Sunday, January 27, 2008

All-Stars Today, All-Stars Tomorrow

It's been a pretty slow few days as the NHL and AHL have paused for their respective All-Star breaks.

If you somehow missed it, Rick DiPietro was elected to his first NHL All-Star appearance this season, becoming the third Islander goalie to earn that honor.

Rick, sporting one of the Eastern squad's bright red sweaters, started the game on Sunday as the first of three goalies in a 8-7 Eastern victory. Rick, feeling no ill effects from his various "tweakings" over the last week (a nice word for injuries that would sideline lesser goalies), saved 15 of 16 shots before giving way to Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas. While Rick left the ice with a 5-1 lead, the East frittered away said lead but did right themselves in time to claim the victory on a late Marc Savard goal.

If DP can get back to New York without bumping, lacerating, or hyper-extending anything on the plane ride home, we'll consider his first time at the dance a success.

Moving on, a few words need to be penned about the AHL All-Star game. That one will take place tomorrow (Monday) and will feature organizational prospect Jeff Tambellini. At the break JT has 51 points (25 G, 26 A) and has been Bridgeport's clear on-ice leader. The game will be played in Binghamton, and we'll update if Tamby has an eye-opening performance.

One player who will not be going to an All-Star game this season (but we expect to go to many future ones) is Kyle Okposo. On Saturday night, his last game before the hiatus, he scored an early goal in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Phantoms. At this juncture Kyle has played 9 games and has one point per game (2 G, 7 A) to show for his effort. He and the rest of the Sound Tigers will be back on the ice on February 1st.

Since the All-star break is traditionally the time to evaluate where your team stands, we'll give you our general picture of the franchise:

First off, the state of the Islanders is strong. They have a superb motivator in coach Ted Nolan and a general manager (Garth Snow) who has shown competence and a willingness to execute trades. While not blessed with the league's best talent, this collection of parts has played well enough to challenge for a playoff spot, much more than "pundits" and "experts" gave them credit for this past summer.

Furthermore, after years of missteps and trades that siphoned off young talent, the Islanders finally appear to be building from within. With "The Rick" having broken through to the level of NHL-elite status this season, it seems to be just a matter of time before Jeff Tambellini, Kyle Okposo, and perhaps a few others (are you listening Sean Bergenheim?) follow in his wake.

It looks as if the Islanders are at last developing players to supply All-Star games with talent for both now and tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Turning Positives Into Negatives

While the New York area is all abuzz over football, the eyes of Okposo Net always stay fixed on the boards, creases, and blue lines. Unfortunately, what we've been seeing lately on the Coliseum ice has made us feel queasy.

The long and short of it is that in the last two games (versus Philadelphia and Carolina) the Isles have frittered away two goal leads in each, lost both, and in the process squandered 3 points of what looked like an easy four. This has bumped them down to 8th place in the Eastern Conference right now, which is an uncomfortable position to be in with Ottawa holding the likely #1 seed come playoff time.

Wins in each contest would have had the Islanders right in the thick of the Atlantic Division race. Instead, they're still looking up at Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

The thing that is most annoying about this team is that they are still playing fairly sound hockey but not coming away with victories. Everyone knows they don't have the firepower to muster more than 3 or 4 goals a night, but suddenly they have lost the ability to ride out long stretches of play in their own end and efficiently kill penalties. Speaking with the coaches and players provides a multitude of answers, with some guys blaming "bad breaks," others challenging the refs' decisions, and some citing the Islanders' poor decision making process and overall effort. Apparently the Islanders are as clueless as to why this down cycle is happening as we are.

Coach Ted Nolan has done a wonderful job with this team, one that many have picked to finish near last. From hearing his players speak about him we know he is a player's coach and does run fairly loose practices. In fact, last week we were able to attend one of the Isles' morning practices and did notice some things that could use improvement. Here's a short video we shot; see if you notice any deficiencies in the team's cohesiveness:

In similarly disheartening news, Kyle Okposo has himself hit a bit of a dry spell too, registering only one assist in his last two games. We're not worried yet, since his season line stands at 1 G, 7 A in 8 games. Jeff Tambellini is still on fire, notching his 25th AHL goal on Monday, but nobody but us seems to care. We kid, of course. Unfortunately he's stuck behind some good players, so for now he'll just have to keep impressing at Bridgeport.

