Saturday, October 30, 2010

No News On Okposo Return

Normally I wouldn't post something that adds no value to this site, but I am aware people are thirsty for information. I have noticed that the most searched item on the Internet with regards to Kyle Okposo is news on his injury and a date for his return from it.

As it stands now, we must go with the information the Islanders have issued, which is, frankly, very little. We know it was a shoulder injury, surgery was performed on it in Cleveland, and Kyle was expected to be out until December.

While it is the team's policy to forbid Kyle from speaking to the media while he is on Injured Reserve, he has attended several home games. His arm has been immobilized in a sling when he has been seen, and that's about it.

As soon as anything further is learned, it will be posted here. I apologize for the non-revealing nature of this post, but there really is nothing new to report. If you had missed any of the details of the Kyle saga so far this season, then I hope you found this brief recap helpful.

It has come to my attention that Kyle will be the in-studio guest on MSG Network's Hockey Night Live at 9:30 PM tonight (10/30). Hopefully we will learn more about his return.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

'El Nino' Blows Off The Island

This afternoon the New York Islanders announced that 2010 first round draft pick Nino Niederreiter will return to Portland after nine games in the National Hockey League.

There has been plenty of speculation in the last few days over how to handle the 18 year-old Swiss native. His play was solid but not the type of performance that would make management believe he is, at least at this time, an everyday NHL player. He recorded one goal and and one assist during his nine game stint.

Niederreiter will take his skills to the Western Hockey League, where he can develop for the season without the worry of his NHL service time clock ticking.

Though I rarely share my personal opinions on roster moves in this space, I feel it is the right move returning 'El Nino,' as the fans have named him. I always like bringing prospects along slowly. His time in the WHL should only help his development.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting to Know Mr. Snow, Part Two

"I'm just so excited about where we are as a team."

That was Garth Snow's proclamation to me just over one month ago when I took part in a preseason 'blogger's round table' with the general manager of the New York Islanders. He was excited and ready to see the team that he built perform on the ice. Now in his fifth season in a role that he had been suddenly thrust into during the tumultuous summer of 2006, Snow seemed at ease discussing a range of topics with those in attendance that afternoon.

"When I was in college the reason why I was motivated to get my degree and my Master's Degree was that I wasn't sure [if] I was going to be a pro hockey player," Snow revealed. He eventually became one, though, having been selected 114th overall in the 1987 draft by Quebec. He went on to a fairly accomplished career, as it would turn out, spending twelve seasons in the NHL and winning 135 games.

But to hear him tell it, becoming a general manager, assistant GM, college coach, or even a college athletic director were roles that he envisioned for himself when his playing days were through. "Those were the things that intrigued me if I didn't make it to the NHL."

Snow says he doesn't miss playing, but adds an exception. "I miss the feeling of taking your equipment off after you've just won a game. And that bond you have inside the locker room." He continued, "You go on the road and steal two points. It's just a great feeling celebrating on the other team's ice. Or the intensity of playoff hockey."

The group asked him several questions about this year's team and his approach on improving it further. During his tenure Snow has built a reputation as a shrewd deal maker and master of the "scrap heap" find.

He pledges to do "whatever is allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement" to improve the Islanders, including targeting other team's restricted free agents.

On the subject of trades, he told the group that he only judges potential ones on the impact it has for his club. He's not willing to "mortgage the future" at the trading deadline, as he put it. And he plans on keeping the Islanders' young core together with contract extensions in the near future.

Despite living in an age of intrusive and constant media, especially with the rise of social media, Snow still does things the old fashioned way. He's not a Twitter user, and keeps information such as potential draft picks within a very small circle. He claims that only he and Charles Wang knew of the impeding pick of John Tavares minutes before the selection was made. It was also that kind of secrecy that allowed the team to trade down in the previous year's draft and select center Josh Bailey.

While the Isles have hit some very large injury potholes since our talk, the team is still outperforming what most so-called "experts" predicted. And that is by design. He lauded the merits of captain Doug Weight, saying that Weight handles many team issues that never make it out of the locker room. And Snow personally discusses contract issues and training camp invitations with players and/or their agents, citing three examples (Richard Park, Andy Hilbert, and Jon Sim) from the previous summer. He explained the reasoning behind each decision and his need for payroll flexibility. So if you were wondering if Snow is hands-on, I think you have your answer.

But according to Snow, how long he and head coach Scott Gordon coach stay in their current jobs all comes down to winning.

"We obviously have a passionate fan base," said Snow. "Fans that live and die [for] this team. Our goal is to obviously make the playoffs and once you get in to compete for a Stanley Cup."

He is confident that he has the Islanders on the right path. He used Bailey's growth as a player as an example of the greater team maturation that has taken place right before his (and the fans') eyes. "I think [they're] going to be a fun team to watch. It's a good mix of skill, speed, and toughness. But at the end of the day you've got to win."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Are the Islanders For Real?

I'm going to keep this post a bit shorter than normal, but I would really welcome fan feedback on this issue. This evening I was lucky enough to watch the Islanders defeat Tampa Bay in overtime with fellow blogger John Zadrozny of Yes! Islanders.

