Thursday, October 29, 2009

Road Warriors

A great win last night against the Rangers. Unquestionably the Isles strongest 60 minutes of the year thus far, in all aspects of their game. They rolled 4 strong lines, were aggressive on the forecheck, responsible defensively, and took much higher-percentage shots than we've seen thus far this season. One can't help but wonder where we'd be if we played with that type of intensity and responsibility all season. At least it gives us some hope.

The next 3 games are very important. First, we need to see if we can carry some momentum from this great performance. But more importantly, 2 of the next 3 games are at the Coliseum where the Islanders are a respectable 2-2-2. After Monday's home game versus Edmonton, the team plays 9 of their next 10 on the road (0-2-3 so far). The Islanders can't afford to fall victim to their quirky schedule. If they don't find a way to win on the road and match the home team's intensity, this season will officially be over before Thanksgiving.

If we can get through this stretch successfully (let's define success as 4+ wins in those 10 games), the reward comes in December. From Dec 12 thru 29, the Isles play 10 straight games in NY (8 at Coliseum, 2 at MSG). If we can stay in the mix until then, hopefully the crowds will come and the Coliseum can provide a true home-ice advantage through that long home stand.

Next up for the Isles are two division leaders - at Washington then home versus Buffalo. Good tests for a team that, at least for one night, looked like they are ready to play with the big boys.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Polishing the Turd

We're all too familiar with the epic collapses and shootout fails that have brought the Islanders to their current position in the cellar of the Atlantic with a 1-4-5 record. I won't insult anyone's intelligence and pretend that we should be anything but borderline miserable at this point. But the purpose of this post is to try to put a positive spin on things. Play a little "what-if" to put things in a slightly different perspective.

First and foremost, we need to remember, it's VERY early in the season. As Chris(topher) Botta recently pointed out (sarcastically?), the Isles are only 4 points out of a playoff spot. To put that in a language you can understand, we are a mere 4 OT losses from the playoffs! But seriously, it's so early in the season that we can have but one regulation win and still be only 4 points out of the 8-spot. If this were March and we were 4 points out of a playoff spot, we'd be ecstatic. In October/November, a good week or two can catapult you from the basement to a home-ice-in-the-first-round slot. Again, the point is it's very early and there's plenty of time to get it going.

But that begs the question - does this team have the ability to string together some wins? I think the answer is yes, and we only need to look at the last 10 games to support that. 3 of their 4 regulation losses were by 3+ goals and they were badly outplayed in each. So there's no rewriting history on those. Their only other regulation loss (against LA) was a 1-goal game, but every team is going to have a bunch of those during the course of a season. So we'll ignore that as well. It's in the 5 OT losses that, a different bounce here or there, could change the whole complexion of the season.

Let's pretend the collapse in Boston never happened. Then let's assume of the remaining 4 games we lost in OT or shootout, we split instead. Here's our record:
4-4-2, 10 points

We'd be in the #10 spot, one point behind Boston and Philadelphia for a playoff spot. I don't think there would be one fan in Islanders country that would be complaining. Sure, we are cursed and all those bad things DID happen. But it really isn't too far fetched to imagine a scenario where we are sitting with a .500 record and 10 pts at this stage of the game.

I feel like this team is capable of .500 hockey this season. A win tonight and we are only 2 games under with a gazillion left to play. I'm not saying it will happen. But it can.

Now, back to reality...


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pacing '08-'09

It's tough in this day and age of information overload to watch a hockey game from the DVR. I was about an hour behind watching this evening's game against Carolina, and despite my best efforts was made aware of all developments in real-time. There were texts from friends at the game, updates on my Twitter feed, and emails from friends warning me of yet another collapse. It's a strange feeling watching a solid 3-1 game late in the third, yet knowing the disaster that is going to happen. In fairness though, given the Isles history, those watching the game live probably knew what was going to happen just as well as I did.

