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.

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