Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

I'm still not convinced that I'm not hallucinating, that I'm not still in my food-induced coma from the Thanksgiving holiday. First, the much ridiculed Andy Hilbert (sorry for my current poll, Andy!) scores his first goal (and point) of the season against the Bruins on Saturday night. The only thing above that on the things-I-never-expected-to-see-happen list was a win against Ottawa. Keep in mind we've been riding an 8 game losing streak to the Sens, dating back almost 4 years (remember that great day of Jan 19, 2004 when we last beat them? either). Add to that a 4-29-9 record over our last 42 games against them, and I gave the Isles about as good a chance as seeing Sean Avery win the Lady Byng.

So needless to say I was pretty excited to see the Isles earn two points last night. It would have been sweeter to hang on for the win in regulation, but beggars can't be choosers. The cherry on top of the week will be another victory against the Evil Empire tonight in the Garden. To go 4-0 this year, and 9-1-2 over the last two seasons, against our most hated rival would surely put a smile on my face that would last until Christmas.

But still, what true hockey fan doesn't have a list of complaints even during the best of times? So even though Festivus is several weeks away, I thought now would be a good time to engage in the customary "airing of grievances". So in the true spirit of Frank Costanza, here we go...

- Why is Chris Simon playing on our top line, and getting power play time to go along with it? I understand Simon is one of Nolan's favorite guys, and I understand he is a great presence in the locker room, but neither of those things earns him a spot on the top line! The guy has as many points this season as Mr. A. Hilbert. Can you imagine the uproar if Andy was put on our #1 line? Seriously, how many other teams have a guy that jumps from the fourth line to the first line without showing any offensive prowess whatsoever? He's not a scorer, not a playmaker, and he's not clearing space for Comrie and Guerin to make things happen. I'm not saying Guerin's recent slump is directly related to Simon, but it certainly isn't helping matters.

- Where's the offense? After our 6 goal outpouring on opening night, I was all set for an explosive season. Or at least the ability to score 3 goals in a game! Last night was our tenth game in a row where we've scored two or fewer goals (excluding the goal awarded for the shoot-out win). Thanks to DP and some solid defensive play, we've managed to earn a respectable 11 points over that stretch, but you can't expect to survive like this forever. A big contributor to our scoring drought has been...

- Our anemic power play. Even though I'm a big stats guy, I'm not going to bore you with the numbers. Just watch the games! When we have a man advantage, no one is skating, no one is getting to the front of the net, and the shots they choose to take are (to put it mildly) of the low percentage variety. It's night and day from earlier in the season. What happened?!?

- Finally, everyone's favorite target...the officiating. It's becoming more and more frustrating to be a hockey fan. The inconsistency of the refs is reaching new heights of lunacy. Let's ignore the fact that I feel like the Isles generally get the short end of the stick, I just want to see a consistently called game. I understand there is always the human element at play, but things have to get better. Serenity now!

Despite all these gripes, I still love the game and I'm still proud of this team. We've made it more than a quarter of the way through the season, and we're continuing to silence the critics and play solid hockey. As always, Let's Go Islanders!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Live Blog - 11/21/07 - Isles vs. Habs

Welcome to my first foray into live blogging. After 7 straight divisional games, the Isles host Montreal, led by a resurgent Alex Kovalev. After a very successful 5-2 run over those last 7, the Isles look to keep it going against a strong divisional opponent.

A few keys to the game...

- Will the Power Play return to the level of success achieved earlier in the season?

- Can DiPietro raise his game to the same level that he did playing opposite Brodeur and Lundqvist, two of his favorite counterparts?

- Will Hilbert shock the world and put one in the net?

We're about 7 minutes from gametime...back in a few...

First observation from the night is the very disappointing crowd. Those that are here seem into it, but the numbers are not what you'd expect for the night before a holiday. Where are all the college kids home from school?? A couple minutes from the opening face-off and I'm estimating around 10,000.

Fun fact - the Isles are going for the 1200th win in franchise history tonight.

Maybe a bit premature on the crowd estimate. It's filling in nicely now as the anthem is finished...not a sell-out but looking more like 14,000.

Time for the opening face-off, with the Sillinger line starting things off.

Terrible turnover behind the net less than a minute in by the Isles costs them a 1-0 deficit. Both teams have come out skating, but a costly mistake allows Montreal to capitalize first on Steve Begin's second of the year.

Kostopoulos gets dumped into the Isles net, falling over DP in the process. Watch the head Ricky!! We've got 14 more years riding on it!

Hilbert almost did it! Of course, that is what Hilbert does...ALMOST scores. At least he set up a nice flurry of chances by the Isles with his five-hole attempt.

