. No doubt those players will face constant questions about reduced responsibilities and the possibility of being dealt.

The challenge, then, is for Gordon, Guerin, and Garth Snow to maintain a positive and productive atmosphere. No one wants a toxic room, even if the consequences aren't as dramatic as they would be in a playoff race. As hard as they might try, athletes and coaches can't always say the right thing. Take Gordon, in Greg Logan's article yesterday:

"I think any team is going to have some struggles if they don't have their top player and their top goaltender. Ricky is that for us. That's not to say Joey hasn't done a good job, but he's not Ricky."

Not exactly what you want to hear the coach say if you're Joey MacDonald and you've done more than anyone could have asked you to this season. That's not to say that I think a rift now exists between MacDonald and Gordon. It's just an example of how hard it is to navigate tumultuous times.

Fans, you can probably count on one thing: Act II, the second half of the Islanders' 2008-09 season, will not be boring.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Streit's an All-Star: Deal with It (*This Post Has Been Medically Cleared)

There's some discussion today about how significant All-Star snubs wouldn't have to be snubbed if the NHL didn't desire to have every team represented at the Winter Not-So Classic. Fingers are being directly or indirectly pointed at the New York Islanders for being an example of a crummy team that still gets an All-Star at the expense of, for example, Mike Green.

I love Green. Second year of plying his trade ridiculously well on my fantasy team. He's obviously an All-Star-caliber player, and it's a shame he won't be in Montreal. But you know what I have to say to those who blame the Islanders for his or anyone else's exclusion?

Not this year.

Mark Streit is a legitimate All-Star. His attendance should not be attributed solely to being the best player on his team or having a decent season on a bad team. Yes, the Islanders have sent that sort to the All-Star Game in the past. Not this time. The numbers and impact are all over the place so I won't repeat them. If you are an Islanders fan, this is an All-Star selection you should be proud of.

And not that the selection of Doug Weight wouldn't have been deserved and applauded, but Streit being named is an even better reflection on the organization. Getting Weight to New York was an important and laudable (and relatively easy) move by Garth Snow. But getting Streit and committing to him was shrewd. It's best for the Islanders to be represented by a new arrival who will be a key cog for years to come than by a new arrival who's in his twilight, as bright as it has been, and may be around for only a couple of more months.

Give the rest of the league a chance to say, "Look at this guy the Islanders got," now and for the next four years.

I want my prize back for saying that Rick DiPietro would not play again until 2009 (what do you mean there was no prize?). Yes, technically, he did return in 2008. But with Yann Danis being shot from Bridgeport to Calgary on a giant rubber band, DiPietro's December 2008 surfacing was hardly a recovery.

The good news is that no one is counting on DiPietro to lead the Islanders to the playoffs. That's not an indictment of DiPietro, but merely a matter of mathematics. So I won't be getting too agitated about his continuing lack of good health. Not this season, anyway. DiPietro should just do whatever is necessary to completely recover—this has to be maddening for him.

I do hear DiPietro and Danis have discussed teaming up with Schwarzeneggar and Van Damme for a sequel to Sudden Death called Emergency Recall.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Flounder Earns Its Stripes

Or something less fishy.

In its preview of last night's game between the Islanders and Oilers, one of the Canadian news outlets referred to the 30th place Islanders as floundering. On the surface, it's hard to argue with that assessment given their record.

But floundering just doesn't seem like an accurate description for this group. The Senators, Penguins (recently), and Lightning are floundering. The Mets have floundered a good deal over the last two Septembers, as did the Jets this past December.

I guess, to me, floundering requires some expectation of a level of success. For the Islanders, this season, that expectation is gone. Their on-ice performance rarely causes me to think, "Wow, they are really floundering tonight." Most nights, they are what they are: competitive, but just not good enough.

To suggest that they are floundering implies that they are finding ways to underperform on a regular basis. While I do think they should have won several more games at this point, and have lost some due to misfortune or their own preventable mistakes, most of the time they are simply coming up short. They are not choking or wasting opportunities or talent like the other previously mentioned teams.

Perhaps that is why these long stretches of losing are not as disheartening as you would expect them to be.

Plus, there are moments like last night's first period when the future and its promise looks not so far away. Kyle Okposo cashes in on a turnover with a wicked shot, a goal-scorer's goal, that beats Dwayne Roloson clean to the upper-right corner (even if Okposo might have gotten some extra torque from the defenseman's stick). And then Josh Bailey makes a nifty touch dish to Blake Comeau who scores a clutch goal with just over two seconds left in the period to give the Isles a (surmountable) 2-0 lead.

Those are the moments we're rooting for now. The more of them we see, the sooner we'll have better things to root for.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Launching 2009

Welcome to the new year. First, let me say thanks for allowing me to recharge over the last several days. My batteries died without warning. That and the west coast trip left me feeling oddly detached from the Islanders despite missing only a few chunks of play here and there.

I'll be honest—at times it can feel like there's not much left to contribute with two, full-time major bloggers on top of everything and us independent types with a tiny fraction of the access that they have. You're getting your information and breaking news there first. And Islanders fans themselves are so engaged in everything that all it takes is a trip to the comments on those blogs or forums like HF Boards and Islander Mania to make it seem like there's nothing new to say.

But that's the challenge—to continue to have something to say, or simply something to share. So we press on! (Even if pressing on begins with a post like this.)

It's a few days past now, but still worth it to congratulate Doug Weight on reaching (and passing) the 1,000-point mark, and Josh Bailey on erasing that doughnut from the goals column. I'd also like to congratulate The Drive for Five on being named the 2008 NYI Blog of the Year in voting held at Yes! Islanders.

Who else can we congratulate? How about Garth Snow for picking the right free-agent defenseman?

And while we're passing out accolades, let's recognize the NHL for putting on another great show with this year's Winter Classic at Wrigley.

And for your end-of-year entertainment, here are Puck Daddy's Top Ten Goals of 2008 (one of them scored by an Islander—see if you can guess who before watching).

The tone of this season has certainly changed a lot in the last month. It's no longer about seeing how far this team might go. The day to day of what happened and why is now secondary to the what's going to happen and how well will it work.

It almost seems as though we're entering a period of limbo where not much matters except that Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Jeff Tambellini, Bailey, and a quick healer named Nielsen continue to play larger roles and find some success in doing so.

The first shoe hasn't even dropped yet, but we're already anxiously waiting for the other one to bounce off the floor. After March 4, we'll be able to regroup, enjoy the rest of the season for whatever value it holds, and then look forward to Year 2 of this multi-year project.

I should have more to say soon about specific expectations for players as we move forward. In the meantime, we have a team out west that at least won't let you shut off the game in the middle of the third. With a light schedule on Monday and some flexibility in my lineup for a rental, my fantasy team now includes the point-producing machine Richard Park.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I recently had a random run-in on a New York City street with Butch Goring, whom I have never met, but who was nice enough to stop and talk to a stranger who called out his name.