We're hoping that K.O. and the Isles can get their problems straightened out.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Team Leaders Leading Teams

Once again a quick update on a Wednesday night as we examine both the Islanders and their farm affiliate Bridgeport.

First a check on the youngsters, who were playing a road game at the Norfolk Scope. No, it's not an arena named for a minty-fresh mouthwash, but it is probably the coolest-looking building in the American Hockey League. Here's a picture, if you're interested.

Kyle Okposo continued his top line productivity on Wednesday night in Norfolk, as he assisted on not one, but two Jeff Tambellini goals. Despite Tamby's short trip to Ottawa for no apparent reason, it seems that the two Bridgeport stars are still in sync and comfortable playing together. For Tambellini, the goals were his team-leading 23rd and 24th of the year. Okposo, meanwhile, has 6 assists in just four Bridgeport contests. Ben Walter chipped in with a power play tally as the Sound Tigers won on the road by a score of 3-2.

While that was taking place, Islanders goal leader and team captain Bill Guerin was recording two goals of his own (one empty netter) in a 3-1 win versus New Jersey. All-star goalie Rick DiPietro made 37 saves to once again best opposing netminder (and fellow all-star) Martin Brodeur at the Prudential Center. The Islanders, to this point in the season, have had the Devils' number, winning all five games between the teams. Kudos also to Mike Sillinger (who scored his 11th goal of the year) and the penalty killers, who allowed nothing during five shorthanded spells.

The Islanders and Sound Tigers will each next play teams from Philadelphia. On Friday night Bridgeport will take on the AHL Phantoms, while the following night the Isles will skate with the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum.

Until then, keep grindin'.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bridgeport a Go-Go

Ken had a great post below on today's tilt in Bridgeport - please scroll down. I'll just add a little more info.

First, a big thanks to Kimber Auerbach for the press pass - Ken is the star of the show at our blog, and I'm just happy to come along for the ride. It was my first time at the Arena at Harbor Yard, and the Sound Tigers organization puts on a very good presentation for the fans. Also, it's notable that the Arena is much nicer than the Coliseum - in other words, LET THE DAMN LIGHTHOUSE PROJECT GO THROUGH ALREADY. Otherwise, the Isles are going to end up like the 1990s Cincinnati Bengals -- unable to attract any marquee free agents due to the lack of modern facilities.

Unfortunately, the Sound Tigers were sluggish today, and while they seemed to get their legs in the third period, Binghamton goaltender Brian Elliott was up to the task and the Senators came away with a 3-1 win. Unofficially, Okposo had about 19 minutes of ice time - a little less than previous games, but also understandable considering three games in three days. Even with the fatigue, there were several instances where Okposo showed his puckhandling ability, and a slightly more accurate shot might have netted him his second professional goal. Another good sign - Okposo actually looked to get stronger as the game went on, which bodes well for his ability to handle the rigors of a full NHL season.

Overall, a fun time was had by all, and one would have to say that Kyle Okposo passed his first professional test with flying colors.

A Double Dose of Senators

Due to a scheduling quirk, Sunday featured an afternoon matchup between the AHL affiliates of the Islanders and Ottawa followed by an evening contest between the parent clubs.

As it turned out, the theme of the day wound up being "fatigue."

In Bridgeport, a listless Sound Tigers team sleepwalked through sixty minutes of uninspired hockey against the Binghamton Senators, falling by a score of 3-1. The lone bright spot of the day was recent acquisition Matt Keith's first goal as a Sound Tiger. Kyle Okposo was held off of the scoresheet for the first time in his professional career, as his time and space on the ice was limited. Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano praised his team's defensive effort and did not use the "3 games in 3 nights" excuse, claiming that Binghamton gave a better effort while enduring the same circumstances.

Clearly there seemed to be some letdown from the stellar performance exhibited by his squad on Saturday night, but the coach wasn't buying it. He summed up the game with a simple "if you don't score, you don't win" mantra. Fair enough, coach.

