Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Okie Scores Winner as Isles Top Rangers

The Islanders clashed with the Rangers for the first time this season on Wednesday (10/28) night. With lots of New York sports fans focused on the start of baseball's World Series, we wondered if the heated hockey tilt would take a back seat this time around.

We are happy to report it did not. We are even happier to report that the Islanders emerged victorious, giving those fans aligned with both the Yankees and Rangers a double dose of depression to deal with in the morning.

While we were scrambling to find parking and get into the building, Matt Moulson had already struck. He was slipped a beautiful breakaway pass by scrappy Jack Hillen just 55 seconds into the contest, and beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist stick side. It was 1-0 Islanders before we had even found our seat. Moulson is still leading the team in scoring, with 6 goals and 4 assists, in case you had forgotten.

Scoring first was a relief, but too many times this season (and others) we've seen an early lead evaporate. And unfortunately this lead went by the boards too, as the Rangers tied the game on P.A. Parenteau's first NHL goal at 8:30 of the period.

The Isles could have easily fallen behind in this one, but on this night the posts were Dwayne Roloson's friends. The cage saved two potential goals for the home netminder before Kyle Okposo struck on the power play in the 2nd to recapture the lead for the Isles. Nifty passing by Doug Weight and a Jack Hillen shot rebound allowed Okie to beat Lundquist with 1:46 left in the stanza.

John Tavares, feeling left out as the only non-scorer on the "Moulson Golden" line, sealed the game for the Isles with about 6 minutes left to play. JT's 4th goal overall and first against his team's arch rivals sent the Rangers fans who had attended packing and the Isles boosters into a frenzy. 3-1 was the final in Uniondale.

It was a relatively clean game on the ice infraction-wise (compared to some we've witnessed in the past), and certainly the Isles' best performance of the season.

Coach Scott Gordon singled out players like Richard Park and Josh Bailey during his post-game conference, stating that while their names didn't hit the stat sheet they certainly aided in the win. Defensive mistakes were not made, and he lauded his team for playing a "full 60 minutes."

We will add this: if the Isles can play this way every night they can be a playoff team. Consistent effort is the only thing holding them back.

Dwayne Roloson confirmed this for us in a corner of the dressing room. "We blocked shots [on the penalty kill], we put sticks in the lane." He continued, "That was K.I.S.S. hockey. Keep it simple, stupid. We played our game plan to a tee." Roloson made 34 saves and recorded the win, the team's first this year in regulation.

The mood was jublilant among the other players too. Tavares was seen wearing a celebratory hardhat, and Kyle was laughing and smiling with his mates. Curiously, nobody approached KO for a sound bite this time. We'll try to remedy that later this week when we sit down with him for a fun Q&A to try to learn a little more about the emerging star.

***Fun Fact: With Kyle's point tonight, his 52nd with the team, he passes Viktor Kozlov on the all-time Islanders scoring list! But you already knew that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More OT Losses

A quick post after another game that didn't quite go the Islanders' way. They followed up Saturday (10/14) night's 3-2 overtime loss with, yes, a 3-2 overtime loss this evening (10/26).

While this time it was the Canadiens that blew a third period lead, the Islanders again could not bank home the extra point. Though they have worked hard and gone to 6 overtimes in 10 games, their play has been inconsistent. There's no getting around that and the fact that the defense has not been up to scratch. Even Mark Streit, a bedrock blue liner last season, hasn't been immune to the mistake bug this year.

Special congratulations to Jeff Tambellini for the first two goal game of his career. Hopefully he can get on track and become the player many fans know he is capable of being. Kyle had an assist on one of the goals, raising his season point total to 7.

The Islanders host a hot Rangers team on Wednesday (10/28) night. If the Isles don't show more consistent play over a full 60 minutes, that one could get ugly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

W-I-N Spells Relief

On Wednesday (10/21) night, the Islanders were in danger of tying a franchise record for the worst opening to a season. They hadn't won in their first 6 tries, and the Carolina Hurricanes were coming to town. While disaster nearly befell the Isles in another 3rd period collapse, the New York side recovered in the shootout and recorded their first victory of 2009.

With a disappointing crowd of 9,122 in the seats to see it, the red hot Matt Moulson notched his team leading fifth goal of the season in the first period to get the scoring started. The surprise assist came from the stick of Andy Sutton, who played a very nice game and eventually earned the first star.

