Sunday, November 29, 2009

After 100 Games

Saturday's (11/28) game in New Jersey marked Kyle's 100th career NHL game. Over that period, which covered parts of three seasons, he stands at 58 points. That number breaks down to 25 goals and 33 assists.

Not bad at all, but the number suffers a bit due to some lengthy spells of little or no scoring (such as one he's currently experiencing). But to bemoan an average of one goal every 4 games is silly. Kyle is doing quite well. Back in his college days we actually pegged him for more of a 'fewer goals, higher assists' type of player. But it hasn't turned out that way, as the goals have come just lightly less frequently than the helpers.

While his numbers are well off the paces of the Islanders greats of yesteryear (we won't even bother giving you those details), you have to factor in at least two things. For one, the game has completely changed since the dynasty days (we remember the 7-5 scores that were routine back then), so it's an unfair comparison. Furthermore, consider the quality of Islanders teams that Kyle has played on so far. There hasn't been much help there, save this year's improved squad. With few other playmakers and scorers around anyone's numbers would suffer.

Rather than dwell on what has passed, it's important for Kyle's fans to know that he can and should improve on his .58 points per game over his next 100 games. The talent is clearly there.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday Highlights

The Friday after American Thanksgiving (11/27) usually means a day off from work, maybe some shopping, and spending time with (or getting away from) family members. For the Islanders, this year it featured only a day game and more work as they try to stay relevant in the playoff race.

On Opening Night, as you may remember, the Isles dropped a shootout squeaker to the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, almost two months later, they had a chance to avenge the loss, and they did so in fine fashion.

The details of the game can be found here, but they are not so important as much as what is working right now and how the team is developing. And through 26 games, the improvement is clearly visible. And as we do from time to time, we'll highlight a few players who exemplify this improvement.

We don't mention Josh Bailey often, but he is finding his way now after a long spell of adjustment to the speed and size of the NHL. While he's not yet a complete player, he has recently shown nice glimpses of the player he can be, scoring goals in 4 of his last 5 games. At only 20 years old, he still has time to develop into one of the team's most consistent scorers, but right now he's supplying the offense that was missing when Doug Weight went out with an injury.

Though not as young, Sean Bergenheim is earning his keep on the team, too. His scoring numbers don't reflect it, but on many nights his is the team's best forward and certainly one of the hardest workers. The Finn brings an energy to his line and plays with a penchant for playmaking. It would be nice to see some of his close calls go for goals, just as one did in Friday's game.

Honorable mention should also be given to defenseman Jack Hillen, who despite his smaller size has been entrusted with a lot of ice time and has performed admirably. Using Friday's game as an example, he played 22:45, was a +2, and blocked 3 Penguins shots. He has recently earned more trust from coach Scott Gordon, too, playing at least 20 minutes in 9 of the team's last 10 games.

We'll see if the Isles can build on this win when they go to New Jersey on Sunday. It will be another day game (1 PM) and they will surely face another tough battle when trying to take two points against the Devils.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Increased Expectations Lead to a Letdown

Last season the expected outcome of a Flyers-Islanders matchup would have been a foregone conclusion. The Islanders, the league's worst team one year ago, were not able to defeat (or even compete with) the Flyers in six tries. Trust us, we were at games in both New York and Philadelphia last year and saw it firsthand. It wasn't pretty. In fact, coming in to the game the Isles had dropped 13 of their previous 14 games to the Flyers and had not beaten them since February of 2008. Yes, 21 months ago.

But this season has had a different feel to it. The Islanders have some new blood, a new energy, and a more positive outlook. Their play is improved. They have challenged some of the best talent the NHL has to offer, and while nobody is calling the team a contender yet, they have maintained a steady course with 25 points in 24 games.

It was therefore no surprise when the Isles took a 1-0 lead on a Trent Hunter goal on Wednesday (11/25) night. He was fed a brilliant cross-ice pass from John Tavares (some of that new blood we mentioned before) on the power play and easily beat Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. It was Hunter's 5th goal of the year and Tavares' team-leading 20th point.

The Isles really took the play to the Philadelphians in the first period, outshooting them 17-9. New York was doing everything well, including keeping the normally physical play of the Flyers in check.

Fairly even play in the second period saw the Isles still holding a tenuous single goal lead as the teams neared the late intermission. But then Brendan Witt took a penalty with time winding down (1:57 left), the Flyers capitalized on the chance, and suddenly all of the team's good work for 40 minutes was out the window.