Speaking of letdowns, after Ottawa's Saturday night heavyweight tilt with Detroit the Isles were hoping for some Senator fatigue, and that's exactly what they got. A tired Ottawa team committed 10 penalties on their home ice and managed only a single goal. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Bergeron had two power play goals and Mike Comrie shined with a goal of his own and an assist. Just a few days ago Okposo Net was hoping the Isles could earn a point in Ottawa; well, they took both points in the 3-1 win. The Isles finished the road trip with 6 points of a possible 10 after a bleak beginning. The team will get some well-deserved rest as they fly home and ready themselves for the Canadiens on Tuesday.

While we're on the topic of rest, blogmeister (and Islanders Media Relations Coordinator in his spare time) Corey Witt will finally get some at home. He has been on the trip with the Isles for the last 10 days. You can read about his road adventures here. It's been fun to follow, and we thank him for his insight and his breaking news, but we really want the details. Next time, let us hear about Trent Hunter's Alberta beef jerky or about the crazy Slovakian hijinks pulled by Vasicek and Satan in the hotels. That's what makes following a team fun...getting a glimpse of your heroes when they're just being regular guys.

Finally, a few things to tidy up. Praise must be delivered to Dr. Hook, the brains behind yesterday's 'Okposolypse Now' title and many other clever things on this site.

Also, we want to see Jeff Tambellini get a real shot to stick in the NHL. We know that Ted Nolan and company always do what's best for the team, but calling him up just to send him back down? Not cool!

Anyway, whether it's in B'port or the Island, we're with ya Tamby...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Okposolypse Now

In what can only be described as the media event of year in southern Connecticut, Kyle Okposo made his home debut for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday night.

As promised, Okposo Net was at the Arena at Harbor Yard along with 4,523 paying customers to see if Kyle was and is the real deal. The verdict: a definitive yes.

The Sound Tigers' opponent for the 7 PM contest was the Springfield Falcons, notable for being Edmonton's American Hockey League affiliate. This meant that Ryan O'Marra, dealt away from the Isles in last season's Ryan Smyth deal, would be facing the team that drafted him.

Kyle Okposo took the ice along with his new team wearing the Tigers' bright orange home sweaters. During introductions, he was hard to miss, wearing a large #12 on his back and holding a bright silver stick. Just in case someone *did* miss him, however, the public address announcer blared "Introducing...Number Twelve...Kyle Okposo!" with added emphasis on the last name. The crowd responded approvingly.

When the introductions and anthem concluded, Okposo wasted no time in getting into the mix. Playing without his linemate and housemate Jeff Tambellini (recalled to the Islanders), he skated freely and comfortably in the offensive zone. He had an early shot that produced nothing and missed high over the goal with a laser soon after, but began to feed his mates the puck when possible, creating chances for them, the hallmark of a team leader.

Big Kip Brennan scored the only goal of the first period, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead, but astute observers had a sense that the Okposo show was about to begin.

Just 3:03 into the 2nd, Kyle corralled the puck, sped up the right side, and fed a similarly streaking Frans Nielsen for a goal and a 2-0 lead. Almost seven minutes later, Kyle decided it was time to net a goal for himself, taking a pass from Sean Bentivoglio along the wing, skating in, and firing a blast that was tipped by a defender over (Springfield goalie) Devan Dubnyk's shoulder. Before the crowd was done admiring Kyle's first professional goal he struck again, assisting on a Scott Ford goal just 32 seconds later. With just over half of the period elapsed, Kyle recorded 2 assists, a goal, and a +3!

Up 4-0 and with the crowd delighted, Kip Brennan added to their joy when Falcons d-man T.J. Reynolds foolishly engaged him in a fight. Brennan took about 4 right-handed swings at Reynolds, connecting solidly with the last, knocking Reynolds to the ice senseless. It was one of most staggering blows we've seen in a hockey game in a *long* while. Gladly, Reynolds was conscious after the game and didn't appear seriously injured.

Okposo's ice time was sporadic in the 3rd period as the Tigers milked their lead. They allowed the visitors two goals but the game was never really in jeopardy. The Falcons, sensing desperation, pulled their netminder with over 3 minutes remaining. It was of no use, as Okposo and the Tigers skated away with a 4-2 win.