My main takeaway from the game is that the Isles are on pace to match their point total from last season, averaging 0.7 points per game. This can be taken as a positive or negative, depending on your disposition. Personally, I think it's a good thing. I have no doubt this year's Islanders can and will play better hockey than they have thus far this year. If that's the case, they will show improvement over their '08-'09 point total, which is success in my book. I don't have delusions of grandeur.

Here's my takeaways from the game:

- Coming into this game, I was thinking that, despite leading the team in scoring, I wasn't overly impressed by Matt Moulson. Not to say I didn't like him for this team, just that his stats overstated his real impact. Tonight, he showed me that he is for real. He played a solid 2-way game and is on pace to be one of the better surprises we've seen on the Island in many years.

- What is going on with Mark Streit? Not just tonight, but all year he's looked like a different player. He's got a respectable 4 pts and is only a -1, but I'm looking beyond the stat sheet. He's had enormous difficulty keeping the puck in the offensive zone and has misfired on more shots than I remember from all of last year. We need him to step it up.

- Best game of the year by Roloson thus far, and I would say that even if they lost the shootout. Finally looked like the player I've watched in Edmonton the last few years.

- Josh Bailey continues to be invisible, and is not building on the promise he showed in the second half of last season. 7 shots on goal for the whole season thus far is unacceptable.

Nice to get the first win behind us. Onward and upward to Saturday when the overrated (yeah, right) Ovechkin hits the Coliseum Ice. Remember, in Islanders country, 2 wins constitutes a streak. Lets make it happen.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day Matinee

Happy Columbus Day, all. Just as Christopher Columbus set sail back in 1492 en route to discovering uncharted territory, the Islanders hope to sail past the Kings today to discover their first win of the young season.

I'll do my best to make that the last lame Columbus metaphor in this post, but I can't make any promises. But on that subject, here's some interesting Columbus trivia to commemorate the day. Columbus died believing that the land he found was actually the East Coast of Asia. He thought the Earth was smaller than it actually is, and that he sailed unfettered around virtually the entire globe. Amazing that the man lauded for the greatest non-scientific discovery in history died not knowing what he accomplished.

Anyway, enough with the history lesson. We have a game to play. The Kings have been working their way East, as they opened the season at home winning their first two of their first three and scoring 15 goals in the process. They then traveled to St. Louis where they played a tighter game, beating the Blues 2-1. Today they play their first of two NY-area games in this Columbus Day matinee against our winless (and technically lossless) NY Islanders. The Kings haven't seen postseason play in six seasons, and hope that this is the year that the rebuild finally pays off with some spring hockey.

The Islanders have to be hungry coming back home after the debacle in Boston on Saturday night (what a way to introduce live hockey to my nephew). If this were the NFL, you'd have to love their chances against a West Coast team traveling east for an early afternoon start. But this ain't the NFL, and the Islanders continually find new and unique ways to give up valuable points. Regardless, I can only hope that this year's Columbus Day game is an improvement from last year's 7-1 whooping at the hands of the Sabres.

Here are the three key things I am looking for out of today's game.

1. A regulation win. Well, duh. Actually, I'll just take a win in any form. That will give the Islanders 5 points through four games. Last season, the Islanders had 5 points through 10 games. Progress in Islanders Country is measure in inches, not miles, and a win today would be a nice reminder that it's not 2008 anymore.

2. Better play from Sutton and Witt. If we are going to have success this season, we absolutely need better skating and stronger play from these 2 cogs of our defense. We have reason to be optimistic with the play of the Tavares-Okposo-Moulson line, but all of that will be for naught if our D is old and slow.

3. Josh Bailey needs to make his presence felt. It's only 3 games and I'm still bullish on Bailey, but he's been more or less a non-factor thus far. I don't need stats to make me happy, I just need to notice him more. We drafted him to be a playmaker, and he was well on his way towards the end of last season. Let's hope it's just taking him time to adjust to all that extra muscle on his frame.