In the third period the Islanders unfortunately again went into sleepwalking mode. That, more than anything, has defined their play this season. They generated only one shot on goal for the entire frame, showing no fire in a very winnable game. Flyers star Scott Hartnell made the Islanders pay for their laziness as he and Jeff Carter hooked up for what would be the game winning goal at 14:33. With about 5 minutes left, most of the crowd got an early jump on their holiday and began filing out of the arena.

After the game, coach Scott Gordon was about as livid as we're ever seen him. Visibly upset, he bemoaned the fact that once again the team did not do what is necessary in the third period to win close games. He cited the lack of speed entering the offensive zone on the attack, the turnovers, and not getting the puck to the net as problem areas. He did not use fatigue as an excuse, stating that the Flyers had an even tougher recent travel schedule than his team.

As for Kyle, he was again held off of the stat sheet, but had a terrific chance to end his goal drought (now at 5 games). He beat Boucher with a high and hard shot that rang off the crossbar. It would have doubled the Isles' lead at the time and made a world of difference in the eventual outcome. But, just like the game as a whole, it will only be remembered as a near miss.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking on the Road

(Not the actual path taken this road trip, but close enough!)

The seven city road trip, which is taking up a solid chunk of the Islanders' November schedule, continues on Friday (11/20) in Minnesota. To this point the trip has gone surprisingly well, with the Isles taking 6 of a possible 8 points over the first 4 games of it. The team also finds itself somehow, almost miraculously, entrenched in a playoff spot. If reaching that goal is to be successful, everyone knows that road wins are the key. With Minnesota, St. Louis, and a weak Toronto team left on the road swing, it is imperative for the Isles to keep the winning momentum going and come home on a high note.

With the season now 1/4 completed and the Isles at a respectable 23 points (a nice rebound from their 1-4-5 start), here are some questions that you, the readers, may have some thoughts on. These are not criticisms of any player or the coaching, lest they be taken that way. Feel free to contribute in the comments section as always.

- While the desire to find secondary scoring is paramount, is it worth breaking up the top-line dynamo that Tavares, Mouslon, and Okposo have been? It is unreal how well they play together, surpassing even our own high expectations, as evidenced again Monday (11/16) night in the 4-1 win in Boston. Okposo once again started on the second line, but late in the game was on the ice with JT when Kyle threaded him a long and beautiful pass that seemingly had no chance of finding its target. It did, however, and nearly set #91 up for a brilliant goal. It could be dismissed, if only plays like this weren't occurring nightly.

Kyle has told us in the past that "chemistry is chemistry" and that he has no way to explain why the three forwards play so well together. If you have a thought or opinion on the lineup matter, let us know.

- Mark Streit's "down year." Admittedly, complaining about your team's best D-man who is 4-7-11 over 21 games and logs nearly 26 minutes of ice time per night seems petty. But there's something different about his game this year and we can't quite figure out what it is. He's on pace to record a career high 180 shots on goal, so it's not as if he's firing at the net less. It just seems that his play has been flatter, and his normally rock solid work at the blue line isn't as strong this season. What gives?

- Conversely, Andy Sutton. What has gotten into this guy to make him a defensive force? Did he just wake up one morning and realize he's 6'6" and nearly 250 pounds. He's hitting, is a +3, and has scored 3 goals on only 14 shots. Furthermore, his health issues finally seem to be in the past. Another blogger we spoke with even suggested extending his contract. Do you agree?

- Now, some overall team issues. How to stop lackadaisical third period play? Is this a conditioning problem? Inexperience? While it seems to be getting better, the Isles still look as if they are sleepwalking through the final 20 minutes of games. Any of you hockey players out there have a suggestion?

- Lastly, do you think the Isles will be able to keep up with their Atlantic division foes? The one knock on the Islanders' performance so far might be that they really haven't been heavily tested. That will change later this month, when the Isles face Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey before the calendar turns. Right now the Isles' intradivision record stands at 1-1-1. Arguably the Eastern Conference's best teams play in the Atlantic. The Isles have beaten up on the Southeast squads (4-0-3) and have held their own (2-3-3) against the Northeast teams. How will they fare against their divisional brothers?

These questions and more will be answered as the season moves along. As for now, the Isles just have to keep outworking the "better" teams and maintaining their course. It would be a delight to surprise the pundits come April. And that starts by finishing what they've begun on this road trip.

Friday, November 13, 2009

While We Were Away...

Okposo Net recently took a little R&R time on the West Coast, and while we were out of the loop we missed a lot. Apparently since our last update:

Kyle came down with H1N1 (swine flu) and was expected to miss several games.