The three stars of the game, as voted on by us in the press box, matched Okposo Net's vote precisely:

1. Kyle Okposo (1G, 2A, +2)
2. Sean Bentivoglio
3. Kip Brennan

After the game, Sound Tiger coach Jack Capuano had nothing but praise for Okposo. After only two games he used adjectives like "composed," "poised," and "humble" freely. He said that Kyle showed signs of becoming an elite player some day in the NHL.

Our impression of Kyle was similar when we spoke with him in the hallway outside of the dressing room. He was happy that his mother had made the trip to see him play and stated that she'll receive the puck from his first goal. He was also somewhat happy to have Jeff Tambellini's house all to himself, which elicited laughter amongst the gathered media.

All in all it was a great night for both Okposo Net and Kyle. In 2 games he has 5 points (1G, 4A), but more importantly is doing and saying the right things. The pressure of having Islanders scouts, execs, media, and even his mother present does not seem to faze him.

Lastly, a few thank yous must go out to Kimber Auerbach (Director of Sound Tigers Game Operations), Chris Botta (VP, Islanders Media Relations), and our friend Tom Liodice who helped us every step of the way in unfamiliar surroundings.

We'll be back tomorrow at 4 PM for Kyle's 3rd AHL game. Who knows what may be in store?

Friday, January 11, 2008

2 Points

Unless you've been in a cave all week, you know that Kyle Okposo's professional debut took place on Friday night in Binghamton. While Okposo Net loves to travel (are you listening, Islanders?), we did not witness it live. We did, however, follow as closely as humanly possible and are happy to report that Kyle played well.

As predicted, K.O. was on the right side of a line teamed with Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen. Early in the first period the trio had a solid scoring chance, with Okposo dropping the puck to Tambellini for a shot. Binghamton goalie Jeff Glass was up to the task, though, and saved this along with 9 other Bridgeport attempts as the teams headed to the dressing rooms scoreless after the first stanza.

Early in the second period, Bridgeport got one past Glass. On a power play that carried over from the 1st, Ben Walter needed just 11 seconds to give the visitors the lead. He scored his 10th goal of the season with assists from defenseman Dustin Kohn and Kyle Okposo! Okposo dropped the puck for Kohn and he fired the shot, but Walter redirected for the tally. In any event, Kyle took just 20:11 to record his first pro point.

Fast forward to the third period with the Sound Tigers now trailing 2-1. Former Islander Justin Mapletoft was sent off for tripping at 10:48, and again Okposo found Walter for a second power play goal.

Unfortunately, the Senators took the lead for good about 5 minutes later, and your final was Binghamton 3, Bridgeport 2. Kyle Okposo had 2 points on 4 shots, and recorded a -1 in his first professional game.

Remember, Okposo Net will be in Bridgeport on Saturday and Sunday to follow Kyle's journey through the American Hockey League.

Speaking of 2 points, that's exactly what the Islanders earned on Friday night in Calgary. The road trip had gotten off to a slow start, with losses to Colorado, Edmonton, and Vancouver (although they did manage, um, 2 points due to forcing overtime in both Colorado and Vancouver). Nevertheless, the Isles jumped out to a 3-1 lead after 1, gave the same amount back after 2, and played to a stalemate in regulation. They had chances to win in the overtime period (including a spell of 4-on-3 hockey), but wanted to make Rick DiPietro really work for his money. The teams went to a shootout.

Mike Sillinger (who had 2 regulation goals) fired a shot past Miikka Kiprusoff after Kristian Huselius had scored first for the Flames, but DP stymied Jarome Iginla and Owen Nolan on their attempts. Meanwhile, Richard Park scored on his chance, and the Isles came away with the 'W.'

Trent Hunter and Ruslan Fedotenko showed signs of life, each recording multi-point games, but the power play still looks lifeless and sloppy. Coach Ted Nolan really has to work on getting this team to get a) men in front of the net and b) more shots at the opposing goalie. When the puck is thrown in front good things happen, especially when screeners are present near the crease.