Carolina would tie the game in the second period on a Matt Cullen power play score, but scrappy Tim Jackman sent a goal past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward to recapture the lead. Andy Sutton did the same under a minute later, and it seemed as if the Isles were on their way to a 'W'.

It wouldn't be that easy, though, as Carolina had some rapid fire scoring in them too. With just about 6 minutes remaining, Eric Staal scored to draw the 'Canes within one and Jussi Jokinen tied it 1:02 later.

The home crowd was dismayed, angered, and felt as if they'd seen this horror show before. But on this night the crowd was treated to a happy ending.

Though both teams had good chances to win in the 5 minute overtime, the squads sent the game to a shootout. And wouldn't you know for the first time all season each of the 3 Islanders shooters scored. First Jeff Tambellini, the shootout specialist. Then newly healed Frans Nielsen. And finally, the marquis attraction, young John Tavares. It added up to a 4-3 win for the home team.

After the game Coach Scott Gordon hoped that this would be the start of getting the season turned in the right direction, while the players we spoke with were relieved and nearly elated to have broken the dry spell. The upbeat music was blaring as the players shuffled in and out of the locker room. Goalie Dwanye Roloson even went as far as to compare his first Islanders win to a kid attending his first pro sporting event.

While we're happy for Dwayne, Andy, the coach, and the rest of the team, let's hope they can carry some of this momentum into tomorrow night's game in Montreal. It will be John Tavares' first game in the building where he became an Islander.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Focusing on the Positives

We've returned from Minnesota, however during our absence the Islanders still did not break into the win column. While their record is 0-3-3, we've always fashioned ourselves as optimists, and prefer to highlight the good things about this team that we see rather than dwelling on the negatives, as some fans are doing.

First off, let us just say that the rumors of Coach Scott Gordon's possible dismissal are absurd. Everyone knew back in September that the Islanders were going to have another tough season ahead of them. What good would changing coaches possibly do right now other than appease a few fans with excessively high expectations? Does anyone think a new voice would suddenly increase the team's scoring or shore up their shaky defense? Preposterous.

Without further ado, here a a few early things we've been pleased with so far (in no particular order):

- The Islanders, while winless, have outplayed their opponents in the majority of their games. Opening night's effort was strong enough to garner a victory over Pittsburgh, for example. The Isles should have had a win in Boston. In fact, in every game other than the afternoon tilt against Los Angeles the Isles have been the better team on the ice for at least one period, and in many cases much longer.

- The production of John Tavares. At 4 goals and 3 assists in his first 6 games, fears of a slow start or a tough transition to the NHL have been assuaged.

- Kyle Okposo's steady production. You can't knock a point-per-game pace.

- The nice find that is Matt Moulson. He has matched Tavares' point total so far. Keeping up the pace will be a challenge, but if he keeps getting to the net, screening goalies, and knocking in rebounds he'll be just fine. Kudos to management for taking a chance on him.

- Mark Streit. The steadiest of the defensemen. A wonderful addition to any team's power play. He's always firing shots from the point. His production remains constant. We loved this signing before last season. We like it even more now.

- The return of Frans Nielsen. While he's not quite back yet, when he comes back from his knee injury he'll likely be paired with Kyle on the second line because the two work well together. Plus, after last season, anyone returning from an injury is good news!

- Marty Biron's play. While an 0-2 record with a 3.16 Goals Against Average is normally nothing to gush about, it was unclear exactly what his role would be when he signed, and what it will be in the future. But paired right now in goal with Dwayne Roloson, Biron has clearly been the better of the two netminders to this point. Plus, on a selfish level, Marty always provides a great quote. His next win will be his 200th in the NHL, FYI.

- Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project is not quite dead. Despite a published report stating the contrary, Mr. Wang issued a Monty Python-esque "we're not dead yet" statement regarding the Isles' arena development project. As far as we know, the town and the project leaders are still talking.

- Honorable mention to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. We know we're stepping on The Tiger Track's toes a bit here, but the AHL squad opened their season with 4 wins. While they have lost their two most recent games, we are looking for any and all positives right now. We'll be watching (and perhaps reporting on) some of their promising players this year, including 2009 draft pick Mikko Koskinen.

