Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Starting Over Again

The start of a new NHL season is like starting in a new school. A fresh start. What happened last year doesn't matter. Nobody knows you. You can be who you want to be and you can start the year with all the optimism in the world.

Well the Isles started their new school with the persona of "overspeed". They survived the first few days before the bullies tracked us down for our daily after school beat down. Our lunch money has been stolen and we're a little bloodied.

A 2-6 start is not what any of us expected. Isles continue to make the same bad turnovers which lead to goals and our defense is shaken and badly wounded. The frustrating part is that this team has shown signs of figuring out this system. When they play it right, it works great. We limit opposition shots, take few bad penalties, and generate quality offensive chances. But boy, when it's not working, it's brutal to watch.

I mean, take away DP and Meyer's turnovers against Carolina and we win. A bad early goal against the Rangers and perhaps a different game. Shakey defense against Dallas and DP has no chance.

The question is now... what do we do about it? Do we accept the after school beatings or do we start fighting back? The other teams around the league are looking to see if we will tuck tail and run or stand up for ourselves.

The first positive sign was the team captains seeking coach Gordon out for a meeting yesterday. What comes out of that meeting remains to be seen but it's nice to see the veterans stepping up and not throwing in the towel. We're getting Sutton back on D this week which should help tremendously. Now, if we can only get a healthly, confident DP back in goal.

We start our new season tomorrow night in Philly. Another chance to right the ship and start showing the rest of the league that we won't lay down, that there's some fight left in us.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Number Running

Five games into the season seems like a good time to take our first look into the numbers of the '08-'09 campaign. Sure it's early, but what can we tell so far about this year's Islanders versus last year's team?

They're pretty much the same. Or as the great Denny Green likes to say, they are who we thought they were.

Looking at 6 major metrics, we'll see that the team hasn't moved by more than four spots (in terms of ranking within the league) in any of them. For a team that by all accounts had a disappointing season last year, this is not what you want to see.

There are X-factors aplenty - learning the new system, the early injuries to our D-line, the fact that DP has only played one game so far...etc. But over the course of any season, issues will arise. You can only hang your hat on these for so long before they become the norm and define your entire year. So let's take a look at how we stack up year-over-year:

2007-2008 ; 2008-2009
Goals for 2.3/gm (30th) ; 2.2/gm (26th)
Goals against 2.9/gm (23rd) ; 3.2/gm (21st)
PP% 14.5% (29th) ; 11.1% (25th)
PK% 81.8% (19th) ; 80.0% (21st)
Shots/gm 29.7 (10th) ; 30.2 (10th)
Shots allw'd/gm 30.3 (21st) ; 32.4 (25th)

Beyond this, last year we averaged earning 0.96 points per game, and so far this year we are at 0.80 points per game.

Sure, at this point in the year a 3-game hot streak can completely change this picture. Just as a 3-game cold streak will, in the other direction. The point is, as I watch this team I can't shake that feeling of deja vu. That is what prompted me to look into these numbers in the first place...I keep feeling like I am watching last year's team with some new faces.

We'll check back into things in a few weeks, and see how the team is shaping up as we head deeper into the fall.


Friday, October 10, 2008


A couple quick-hit follow-ups to some recent I360 posts...

First, it seems my concerns from A Season on the Brink regarding the importance of the Lighthouse developments are shared by Forbes magazine. In their ominously titled The 10 Sports Franchises Most Likely to Move, they've identified the Isles as one of the top candidates across all the major sports. They cite the drop in franchise value from $160 million to $149 million (dropping them from 12th to 25th in terms of value in the NHL) and the poor per game attendance. They conclude by saying "The team desperately needs the amenity-filled new arena it's pushing for to draw the casual fans who aren't coming to plain old Nassau Coliseum. If it doesn't happen, a franchise that was once among the greatest ever (four straight Stanley Cups Cups from 1980 to 1983) could bite the dust".

Luckily, Greg Wyshinski from Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy did his best to debunk the Forbes article. Still, an article like that on the eve of our season opener is not what any of us were hoping for.

I was happy to see Chris Botta validate my theory from Media Bashing, that a lot of the Isles bad press is a result of off-ice matters. He relates a nice story from two years ago of an NHL broadcaster admitting his predictions for the team were directly influenced by the GM debacle. Hopefully someday these "experts" will start to focus on the team itself...and hopefully when that day comes the team will answer the call and open some eyes.

Enjoy the opener tonight, and see you all at the Coliseum tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

East Predictions or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying About the Experts and Love Our Underdog Status

I read the preseason predictions along with everyone else. If nothing else, I find them mildly entertaining, an exercise in futility. We all know where most folks feel the Isles will finish (scroll down). Am I worried what they think? Please.

I'm certain that most folks, even the "experts" don't know any more than I do, so I'm not worrying what they think. Here is my stab at a predicted order of finish for the East.

