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.