In an ominous sign, today's media notes point out that the only meeting last year between the Kings and Isles went to a shootout (Isles lost). Biron is set to start in goal, so at least if it does go to the shootout we might see at least one Isles save (sorry, Rollie).

On a side note, Colin Wilson is making his NHL debut tonight. He is one of the names that will forever be linked with Josh Bailey in determining the success or failure of last year's draft day maneuvers.

Halfway through the first, no score. A brief fight between Joel Rechlicz and Raitis Ivanans, not won by the Wrecker. A few noticeable strong plays from Witt, so my #2 key to the game is working out so far.

Ryan Smyth just go a nice Coliseum welcome (sarcasm notice!) as he tried unsuccessfully to beat Witt up the left boards. And now, they just announced a promotion to text your guess for who will score the Isles first goal. Are they always so confident that they can wait until 15 minutes have been played before announcing this contest, knowing we'll be scoreless? Sadly, yes. Seconds later, Okposo is robbed just outside the crease.

Schremp showed some really nice moves around the net and got a great shot off, but was denied by Quick. In his 2+ games thus far, he's looked pretty solid. No doubt worth extending his "probationary" period. It's not as if Tambellini's absence is killing us. But I'll keep my expectations in check...there was once a day that I was proclaiming Marc Andre Bergeron the second coming. Proof that conclusions should not be drawn after a few good games. End of first, scoreless.

I spent the first-half of the second period having a nice conversation with Nick Giglia from Let There Be Light(house). I've been reading his work from day 1 but this was my first chance to meet him in person. A sharp guy, and the work that he has done on behalf of all Lighthouse supporters and Islanders fans has been invaluable. Thank Nick!

On the powerplay, Streit twice fails to keep the puck in the zone. Not typical of him. Tavares is set up for what would have been a trademark Tavares goal from down low, but he wasn't able to get his stick on it. It would have been nice to hear this place erupt. PP is over, no scoring.

A terrible non-call against the Kings moments before the put it past Biron to make it 1-0. It irks me irrationally when the refs directly influence the outcome of a game. I'd rather lose 7-1 then lose 1-0 when that one goal comes after a bad non-call. End of second, 1-0 Kings.

2-0 Kings as Drew Doughty goes top corner on a laser from the high slot. With the lack of scoring chances the Isles have generated today, it doesn't seem likely that a comeback is pending. Likely our first regulation finish of the season.

I always think of Kids Day as a good opportunity to sell the game of hockey to young (potential) fans. Sadly there hasn't been too much in this game to convert these kids to fans for life. On that note, I'm signing off unless this team makes a liar of me and mounts a nice Bruin-esque comeback.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thanks Jackman

In all the bitterness from the loss yesterday I forgot to send out a thanks to Tim Jackman who tossed me a puck for my son at his first hockey game. A classy gesture.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

50 Minutes

Serenity now...

On my drive back from the Garden tonight, I struggled to call this loss devastating. Certainly, after complete dominance for 50 minutes, and up 3 goals, even the most jaded Islander fan was left feeling kicked in the stomach. Deja Vu all over again. We've all seen these collapses before and the flashbacks to early last season are frightening.

I'm telling myself it's the 3rd game of the season. We have 1 point from every game. Anything to get my mind off the last 10 minutes.

So many positives to take. Isles were physical and strong on the puck all night. They moved the puck well and came out of the defensive zone with poise and a plan.

Serenity now.

Radom thoughts: why was JT not in the shootout? Is it me or do Witt and Sutton look slow? Has Bailey been invisible? I hope Martinek stays healthy this year.

Quick turnaround to a Monday afternoon game. Let's hope these guys have short memories.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Schremp Cocktail

Rob Schremp will make his Islander debut tonight against the Senators in Ottawa. The underachieving Oiler castoff has a lot to prove but is anyone else hoping that for just once, another team's underachiever will turn into a producer for the Isles rather than the other way around?