1. Montreal

2. Washington

3. Philly

4. Pittsburgh

5. Devils

6. Rangers

7. Ottawa

8. Boston

9. Buffalo

10. Tampa

11. Islanders

12. Carolina

13. Florida

14. Toronto

15. Atlanta

Like all Islander fans, I always have optimism on the eve of the season. Whether that's warranted or just blind faith can be debated. I know we will be better than most so called analysts believe. We return a similar team from last year and are mostly healthy going in. We remained far more competitive last season than anyone thought and had the team remained healthy, who knows? Would I be happier if we had Sillinger and Sutton to start the year. You bet. Can Gordon get the same effort out of this group that Nolan did? Let's see.

While I believe we can remain competitive, our success relies on DPs ability to return to form quickly and the team's ability to score consistently, especially on the power play. I also recognize the challenges that this team faces, and with that comes the realization that it will take a lot of factors for us to squeeze into the playoffs.

The Eastern Conference is such that I think my top 5 teams are virtual locks. From 6-12, it's wide open and anything can happen.

I'll be tuned to Center Ice Friday and Saturday rooting from afar. Let's Go Isles.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Media Bashing

In these days leading up to the presidential election, you'll often hear claims from the GOP of bias in the "liberal" media. Whether those claims are founded or not, they have nothing to complain about compared to Islanders fans. We are the sportswriters' red-headed stepchildren. We've grown accustomed to getting no respect, no respect at all. Any Islanders fan who peruses any site's power rankings, for example, will instinctively scroll directly to the bottom of the page. We know where we'll be.

Still, it was a bit of a punch in the gut reading Johnette Howard's recent column in Newsday, The Islanders can't seem to do anything right. It's an article that exists for the sole purpose of trashing the Islanders, and more directly it's fans. There's no broader context to it, just an apparent attempt to stir the pot with some good old fashioned trash talkin'. Maybe new Newsday Czar Dolan offered a bounty to the first "journalist" to make an Islanders fan cry.

Aside from it being a seemingly random attack, my main problem with the column is that it is just plain lazy writing. It's essentially predicated on the notion that the Islanders lack any redeeming qualities. Ms. Howard is not alone in promoting this ideal. It's become the consensus in the hockey community where it's almost a writer's obligation to take pot shots at the Isles. But here's the real deal folks, in as plain English as I can muster:

The Islanders aren't as bad as everyone thinks.

Yes, I know how that sounds. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for my team. But it's the truth. There's plenty of negatives to write about this team, but these sweeping characterizations of the Islanders as the dregs of hockey society are the byproduct of a flawed mob mentality.

The media (to generalize) seem to be unable to separate the team from the organization. In my opinion, it's the often dysfunctional machinations of the organization that lead many writers to dismiss the on-ice product. Ownership debacles, Sumo goalies, backup goalie to GM transformations...etc. Writers, those topics are fair game. Feel free to tear us apart all you'd like. But understand that once the puck drops, those issues are irrelevant. Which brings us back to Ms. Howard's article...

Aside from the objectionable snarky tone, the handful of specifics she addressed were oversimplified or just plain misleading. I'll address a few of them:

Remember the playoffs? Actually, yes, I do. Considering we are just one season removed from the playoffs, it shouldn't be that hard. And by the way, we've been there 4 of the past 6 seasons. How exactly does that make us the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL?

Ryan Smyth...couldn't get out fast enough. Really? Where did you hear that one? Publicly, Smyth and his handlers have always said it was a tough decision and that the Islanders were in the running until the very end. Maybe this is just PR spin, but what do you know to the contrary? Per Garth Snow, "Don (Meehan, Ryan's agent) said we were right in it for Ryan's services until the very end and it was one of the hardest decisions he'd ever been a part of."

Islanders fans streamed out of the draft-day party. Sure, that's true. But also selective. The draft party covered only one pick, and I'd estimate that the majority of those fans that left unhappy from the party were at least largely soothed as the rest of the draft unfolded. You ignore the fact that Grant McCagg of McKeen's Hockey Draft Guide gave the Islanders a grade of B+ and called it one of the top 5 drafts. Or that the Isles grabbed 5 of the top 30 ranked prospects from International Scouting Services.

Islanders fans have thick skins. We wouldn't have survived this long without the ability to brush off bad press. But please, in the future focus on facts. We can take it. And maybe, just maybe, when you start to look at the facts you'll see the team in a more positive light.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Isles Defeat Bruins 3-1

The Isles defeated the Boston Bruins today 3-1, on goals from Doug Weight, Jon Sim and Mike Comrie. The team came out sluggish in the first 3 minutes of the first period with Freddy Meyer taking an early penalty. After the kill, the Isles turned it up by outshooting the Bruins 12-4. As has been typical, the Isles failed to turn any of those 12 shots into goals.

Second period started out awful. Two quick penalties to Guerin and Gervais set up a 5 on 3 for the Bruins. While the Bruins did eventually score on the PP, the stellar goaltending of MacDonald kept the team in the game for most of the period.

Isles really came out of the gate in the 3rd, taking it to them Bruins and forcing them into numerous penalties.

Impressions: I was very impressed with the play of Streit and Hillen on the defense. Good puck movement on the blue line. Sim continues to impress me with his play as well. His ability to park himself in front of the opposing goaltender paid off again with a sweet deflection of a Thomas Pock point shot.

While the Isles only went 1 for 7 of the PP, I thought the puck movment was solid and the play in front of the net was stellar. Both these things were missing last season and should encourage fans of the team.