Kyle recovered from said flu, at least enough to play, after missing just one game.

Kyle netted an assist and a goal, the game winner, against Carolina in his return to action.


As some side notes, the Isles seem to be continuing their penchant for letting leads slip away, first in Washington (a 5-4 shootout loss) and then in Carolina (the aforementioned 4-3 OT win).

Also, John Tavares scored his first 2 goal game in the NHL in that Carolina contest, while Doug Weight will miss additional time as he recovers from his upper-body injury.

If things continue to go this way, we may just stay out of New York for the rest of the season!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Four in a Row Feels Good

Two words come to mind to describe the current state of the New York Islanders: feeling good. After defeating Edmonton 3-1 on Monday (11/2) night, the Islanders have a winning record on the season and have won four games in a row. They've also taken points in six straight games. Suddenly the team can't do anything wrong, a thoroughly unfamiliar feeling in seasons past.

Brendan Witt, of all people, contributed two goals to the effort and John Tavares notched his 5th career goal. Doug Weight, who added two assists to his already impressive career ledger, said that the team now comes on to the ice with "thoughts that we're going to win every game." This would have been an unfathomable statement just 8 or 10 games ago. Now it seems to be more than just optimistic talk.

Coach Scott Gordon, speaking after the victory, said "It feels good. It's something that as a group we're not used to." Gordon praised the team's work ethic and felt that their attitude had remained positive and upbeat despite sputtering through the first few weeks of the season.

Dwayne Roloson made 22 saves to defeat the team he played with over the previous four seasons. He notched his fourth win of the year and lowered his Goals Against Average to 2.70.

The scene shifts to Buffalo on Wednesday (11/4) night where the Isles will try to keep their momentum going, while the Sabres look to avenge their previous 5-0 loss to the suddenly hot Isles.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Kyle File

In order to bring you a complete picture of the season and the events surrounding the New York Islanders, our coverage of Kyle sometimes suffers. To correct this trend, we recently caught up with this website's namesake in order to bring you some information that you might not know about the emerging star. In a perfect world, this would have been 21 questions (for #21) instead of twenty. Nevertheless we present Kyle Okposo in his own words:

Q: Let's begin. Your favorite team or teams in another sport?

Kyle: The Vikings and Twins.

Q: Your favorite junk food, if you have one?

Kyle: Pizza.

Q: We know that you're a like your video games. What are you playing right now?

Kyle: Tiger Woods (PGA Tour).

Q: That leads right into the next question. The best round of golf you've ever played was what score?

Kyle: 73. On several different courses in Minnesota.

Q: What kind of music are you listening to right now?

Kyle: Rap. Eminem's new stuff, Lil Wayne. I like some R&B too. Dr. Dre has some good stuff out.

Q: Okay, are you an athlete that likes to use Twitter, read blogs, and see what people are saying online?

Kyle: No.

Q: Favorite movie or television show right now?

Kyle: Since Entourage ended, it's Californication.

Q: Good choices. When you were in school, what was your favorite subject?

Kyle: Math.

Q: Do you speak any other languages?

Kyle: A little bit of Spanish, not much.

Q: What's the best comfort food made by a member of your family?

Kyle: Crab legs. It's just a childhood favorite.

Q: Interesting. So how did you celebrate your big 21st birthday?

Kyle: I had two beers in my room and then I got ready for the game the next day.

Q: Is there any significance to wearing the #21 uniform?

Kyle: No...well I loved (Peter) Forsberg growing up.

Q: You've mentioned that in the past. How about your dream car?

Kyle: When I was growing up it was a Range Rover.

Q: Please name a place you've always wanted to visit, but never had the chance to.

Kyle: St. Andrew's golf course in Scotland.

Q: Your favorite road city?

Kyle: Probably Tampa. It's just fun. It's always warm there and everyone always seems to be having a good time.

Q: Player past or present you'd like to spend a day with?

Kyle: Joe Sakic.

Q: If not for hockey what profession would you be doing? Or one you'd like to get into after your hockey career?

Kyle: Golf. Or being a movie critic.

Q: One sentence to describe Kyle the hockey player?

Kyle: I try to work hard all the time.

Q: And one sentence to describe Kyle the person?

Kyle: I'm pretty easy going, laid back, and I like to have a good time.

Q: And to conclude, would you like to send a message to your fans?

A: I want to say thanks to our fans. They've been great. They've been very patient with us and we're starting to click here a little bit. It's gonna be good.