Monday, December 29, 2008

Kyle Warm but Isles Lose at MSG

Just a quick few notes about the final Islanders road game in 2008. Kyle scored his fourth goal of the season on Monday (12/29) night, but the Isles again managed to perform a 3rd period fold-o-matic and lost 5-4 to the Rangers.

The Isles took a 2-1 lead after two periods on Kyle's redirection past Henrik Lundqvist just prior to the buzzer. For Kyle it was his fourth point in three games, which of course is the trend that we Isles fans want to see him continue.

Okposo has earned time recently with the power play unit as well, as coach Scott Gordon tries to mix and match in his quest to find things that work. Furthermore, the play of the Comeau-Comrie-Okposo line has been more effective of late; each man scored a goal on Monday night (although Comrie's came with just 0:19 left to play with an extra skater on the ice). Comeau and Okposo look like they are really beginning to get comfortable with their roles on the team and it's starting to be reflected on the scoresheet.

Unfortunately the Islanders still find themselves mired in 30th place overall in the league with a woeful 11-22-4 record. They take on Florida at home Wednesday afternoon (2:00 PM start) for their final contest of 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guerin Hits Milestone as Isles Break Streak

Boxing Day, a holiday when those in the upper classes traditionally present gifts to those of lower status, held true to form for the Islanders in 2008. The Isles, most certainly residing in the lower class of the NHL this season, found themselves festooned with all sorts of goodies on this particular December 26th. While the Toronto Maple Leafs assumed coming in that they would be the team departing Long Island with an easy two points in their holiday basket, they headed home empty-handed and disappointed.

First off, franchise goalie Rick DiPietro returned from a two month injury hiatus and started in goal. He energized the crowd as soon as the starting lineups were announced and he seemed to do the same for his teammates. The team came out looking fresh right from the opening puck drop and played with that same energy for the entire game, a complete effort that has been lacking in these parts for quite a while.

Kyle Okposo caught Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala off guard at 3:47 of the first period, sending a flukey goal into the net from a tough angle low in the right-hand circle. Nevertheless, it was 1-0 Islanders early.

Much maligned Lee Stempniak evened the score for the Leafs late in the period, but for some reason the Isles seemed to go into the locker room without losing their edge or energy.

In the 2nd period, Lady Luck appeared to smile on rookie Josh Bailey for the first time in his NHL career, as he seemingly scored his first NHL tally. It turned out the lady was an Indian giver, though, as video replay credited the goal to captain Bill Guerin, the 399th of his storied professional tenure.

Guerin added another goal to start the 3rd, and the crowd recognized the achievement, chanting his name and standing in honor of the milestone. Guerin is only the 8th American-born player to reach the 400 goal threshold.

Defenseman Freddy Meyer blasted a shot from the point past Toskala at 8:39 of the 3rd to give the Isles a 4-1 lead and basically wrap up the game. Kyle assisted on it, his 7th point of the year.

Afterward, the Isles seemed in a pretty festive mood, relieved that they had not only broken a 10 game losing streak, but confident in knowing they have their #1 goaltender back between the pipes. While Toronto strolled into the Coliseum having won 5 of their last 7 and expecting a gift by playing the lowly Isles, it was the Canadian squad who received an unwanted, unexpected surprise on this night.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day Shocker

Rick DiPietro to start in goal tonight (12/26) versus Toronto. We'll see if he's the elixir that cures the Islanders' ailments.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tavares Watch: Festivus Edition

And so we've hit the imperfect 10 - with tonight's loss to Atlanta, the Isles have now lost 10 in a row. And lately, it seems like the Isles are playing Amy Winehouse hockey - in other words, an absolute mess.

With the loss, the Isles have taken sole possession of last place in the league. And I'm here to say that I am perfectly fine with it, as finishing 30th this year will guarantee a nice prize at the end of June - either John Tavares or Victor Hedman. With both players considered by far to be the top two in the 2009 draft, the Isles may just need to hit rock bottom this season in order to contend for the future.

Let's face it, the Isles are going nowhere this season. So let Coach Gordon experiment with the lineups to find a line or two that might have potential for '09-'10. Evaluate the talent properly, figure out who best fits or can fit into the system, and get ready for next season, where they will hopefully have either a star forward or a potential franchise D-man to build around.

So as the Isles continue to struggle, I've come to accept that this team is done and am looking forward to seeing what GM Snow has up his sleeve during the offseason. And of course, it would be nice to see the Lighthouse finally approved, but that's for another day...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kyle Returns But Isles Still Reeling

Kyle returned from injury this weekend to play against both Minnesota and Nashville, but had little impact on the scoreboard in either contest. The Isles are still winless for the month of December (yes, we're over 20 days in) and there's not much more to say. Injuries have played a major role, but this is about the worst stretch of play we've seen from this franchise in many, many years.

Hopefully this pain will at least reap nice rewards when the season is over.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trivia Time! Answer

The voting has concluded, and the correct answer to the question on the right is the Colorado Avalanche.

While almost everyone knows Kyle was born and raised in Minnesota (St. Paul, to be precise), not everyone realizes that during his formative years that fine state was without an NHL franchise.

The Minnesota North Stars, at one time this blog's second favorite team, bolted for Dallas after the 1993 season. Kyle was 5 years old at the time. NHL hockey, in the form of the Minnesota Wild, returned to the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 2000.