The whistle with 15:17 to play in the first reminds me of a recent gripe I've had. Is it me, or does it seem like days pass before we get a whistle when DiPietro is covering a puck, allowing the opposition plenty of free shots at him. Meanwhile, the whistle seems to blow a nanosecond after the opposing goalie even thinks about covering up. Maybe I'm biased, but it seems to happen game in and game out.

Witt takes the first penalty of the game, for tripping. Can we stop the #1PP in the league?? Well, one minute in and a deflection in front skims off the crossbar. A fortunate bounce for the Isles.

Chalk up another one for the Isles PK, with a successful kill of Witt's minor.

Just over halfway through the first, the fourth line of Simon, Park and Jackman generate a lot of offense and a few near misses. Unfortunately, still a 1-0 game.

Whistle with 8:24 to play and the Isles get their first PP of the night, a holding-the-stick minor on Latendresse. Time to test my #1 key to the game...getting the PP back on track.

AWFUL! After allowing Montreal a short-handed break, Comrie takes a tripping penalty to negate the team's first oddman chance of the game. The team has so far looked a little uncomfortable in their own end, and at this point I'd feel almost fortunate to escape the period down only one.

They're auctioning off game used sticks tonight. I'm tempted to buy Hilbert's so I can guarantee that I am the first to score a goal using it.

2:21 to play in the first and the Isles will get a chance to redeem themselves on the power play...

Good puck control, they were in the offensive zone for most of the 2 minutes, but no goals and the period ends with the Isles trailing 1-0.

Back at the start of the second...the Isles look like they have a little more jump to their steps, and they're cycling the puck very well. Breaking the momentum, Hunter gets called for a very questionable tripping call. Looked to me like the guy tripped over the net, but hey I'm not a ref. Another chance to boost the PK stats.

The PK is successful, but seconds later Montreal pokes one past Ricky and the lead is 2-0. While there's still over half a game to play, for some reason I have the feeling that a comeback is a longshot. This is the polar opposite of how I felt during Arbour's 15ooth game, when they fell behind 2-0 and I still felt very confident the team had a comeback in them.

And just like that it's 3-0 off a nice wrist shot from the top left circle. I'm worried this game could get out of hand, but I really hope I'm wrong. A comeback at this point would be all the more sweet. In fact, as I'm typing those words, Satan blasts a shot right off the crossbar....that close to cutting the deficit back to 2.

10:57 to go and another Isles penalty...not what the team needs. I'm going to give my fingers a rest for a bit, back when there is some good news to report.

Back sooner than expected...not a goal, but a good scrum in front of Huet, with Witt dropping the gloves and ultimately scoring a takedown against Komisarek. Hopefully that'll get the team re-energized and back into the game.

Not likely as the hit Simon with 4 minutes for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, on top of Witt's 5 minute matching major for fighting.

I think this blogging night is almost over. Montreal is now up 4-0 and they still have 2 minutes on Simon's penalty. Call me unprofessional, but hey this isn't my profession! Unless things start to turn around, I am going to bury my head in my keyboard and watch highlights from our win over the Rangers on Monday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Live In-Game Blog 11-21-07!

Technology permitting, I will be doing a live in-game blog for Wednesday's game vs. Montreal. Check back here during the game for regular updates.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Battle for New York, Part II

At the first Islanders/Rangers game back on 10/10, the energy in the Coliseum was lacking, despite the full house. The often the case with this rivalry, where the early games tend to lack the sense of urgency that builds later in the season. In fact when the schedule was released, I was disappointed that the first two games between the teams were being played at home, where a raucous crowd can give the team an edge.

Tonight's game had a very different feel to it. Before the puck was dropped, I commented to Tom from Tiger Track that we should set an over/under on crowd fights. The night just had that type of feel to it. The teams gave the fans no reason to settle down, playing fast-paced hockey uninterrupted by a whistle for almost 9 minutes to open the game.

But before that, one of the night's big questions was answered when, about 6 minutes in, DP flashed his right pad to make a great save, easing the minds of many who were concerned about the condition of his injured eye.

Most of the first period continued with a lot of end-to-end action but few quality scoring chances. Things started to get a little chippy late, with Sutton laying a strong open-ice check on Prucha, followed by Prucha taking a retaliatory penalty on Richard Park with 1:26 to go. The Isles could get the PP going and the period ended scoreless.

The second period started all Islanders. New faces Ben Walter and Tim Jackman made their presence known early. In his little ice time so far, Walter has shown a good nose for the puck, and Jackman introduced himself with a big hit, followed immediately by charging to the net for a great scoring chance.

Shortly after the Chicken Dance (yes, the Rangers DO suck), the Isles took their first penalty of the game. The PK looked great, limiting the Rangers to just one late shot on goal. Unfortunately, that one (a point shot from Drury), found its way through DPs pads. I'm sure it's one he would like to have back.