The road trip concludes this weekend on what will be a very busy sports Sunday. As mentioned, we'll be in Bridgeport watching Kyle, then we'll race back to Okposo Net World Headquarters to catch the Isles at Ottawa. We may even have an NFL playoff game somewhere on the cluster of big screen TVs. We're very resourceful.

So, if the Isles can get just one point in Ottawa, they'll return with a decent, if not superb, 5 points of 10 from a tough Western swing. It will help them stay in a challenging and dynamic Eastern Conference race. But let's not look too far ahead.

All in all, a nice night for both Kyle and his future team.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Excitement Building

A quick check-in on a Wednesday afternoon. Little bits of information keep trickling in about Kyle's Bridgeport assignment. Here's what we know:

Although he's now with the team, Kyle will not dress for tonight's (Wed.) game against the Portland Pirates. He will skate with the team Thursday morning and make his Bridgeport debut on Friday night in Binghamton.

When he does step on the ice, Okposo will be wearing #12. We think it's nice of the organization to assign him #12 so we don't have to change the banner graphic at the top of this page...

It seems as if Kyle will be thrown right into the fire in two ways. According to what we've read, he'll be playing on the top line along with Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen. Tambellini is a budding star in his own right and is the Sound Tigers' leading scorer. Also, with three games in three nights, Kyle will be getting an early test of his stamina.

Members of Okposo Net will be present at both Saturday's and Sunday's home games. We'll have more Kyle info than you want and certainly more than you need. If we can fight through the media crowd, you may even see a quote or two from the man himself. It promises to be an exciting weekend in Okposo-land!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Official: Kyle to Bridgeport

Word from the Islanders just in that Kyle will begin his pro career in Bridgeport.

In our estimation, it's a prudent move for several reasons. It gives the Islanders a chance to see exactly how far along his development is, it doesn't provide him with a sense of entitlement over his future teammates (i.e. allowing him to "cut the line" to the NHL), and it delays the timetable on his contract.

Kyle is a good, young prospect who the Isles are clearly very high on. He acquitted himself nicely against the world's best hockey players of his age these past two weeks. If he really is NHL-ready, we'll know it soon enough. No need to rush him right to the top and bounce someone out of an NHL job.

Plus, if Kyle is lacking "team player" skills as some skeptics have suggested (and we fully doubt), it's a lot better to discover it at Bridgeport than under Ted Nolan on the Island.

We hope to see many of you at the Arena at Harbor Yard in the coming weeks. Kyle will likely make his home debut on Saturday, January 12th. If you're in the area (or even if you're not) come by and cheer for Kyle. You might even meet some of the Okposo Net bloggers. It's less than an hour from New York City by car and you can say you saw Kyle Okposo play before he was 'Kyle Okposo.'

Saturday, January 5, 2008

World Juniors Roundup

The World Juniors are over, and sadly, the US could muster no better than a 4th place finish. Canada won the gold, defeating Sweden on Saturday 3-2 in overtime. Goaltender Steve Mason (CAN) was the tournament's MVP. Russia took bronze when they defeated the US 4-2 in the earlier game. Kyle Okposo assisted on Rhett Rakhshani's goal in that contest.

Here's a look at how the Islanders' prospects fared over the entire tournament:

Kyle Okposo (US), 6 points (1 G, 5 A), +2
Rhett Rakhshani (US), 4 points (2 G, 2 A), +1
Rob Figren (SWE), 7 points (5 G, 2 A), +4
Tomas Marcinko (SVK), 6 points (2 G, 4 A), +3
Stefan Ridderwall (SWE), 1-0, 1.00 GAA, .941 SV%

Overall, a very solid showing for the future Islanders who participated.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Roadblogging: Minnesota

Hello everyone!

OkposoIsland checking in from the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota.

One of the original aims of this trip was to see Kyle and the UM Golden Gophers live at Mariucci Arena. As fate would have it, the Islanders and $2.55 million intervened. So Kyle won't be back in Minnesota on January 6th. He'll either be headed to Bridgeport, Connecticut or Long Island. As always, Okposo Net will let you know his destination as soon as we hear it.