In the meantime, the outstanding skill of players such as Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg attracted Kyle to become a fan of the Avalanche, a team who themselves had relocated from Quebec in 1995.

In any case, as a fan Kyle experienced one of the NHL's better (and nastier) rivalries in the 1990's and early 2000's, as the 'Lanche frequently squared off with their rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, in many memorable regular season and playoff games.

Hopefully he will now be able to enjoy a pretty good rivalry as a player during his time in New York, as we're no strangers to blood feuds in these parts either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Roadblog: Philadelphia

Tuesday night (12/9) found Okposo Net in Philadelphia, enjoying a rare chance to catch the Isles wearing the road white sweaters. Joining us for the evening was our friend Deanna of Marinerds, etc. fame, one of the most informative and well written sites covering Japanese and Asian baseball. Her passion for that sport burns with the heat of 1,000 (rising?) suns, and if you have any interest in baseball or just wish to learn a few new things I urge you to check out her work.

Though she lives in Japan, Deanna is originally from Philly and suggested we start the evening off properly with a cheesesteak from Jim's Steaks. Soon after, we made our way over to SEPTA's Broad Street Line and shuttled down to the Pattison stop, which leaves passengers just a few steps from the front door of the Wachovia Center. We breezed right through the turnstiles with nary a glance from any security people. Had we known there would be no bag check, Deanna would have brought her Nikon D200 (which gives all the boys lens envy) to the game. Oh well, live and learn.

Upon entering the arena, I was struck by the resemblance the place has to Florida's BankAtlantic Center (or whatever the nom du jour is of that building). Having moments beforehand walked past the old Spectrum (slated for demolition within a year), I could imagine what an improvement this building was for Flyers fans, and thought of a day when the Islanders might upgrade from their Spectrum-esque barn. But I digress.

The concourses in the Wachovia Center are constructed of fairly plain gray-ish tile, but are wide and feature doorless restrooms, like one might see in an airport. The Flyers have added some nice touches, placing air hockey and bubble hockey games in various spots. Deanna resisted the urge to play one of the stuffed toy catching games.

As for the game itself, some of the crowd was still filing in to the big, two-tiered arena when Andy Hilbert put a power play goal past Martin Biron at 9:23 in the first. Just 61 seconds later Doug Weight further deflated the crowd, putting the Isles up 2-0 by cleaning up Sean Bergenheim's and Trent Hunter's shots with a backhanded winner. The score was a bit surprising, given that at this point in the game the Flyers had been controlling the offense and out-shooting the Isles.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned to Deanna, Philadelphia has so many offensive weapons that they are hard to keep down, and soon enough Riley Cote smashed Jon Sim into the boards behind the Islander goal, stole the puck, and feathered a handsome pass to former-Isle Aaron Asham, who blasted it past "backup-backup" Yann Danis. It was 2-1 New York at the first intermission.

Riley Cote did some more smashing at the start of the second period, only this time to the face of Mitch Fritz. To be fair, while Fritz did leave the scrum bloodied, it was a pretty even fight. Fritz may have even bested Cote.

Continuing on, Flyers rookie Darroll Powe netted his first NHL goal at 8:09 in the 2nd, and with about 4 minutes remaining in the stanza Jeff Carter netted his 20th(!) goal of the year, giving the Flyers a 3-2 advantage. Carter's goal delighted the woman sitting behind us, who apparently has an unhealthy obsession with the London, Ontario native. Seemingly unaware that players are shifted on and off the ice ("Put Carter in!") and not content with his 20:35 of ice time, if had she been coaching Carter would have logged 58 minutes and gone into immediate cardiac arrest.

Blake Comeau scored his first goal of the season to start the 3rd period; he has been providing a refreshing dose of energy and presence for a team that frequently lacks it. The injury situation is what it is, but Comeau looks as if he belongs in the NHL for good, not languishing in the minors.

Brendan Witt was sent to the box with about 9 minutes to play and it led to a Simon Gagne game winning power play goal. Final score: Philly 4, Isles 3.

The game was an entertaining one, though, despite being unable to tell what was a penalty from our seats high up near the ceiling. We certainly could have used Doug from Official's Outlook to help us spot infractions.

All in all, the experience was pleasant, and despite a few minor annoyances (constant blaring rock music, sticky floors, a curious goal celebration "song," and the loss) the trip was successful. We encountered no hostility despite wearing a road sweater and the arena provides a fun and affordable hockey experience.

While we can't provide a food and drink review like the 7th Woman would, the arena does claim to have "the world's largest arena bar," so that might be something to check out on a return trip. Until then, thank you to Deanna for hosting us for the day and showing us around the 'City of Brotherly Love.'

Okposo Net spares no expense on seats
(Photo: Deanna Rubin)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Injury Setback

Just as we thought Kyle was getting close to making his return to the ice, there's word from our friend Greg Logan about a setback.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Still No Okie

Kyle will not play on Thursday (12/4) night in Washington, and there's no firm word on when he'll return to the lineup. The "one week injury" to his wrist/forearm is now in its third week. If there's a bright side to this, at least we know the team isn't being reckless and rushing him back too quickly. With the constant stream of injuries the team has experienced this year, we would imagine some of the decision-makers might be tempted to do so.