Last night the Islanders made this season's first foray into Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers. As you'll recall, the Isles won both previous contests versus the Rangers on Long Island.
To be honest, I wasn't really confident of their chances for a win. The Rangers entered as a very hot team of late (with a goaltender sporting a sub-2.00 GAA) and the Isles, while winning, had played six 1-goal contests in a row.
But as this season is shaping up, fans in New York and around the NHL are beginning to realize that it doesn't matter how much money you've spent, how much you talk, or where you've been predicted to finish in the standings. It also doesn't matter if you play in one of the NHL's oldest buildings, if your general manager was your backup goalie just a few minutes ago, or if you traded half of your prospects for 2 months of a star.
People are waking up to the fact that the things that do matter are hard work, discipline, and commitment. And this is evidenced by the 2007-2008 New York Islanders.
The Islanders spent the 2nd least amount of money in the league (~$10M) on their defensive corps this season. Only the Chicago Blackhawks spent less.
We know what went on in Ranger-land this off-season.
But when it came time to play, we saw exactly how Ted Nolan has molded this Isles team into one that has a real chance to go places this season.
Scott Gomez? Silenced.
Jaromir Jagr? Under wraps.
Chris Drury? Stymied.
The Islanders came up huge in a big game in hostile territory and outplayed, outworked, and outhustled the Rangers. Martinek, Witt, and friends made sure that Rick only faced 19 shots. He saved 18 for his 100th career win.
And what can be said about players like Vasicek? Or Fedotenko? Or Richard Park? That they came to the Islanders and have bought into Nolan's system is not really saying enough. They committed to the team and the fans and are starting to see the product of their effort.
Lastly, the Islanders played a more disciplined game than the Rangers. Sure there was hitting and chippiness by both sides, but for the most part (are you listening DP?) they did not allow themselves to be baited or trash-talked into penalties or mental errors.
And that's how you win a close game in a tight division on your archrival's ice. By knowing what matters and what doesn't.