Up here in the great white north they don't get FSNY; I had to follow the Islanders via Boy, that is frustrating. Regardless, on Thursday night the Isles dropped a 4-3 overtime affair to the Florida Panthers. The good news is that the power play continued its sudden hot streak, adding another 2 power play goals to the 3 they scored on New Year's Eve in Carolina. Too bad it didn't translate into a win.

Switching gears, I thought I'd be able to watch a broadcast of the Minnesota Wild game here. Unfortunately, I am in front of a television that isn't getting the channel carrying it. Nevertheless, the Wild beat the "Team Formerly known as the Minnesota North Stars" 6-3. Okposo Net favorite Marian Gaborik had 2 goals for the victors.

This state *is* hockey obsessed though. Flipping around the dial I did find White Bear Lake playing Stillwater. Yes, those are Twin Cities-area HIGH SCHOOLS. In case you'd lost track of him (I certainly certainly had), former NHL standout Phil Housley is the coach of the Stillwater team. High school hockey on television...that's Minnesota.

A world away in the Czech Republic, Islanders prospect Tomas Marcinko ended his impressive tournament with another 2 assists, bringing his final total for the tourney to 6 points (2 G, 4A).

On Friday, Kyle and his American mates face their toughest test yet, battling Team Canada in a semifinal game at 2PM EST. Just to catch everyone up, Okposo has a goal and 4 assists so far. It should be a great day of hockey, with the US-Canada affair taking place right after Sweden vs. Russia concludes.

Good luck to Kyle and crew in the red, white, and blue.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Forget the Past, Focus on the New

Hi all. Here's to wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2008. That should go without saying.

As we forge ahead into the new year, it's as good a time as any to state the following: put away the past and look forward to what's ahead. While this outlook may seem particularly geared toward Islanders fans, it's really for everyone.

For those of you in Minnesota, it's been a rough two weeks. We sympathize. Some of you are still simmering over the curious timing of Kyle Okposo's departure from your fine college program. Having not been there, and knowing how stories sometimes get spun or confused, we don't know exactly how things happened and who said what, or if too much was said by one party or another. Some have judged Kyle and the Islanders organization harshly; that's your right as fans. However, there are always two sides to a story (and frequently the truth lies somewhere in the middle) and Kyle did what he thought was best for him in his situation. Again, only he can know the true motivation(s) for his departure. For all we know, some situation, comment, or incident could have affected his outlook in a way we may never fully know.

I hope that in the near future many of you can put aside your animosities and just enjoy Kyle for what he is and will be: a special hockey talent from your fine state.

To make matters worse, your Vikings were eliminated from NFL playoff contention, the Twins have had a potential Johan Santana trade looming over them for what now seems ages, and the Gophers (with or without Okposo) just don't seem to be very good this season. Need we mention the Kevin Garnett-less Timberwolves?

Here's wishing you a better 2008 in the sports world. The authors of this humble blog genuinely like and root for every professional Minnesota team. Two of us have even been 'blown' at the Metrodome (Minnesotans know what we're talking about). You're great fans, and you deserve a winner this year.

To the Islanders fans, it's also time to focus on the future. While the past has brought us great moments and memories, it's probably best to let thoughts of Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti, Alexei Yashin, and everyone else reside in the past. The future is being ushered in, and quickly. One need only look as far as the Coliseum ice, where Blake Comeau, Ben Walter, Sean Bergenheim, Jeff Tambellini, and other youngsters are getting their chances to show off their talents. With Rob Figren, Rhett Rakhshani, Tomas Marcinko, and of course, Kyle in the system things are looking better than they have in a long while. And there's hope behind the bench too, as the Isles have their best coach(es) in place since the Arbour days.

So, as 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of the last Islanders division title, hopefully it will also mark the beginning of a long period of sustained excellence.

And to those of you who just like watching good hockey, here's to wishing you a fun and enjoyable rest of the World Juniors tournament. There are many talented young players on all of the rosters; don't limit yourself to just rooting for your own country. With the US and Swedish teams playing the best so far, things are definitely changing in that respect too. With all due respect to the great Canadian and Russian teams, you're not the only kids on the block anymore. It looks like 2008 is going to be a great year.

Enjoy, and have a great '08!