While we're hoping that the underperforming Isles not on this list step up their play soon, we have realistic expectations about what this season means. We hope you do too, and aren't so quick to heap criticism on this team in transition.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day Game Doldrums

The Islanders came into Monday's (10/12) holiday afternoon tilt (a.k.a. Kids' Opening Day) looking to rebound after a dispiriting overtime loss in Boston over the weekend. While the Isles seem to historically have trouble performing in day games (according to charts kept by Dee Karl, the 7th Woman), the media guide indicates that the team has trended more towards mediocrity of late, going 5-7-1 last season when the sun was up.

Regardless of the past, Kyle told us that his preparation is the same regardless of the time of day, while Doug Weight chimed in on the subject by saying that sometimes a team doesn't have its legs "for the first 5 or 6 minutes," but after that they soon get going. He was sure to remind us that it's the same for both teams though, and added that for him a day game is sometimes a nice change of pace. It certainly frees up a player's evenings for family time, which is nice for an established veteran like Mr. Weight.

With all that said, it seemed as if the Isles came out on this day with plenty of steam, outshooting the visiting Los Angeles Kings 11-4 in the 1st period and with Finnish forward Sean Bergenheim creating several good scoring opportunities for himself. L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick was up to the task, though, and the teams went into the first break unable to break through with a goal.

The most noticeable thing that happened in the second period was the arena scoreboard malfunctioning for several minutes about 6 minutes into play. The Isles couldn't sustain any kind of momentum and took the game's first penalty at the 7:48 mark. While nothing came of it for the Kings, a second power play late in the frame provided the Kings with a nice looking goal from their young star Anze Kopitar. Islanders goaltender Marty Biron was helplessly screened on the shot, and with only 6 seconds left on the kill, the goal really seemed to take the air out of the Islanders' balloon. It also set the tone for a mostly moribund third period.

The Kings made it 2-0 at 5:31 of the third period, as another one of their young stars, Drew Doughty, blasted a shot past Biron. As improved as the Isles' play has been on the young season, third period comebacks have not been their hallmark. They did pump some life back into the game when Matt Moulson finally beat Quick with 1:55 left to play. Kyle and Mark Streit recorded assists on the goal.

The Islanders scrambled for an equalizer with a last-ditch empty net tactic, but it never came. The final was 2-1 Los Angeles, and we'd have to say it was their least entertaining game of the year so far.

The Isles have taken 3 points over the first 4 games, but you get the sense from the players and coaches that it should be more. While we like the heightened expectations of this team, the coach reminded everyone once again that he is focused on how the team plays and the effort they provide each time out. "There are no shortcuts" on the path to success was and is the message he wants to instill to his corps.

Weight, the captain, thought the team just needed to play "hungrier" at times, and that while moral victories are nice, "this league is all about winning."

Lastly, a quick look at the stat sheet shows that members of the "Moulson Golden" line were the only forwards to record points in the game (Moulson 1 G, Okposo 1 A). As you can see on the right hand side of this page, Kyle is still maintaining his point-per-game pace. Hopefully the Isles can get Tavares and others involved and capture their first win when they travel to Buffalo on Friday (10/16).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Moulson Golden" is the Life of the Party

First off, we have to give credit where it's due, and in this case we owe Doug of Official's Outlook gratitude for dreaming up a clever line name. While we had assumed that Josh Bailey (the O-T-B Line, anyone?) or more likely a veteran would begin the season playing on a line with Messrs. Okposo and Tavares, it turned out to be dark horse candidate Matt Mouslon who emerged as the third piece of the trio. We didn't quite know what to think of Coach Scott Gordon's choice as training camp closed, but after two games we can declare: 'Don't change a thing!'

Initially unaware of any connection between the former Los Angeles King (Moulson) and Canada's favorite son/Next One/Mr. Everything (Tavares), it has now come to our attention that the two grew up in close proximity to each other and are very familiar mates. Moulson was born in North York, Ontario, which is a stone's throw from Mississauga, Ontario, where Tavares was raised. Clearly the two have been part of similar circles for years, whether it's been inside the rink or away from it (regarding Toronto area hockey). While Moulson is several years older than John, he expressed some degree of familiarity to those within earshot after the home opener. You know, the one where the duo hooked up for #91's first NHL goal. Anyway, just let it be known that they are familiar with each other, but more importantly, are comfortable playing together.