During the course of the game, and again during the extremely long video review of the game winning goal, John and I got into a debate. And this is what being a fan is about, in essence. We were just two guys, sitting in a pub somewhere, watching a team we love, and having a disagreement. Make no mistake, we both want the team to succeed and make us proud; we just look at the season from different perspectives.

The Islanders currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with 10 points. We are both elated. But the question is thus: How many games need to pass until we can accurately say that the Islanders are "for real?"

Of course, your definition might vary from ours. To some of you that might mean being a playoff team. To others it might mean finishing above .500 even if falling short of the top eight.

The coach and others have insisted that the goal this year is to make the playoffs. In my book, any team that considers itself playoff worthy, perhaps solid enough to stage an early round upset, even, is definitely "real."

The way they are playing now, with no clear scoring leader and a team of lunch pail "no names" (at least by NHL marketing standards), I'm inclined to think that they can succeed. I would like to see them keep it up for at least 20 games before I declare them "for real." Author and 'Hockey Insider' columnist Brad Kurtzberg agrees with my take. At the 1/4 pole, if they're still on their current points pace, he declares the Islanders legitimate.

John disagrees, though. He would like to see a sustained level of play for nearly 40 games. Half of a season.

So, fans, what's your take? Will the Isles cool off and begin their slide down the standings in a few games (like we've come to expect in the past)? Will they sustain this trend of squeaking points out almost every night? And how long must they keep up their act before you're ready to declare that they're back as a threat in the East?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jurcina. Who Knew?

Prior to Saturday night’s (10/16) game against the Colorado Avalanche, Milan Jurcina’s high water mark for goals in a season was six. And that was in his rookie campaign with Boston back in 2005-2006.

The great news for the Islanders and their fans was that he scored one-third of that total against Colorado’s Craig Anderson on this night, leading the Islanders to an important win and a pair of big points.

The Isles, who banked only one of a possible four points on their short road trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, needed a convincing win to reassure their fans (and perhaps themselves) that the hard work they have been putting in really does pay off.

After an opening period rife with scoring chances for both sides, especially a few that could have been converted by the Islanders, the score stood deadlocked at 0-0 and the shots on goals were fairly even as well. The distribution favored Colorado, but only slightly at 9-7.

It took a shorthanded goal, and by defenseman Milan Jurcina at that, but the Islanders led 1-0 at the 13:06 mark of the second. Coach Scott Gordon had been unhappy with the way the Islanders had been performing in the period up until that point, but the strike was just what they needed. Josh Bailey, who added 13 pounds in the offseason, most of it seemingly muscle, assisted on the goal.

Just five more minutes passed before “Rocket” Jurcina (as the venerable Stan Fischler named him after the game) struck again, this time from a very tough angle. Suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, the Isles held a two goal margin. According to Jurcina, this was his first two goal game on his ledger since he performed the feat 4 seasons prior with the Bruins.

Bailey, not content with just an assist, lit the lamp 59 seconds later and suddenly it was the Avalanche feeling buried. The Islanders seemed to be on their way to an easy victory courtesy of the quick 3 goal outburst and spotless play in net from Dwayne Roloson.

Chris Stewart, who sparred with Zenon Konopka just 5 seconds into the game, got one back for the visitors at 2:19 in the 3rd. New York General Manager Garth Snow's newest acquisition, Michael Grabner, soon payed dividends though, ballooning the lead back up to three goals with his first goal as a member of the franchise.

Colorado scored one more before the final horn blew, but John Tavares sealed the victory for New York with an empty netter. For Tavares, it was his first goal of the season. He returned after a two game absence from a mild concussion, insisting that he felt fine on the ice.

“It was huge. We needed something like that,” first-star Jurcina said after the win.

His brief analysis was dead on, as the win propelled the Isles to the top of their division at 2-1-2, though it is a bit early to be concerned with standings. Points are points, though, and any they pick up now will be fewer that they’ll need to scrap for later in the season. If the Islanders are serious about making the playoffs this year, and all the talk in the locker room echoes that sentiment, then this was a vital victory for the team from Uniondale.

Next up for the Isles: They head out of town for games against Toronto, both Florida teams, and Montreal. Only one more home game is on the horizon in October for the Islanders, 10/29 against the Canadiens.

News and Notes:

- Kyle Okposo was present, shoulder in a sling, at tonight’s home game. He was unavailable for comment, though.

- Trent Hunter was scratched from this one as he recovers from a foot injury he suffered earlier in the week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nino Nets His First But Isles Fall

The outcome for the New York Islanders was a familiar one on Wednesday (10/13) night; another close contest decided by one goal against the Washington Capitals. While the final score was disappointing, several areas of the Isles' effort were impressive and/or improving. Rather than dwelling on the negatives (like a late Blake Comeau penalty that led to Washington's game winning goal), let's look at the positives.

Obviously the story of the night for New York was Nino Niederreiter's first NHL goal. It came off of a handsome pass from Doug Weight and gave the Isles an early and unexpected lead just 3:14 into the game. History was made too, as Nino became the youngest Islander to score a goal in franchise history.