I think it will be interesting to see what kind of leash they give Schremp. As Botta reported, he is going be given the opportunity to make his mark on the second line. So production will be expected. Will this turn into a multi-year project ala Tambellini, or will some scoring be required to keep his spot? If he struggles over the next 10 games, do we write him off? This is always dicey when you have someone who was so prolific at one level and struggles at the next. My feeling is, he's already exercised his grace period in Edmonton. If he's not contributing as a second line player (with PP time) within 15-20 games, you move on. It's time to put up or shut up.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Reflection

"You're right I suppose, I mean, I guess it is childish. But when I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn't communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball. Now that - that was real" - City Slickers

Perhaps a bit melodramatic I suppose but there is an inherent truth about this quote that I can apply to hockey, and more specifically the Islanders. Beyond my love of hockey as a sport lies something much deeper, a connection to my family and friends. A common bond of experiences, shared heartbreak and triumph that I think many Islander fans can relate to.

When there was nothing else much to talk about, when we were at different points in our lives, there was always hockey in general, and more specifically the Islanders to talk about. Going to a game and sitting next to my Dad, learning the players names and jersey numbers, seeing a new team for the first time, and learning the rules. Experiencing the game through my Dad's eyes and learning to love it and have a passion for it because of him is something I'll never forget.

I reflect on this as I prepare to take my son to his first Islander game this Saturday in Boston. I wish it could be on Long Island, but alas, my life has taken me to Massachusetts, and this is the best I can provide at this point. My son is very young, only 3, and I know he'll be more interested in the popcorn than the players, and the zambonis more than the goals, but I can only
hope this is the start of a passion for the game that I can pass along to him, just as my Dad did for me.

I grew up during the dynasty years, when going to a game at the Coliseum was an event that people fought to get into. When a sellout and a victory was the norm. Today, we all know things are different. We're now all faced with the possibility of losing our team. Who among us hasn't been pushed to the brink of abandoning this team forever? Just when the team's management seems to start pulling things together we are faced with the Town of Hempstead. Will the Islanders still be in Nassau when my son is old enough to truly care? Will they be in NY? I guess it's that stark reality that has made me appreciate this day more than anything.

In the event that the worst happens, and the Isles leave, I fear my love of the sport will go with them. So while we still have the Isles, and even though I'm over 200 miles away, I plan on passing my love of hockey to my son with the hope that he will be able to remain an Islander fan for all his years, no matter where life takes him. And anticipating the day I can take him to the
Coliseum for a home game...or even better, take him to the Lighthouse for his first home game.

I'll have a recap of Saturday's game by the end of the weekend along with some pictures. Let's hope for a win in Ottawa in the mean time.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Case of O'Malley vs. Murray

If worse eventually comes to worst, and the Islanders do leave Long Island, many will undoubtedly draw comparisons between Kate Murray and former Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. O'Malley, for those that don't know, is the man vilified as being responsible for moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles, changing the future of the borough forever. He was/is so hated in Brooklyn, writers Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield once included him in their "triumvirate of evil" along with Hitler and Stalin. Given Kate Murray's perceived role in the Lighthouse approval process by most LH supporters, she will clearly become public enemy #1 should the team ever find it's home elsewhere.

The truth is, with all due respect to those still seething over the Dodgers after all these years, O'Malley's true contemporary is Charles Wang. To compare O'Malley to Murray is an insult to good ol' Walter. In fact, the similarities between the situation facing O'Malley in the early 1950s and Wang over the past decade are eerily similar.

By the early '50s, despite the on-field success of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field was in bad shape. The physical structure was deteriorating, seating had been added which made the stands overcrowded, and attendance was on the decline. In 1955 the Dodgers won the championship and averaged only 13,400 fans per game (their lowest level in a decade). Many believe racial tension was a factor in the attendance drop as well. While the signing of Jackie Robinson was revolutionary for the game, it escalated racial tensions and kept many families away from the ballpark.