Fast forward to Thursday (10/8) night in their home province, where Gordon's shrewd move again paid dividends. The Islanders took on not Toronto, but Ottawa, in that team's home opener. And while JT's shots were stymied all evening, the Isles rallied from a 2-0 deficit on goals from Kyle and Moulson. Furthermore, Moulson assisted on Kyle's highlight reel effort (seen here after the commercial), and Tavares helped on his friend Matt's. If that confuses you, just know this: of the 6 total points awarded to Islanders on the stat sheet, four of them were credited to members of the "Moulson Golden" line.

While we were unable to see the entirety of the game (sometimes life does call us away from hockey), we enjoyed the spirit the Islanders exhibited in fighting back and pushing the game to an overtime period. While the Senators eventually prevailed 3-2, we have no quarrels with the effort of any of the skaters or the goaltending. As announcer Billy Jaffe stated after the contest, increased consistency will be the name of the game this season.

Though it's only two games, it's clear that Gordon's scoring line is just fine, and if he feels the team needs work in any areas, we'd advise him not to tinker with the heartwarming cocktail he brewed up in the preseason.

Coming next week, Kyle's thoughts on day games, how he views his linemates, and our thoughts on the team's early performance.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Season Opener: Almost Great

A sold out arena. Fans tailgating for hours before the puck drops. Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier on the ice. Ear-splitting decibel levels.

All of the above were present at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday (10/3) night. Except for a small pocket of Penguins fans sitting in the last few rows of one end, it seemed as if all of Long Island was on hand to see something special.

And they got everything they wanted. Almost.

The pregame excitement was tempered just a bit by the news that Charles Wang still hadn't received his 'Yes or No' from the Town of Hempstead. The parties will meet face to face next week. As long as the sides are talking, there is hope for a positive outcome.

So there was that, and also a new kid in town. #91. John Tavares. Playing on the same line as Kyle.

And the odd thing was that they played together really well. Surprisingly well. As if they had been teammates for years. Despite the fact that one man was making his league debut and the other had experienced a concussion that wiped out almost the entirety of his preseason.

With newcomer Matt Moulson centering the two, Tavares produced a goal and an assist while Kyle plucked an assist for himself. And it could have been more.

The Islanders held the lead on the Pens twice, but in the end it was just too much Sidney Crosby. Early on, and then later in the shootout. A 4-3 overtime loss was the outcome.

But despite the disappointing result, many fans flashed ahead in their minds to the future. A future when the arena issue is settled, and one where other teams worry about being beaten by too much Tavares or Okposo.

For the complete boxscore and recap, please click here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Okie OK for Season Opener

Thanks to an informed reader and another source we can now proclaim that Kyle will play on Saturday (10/3) night. The Islanders will open the new season by welcoming in the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in what we imagine will be a charged atmosphere.

Hopefully the night will be the first in a series of steps designed to bring the Islanders back to competitive respectability on the ice.

While we don't expect any news tomorrow regarding the team's off-ice situation, please note that the date also represents owner Charles Wang's self-imposed deadline for a 'Yes or No' on his Lighthouse Project (from the Town of Hempstead).

We're hoping for the best outcome on both fronts tomorrow, as we fans have waited a long time for something to really go our way.

Kyle the Alternate Captain

Great news just in from Newsday's Katie Strang, as Kyle has been voted by the team to wear the "A" this season! As we suggested back in June, Kyle has been and continues to be the kind of player and person that should help lead the young Islanders.

We always assumed the final decision on this matter would be made by Scott Gordon, possibly with some input from General Manager Garth Snow. The fact that this was a team decision speaks volumes about how Kyle is viewed by his peers.

We would also be remiss if we didn't extend congratulations to Doug Weight on being named the captain, and to Brendan Witt, Mark Streit, and Richard Park for also earning their "A" badges.

We cannot wait to get the 2009-2010 Islanders season underway on Saturday night. While there has been no proclamation by the team that Kyle will play, we nevertheless guarantee a superb atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum to welcome John Tavares to the NHL.

Won't you join us there? If you can find a seat, that is.