That's how the period ended. Normally a 1-0 deficit would be little reason for concern. But the Rangers have started to build a reputation as a team that wins this type of game.

Early in the third, as I was watching a rowdy Rangers fan get escorted out by security, the Isles tied it up with a nice goal by Hunter (his 4th). Unfortunately, a few minutes later Mara was left alone near the right post, and he put an easy one away to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Not helping the momentum swing, Jackman took a bad penalty behind the play to give the Rangers PP #2. Unlike the first power play, the Rangers had a lot of great chances but weren't able to capitalize.

The next PP chance went to the Isles who took advantage to even the game up at 2, on Fedotenko's 5th of the year. With 10 minutes to go, the tension was really starting to build.

Now the Isles are buzzing, and before I know it Satan scores the go-ahead goal, his third in the last two games. The crowd is starting to take a more active role, and I count crowd fight #4. The pace of the game grows more and more frantic. DP makes a series of PHENOMENAL saves, and we finally get a whistle with 3:05 to go in the game.

With 2:05 to play, Rozsival takes a penalty for holding the stick. Kill this penalty and the 2 points are ours...0:36 to go..."YOU CAN'T BEAT US!" chants everywhere...maybe premature and Lundvist heads for the bench and Hunter takes a penalty with 0:18 to go...Rangers will have a 5-on-4 skater advantage with an offensive zone draw...finally time expires and DP stabs his stick into the air in victory.

Another great game in this heated rivalry. Let's hope the "Rangers hangover" doesn't affect us on Saturday against the Devils. After the 10/10 game, I predicted the days of experiencing this let-down were behind us, and we proceeded to lose to Toronto 8-1 the next night. Hopefully that's an experience they learned from, and they'll continue winning these all important divisional games.

Thanks to Tim Jackman for taking time to answer our questions after the game. Unfortunately most of our questions focused on what happened in the locker room between the second and third period...he missed everything since he was in the training room getting stitched up.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


The Islanders are often criticized as an organization that holds on to the past with too firm a grip, relying too heavily on promoting its "Dynasty Years" at the expense of the here and now. So I understood when some categorized the decision to invite Al Arbour back to coach his 1500th game with the team as a mere publicity move, another attempt to capitalize on the rich history of the Islanders. Personally, I took no exception to the decision, but honestly figured it would just be another game with a nice little post-game ceremony to remind us all of greater times.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within the 60 minutes of the game, the team played with greater intensity than I've seen in a while. Everyone was skating (even ignoring of his two goals, when is the last time we saw Satan hustle like that?), finishing their checks, and playing with what can only be defined using the greatest of sports cliches - heart. I heard several people sitting near me echo my own thoughts, that the game had a playoff-like feeling to it. Even when the Isles were trailing 2-0, I felt like the team was playing great hockey. I felt like they were going to win the game. After Satan scored the go ahead goal and the final 2:41 ticked off the clock, it felt like the perfect ending to a fantastic game. Who knew that the real excitement hadn't even begun.

The post game ceremony was executed perfectly. I've been in attendance for many similar tributes over the years, but none came close to the feeling in the Coliseum on Saturday night. In speaking to a few people who watched it on TV, I'm glad to hear that it translated well even for those who weren't there for the live experience. It was also great to see the vast majority of the sell-out crowd stay for the ceremony. I doubt that many, if any, regretted staying.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we made our way down the tunnel to the press conference room. The atmosphere around the locker room was one I've never experienced before. Certainly part of that was due to the number of all time greats and fan favorites around every corner - Bossy, Lafontaine, Trottier, Gillies, Cairns, Webb, and Torrey to name a few. But more than that, it was the reaction of all of these men to the night. To a man, they all had huge smiles and could be heard sharing stories about Arbour and their feelings on the night.

If there was still any doubt as to what the night meant to these guys, Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin, and Ted Nolan erased it. As I walking to the press conference room, Gillies walked up next to me and announced to no one in particular that he absolutely needed to go watch Arbour's conference. He was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning standing amidst the media watching Al talk about the night. Not to be outdone, Jean Potvin (who entered the room a bit later) started climbing across folding chairs, ultimately settling with one leg on a chair and one on a locker bench to ensure he had a great view of his old coach. When Nolan entered the room, he was smiling wider than I've seen after a game. Normally extremely quiet during his post game comments, after this particular game he could be heard even by those standing in the back of the room.

When I finally left, over an hour after the game had ended, there were still dozens of hockey legends in the hallways sharing stories and talking about Al Arbour. Let the critics say what they will, THIS is how you honor tradition.