However, over in the South Bronx racial tensions were undoubtedly higher, yet the Yankees were drawing great crowds. The real issue was access. Yankee Stadium was easily accessible by subway or highway. Ebbets field was less convenient to get to and parking was limited.

Now here's where the similarities begin. In 1952, O'Malley reached the point where he knew a new stadium was necessary to survive. He commissioned designer Norman bel Geddes to design a new stadium, for which the plans were ultimately described by the New York Times as "a grandiose order". The project was derisively referred to as "O'Malley's Pleasure Dome". It was too big, too much. A criticism Charles Wang knows all too well, I might add. He had the money for the stadium, but needed a suitable location on which to build. He targeted a site on the corner of Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave, but securing that land required the help of the one-and-only Robert Moses.

That proposed land was being eyed for redevelopment. At the time, it was occupied by a LIRR depot, Fort Greene market, and a number of small businesses. O'Malley needed Moses, who was granted condemnation power from the government under Title 1 of the Federal Housing Act (FHA), to essentially condemn the land and sell it for the purpose of building a new stadium. The purpose of the FHA was to eliminate urban slums by giving local agency funds to purchase property and sell it to conform to a larger "public purpose". This certainly seemed to fit the bill.

Moses rejected the request, however, indicating that the stadium did not serve this larger public purpose. The truth, or at least what many believe to be the truth, is that O'Malley simply didn't care about Brooklyn or spectator sports, and felt he had bigger fish to fry in terms of developing parks, roads, and public housing. Also, it is believed that Moses' vision was to have the team play at a city-owned stadium in Flushing Meadow, Queens.

In January 1957, O'Malley issued an ultimatum: Unless something is done in six months, I will have to make other arrangements. There is still a short time left before we could be forced to take an irrevocable step to commit the Dodgers elsewhere". Does this sound familiar to anyone?

For 4+ years O'Malley tried to work with Moses to work things out in Brooklyn, but was continually left frustrated. Again, does this ring a bell with anyone? Finally, after the 1957 season, O'Malley followed through on his ultimatum and moved the team to Los Angeles, forever altering the course of Brooklyn's future. The worst part of all? That piece of land eyed by O'Malley remains undeveloped to this day (someone please correct me if I'm wrong...if I am I can safely say the land was only developed in the last 5 years or so**).

So in this case, Kate Murray is playing the Robert Moses role. Ironic, considering many (rightfully) point to Moses as a visionary largely responsible for a lot of the progressive, smart development on Long Island. In the case of the Dodgers, he did not serve Brooklyn as kindly.

I've made no secret I am pro-Lighthouse. But the truth is, I recognize that there are legitimate concerns about the project. Is it a bit too ambitious? Possibly. Are there serious traffic and environmental issues that need to be addressed? Undoubtedly. But will Long Island benefit from such a development? Unquestionably. And will a similar opportunity ever come to have this land developed using almost exclusively private funding? Unlikely.

On an emotional level, I would get behind almost anything to enable the Islanders to stay in their rightful home. But on an intellectual level, I am able to evaluate this proposal on it's true merits. Long Island is on the decline. Businesses are leaving, our young people are being priced out of the housing market and leaving the Island, taking their intellectual capital with them. We need a stimulus. Where else is it going to come from? This is our one, unique opportunity to reverse the course of the Island over the last 20+ years. Put and end to the strip-mall sprawl that somehow fits in with our vision of suburbia. Spark a new way of thinking on this Island. The Lighthouse in and of itself is not the only answer, but it's a step towards reversing the course of an Island on the Decline.

I have a nightmare of seeing the Islanders, in their new city with their new team name, hoisting the Cup in a few years. Like those poor Whalers fans who felt so much pain watching the Hurricanes win it all. But the real nightmare will be, in 50 years from now, looking at the former site of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and seeing a vacant lot of cracked concrete.

** Update Oct 7 - Thanks to my dad for pointing out that the land in question is what Bruce Ratner is currently seeking to develop as part of his deal to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. I was not aware that these were one and the same.