Video does a much better job than I can of describing the 18 year-old's goal and the emotions that followed, so I'll just let you have a look below (courtesy of the NY Islanders):

Another pleasant surprise was the quickness of newcomer Michael Grabner. The Islanders have been missing a winger with real breakaway speed that can penetrate opposing defenses. Grabner, who had the secondary assist on Nino's goal, may be that guy. Though he played only 13:17 in this one, I felt that Grabner brought an element of excitement to the Isles' offense that it sorely needed. It will be interesting to see if Grabner is allotted further duties while the Isles are missing some important forwards.

What can be said about goaltender Dwayne Roloson that hasn't been already? Fresh off his 41st birthday, "Rolie" kept the Isles in the game the entire night against a team with tremendous scoring capability. Though Alex Ovechkin eventually solved him on a screened shot and then later a deflected one, kudos to Dwayne for helping an undermanned squad hang in against the Caps for 56 minutes. Roloson saved 24 shots in his first assignment of the season. The Islanders had their chances to make him a winner on this evening, but it didn't happen.

Finally, with James "The Wiz" Wisniewski out for a gesture that surely everyone has seen by now, the defense outperformed my expectations. Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau stepped up admirably on the blue line, while returnees Jack Hillen and Andy MacDonald were solid as usual. It should also be noted that Jurcina and MacDonald feature cannon-like shots. I'll keep an eye on how the coaches choose to use each man's skill set in the future.

The Isles will move on to play a Pittsburgh team that has struggled out of the gate (1-3-0). Friday (10/15) will provide Islanders fans and players with their first look not only at the Penguins, but also their brand new Consol Energy Center. We'll see if New York can add to Pittsburgh's early season misery.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Isles Soldier On Despite Setbacks

Another year of Islanders hockey has arrived, and by now everyone knows about the preseason setbacks suffered by the club. Despite injuries to vital pieces Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, and Rob Schremp, the Islanders must attempt to stay afloat in the standings despite their sudden and unexpected predicament.

Tonight (10/9) the curtain came up on the 2010-2011 season, and despite the pessimism from traditional media outlets I am staying positive. It’s the only way to be as a fan of this franchise. Our day will come. I am sure of it.

That said, the Islanders faced a fairly tough assignment for their first test, the Dallas Stars. The Stars, fresh off a win in New Jersey on Friday night, are somewhat of a non-traditional opening night opponent for the Islanders.

At 7 PM, the crowd was rollicking and ready to welcome in a new season of hockey. Rick DiPietro received one of the biggest roars of approval during pregame introductions. They cheered again when New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, sporting a white Billy Smith sweater, dropped the ceremonial puck to start the season.

Dallas committed back-to-back penalties early on; both were killed off. However when Blake Comeau was sent of for boarding soon after, the Stars wasted no time capitalizing on their chance and sending the Isles to a 1-0 deficit.

Stephane Robidas added another Dallas goal at 11:56 of the first period and the proverbial air seemed to come out of the crowd. After the break the Isles came out and made some really good chances for themselves, but neither Matt Moulson nor Josh Bailey could convert either into a goal.

However, the Isles struck back with a power play goal of their own at 6:21 in the second. New acquisition James Wisniewski blasted the puck in from the point to slice the Dallas lead in half. However another newcomer, P.A. Parenteau, made a costly error while handling the puck that allowed Dallas to bump their lead back up to 2 goals.

Penalties continued to be the theme as the Isles soon found themselves on a 5-on-3 advantage. The venerable captain, Doug Weight, looking spry, netted his first goal of the season to cut Dallas’ lead to 3-2. The Islanders then traded goals and found themselves down 4-3 with 10 minutes left in the game.

Then something happened that likely wouldn’t have happened in past years. On a late powerplay, with the crowd roaring, the Islanders tied the game at 4 goals apiece. Matt Moulson, who netted 30 last season, got the equalizer. They had a chance to win in regulation when Robidas went off for a delay of game infraction, but nothing came of it. Overtime or a shootout would decide this one.

Though the Isles were unable to score in the shootout and Rick DiPietro allowed a Mike Ribiero goal, the talk was very positive from the Islanders all around. Coach Scott Gordon was pleased with the efforts of rookie Nino Niederreiter and a healthy Doug Weight. I also checked in with newcomer P.A. Parenteau who said that the crowd was great and he was initially nervous, but happy with his first game as a New York Islander.

My take? The game might be a harbinger of things to come for this squad that is still learning on the fly. While it was disappointing that they were nearly buried in an early hole, I really admire the fight and scrap that they showed. Just seeing the team tie the game late was a thrilling change; I really felt they were going to win, in fact. Outshooting your opponent 47-22 for an entire game never hurts either. I hope that keeps up.

That will likely be the theme this year. Another season of early struggles, but learning on the go how to both entertain and win when the odds are stacked against them.

News and notes:

- John Tavares left the game with a mild concussion. There was no further information available from team officials or the coach.

- Kyle Okposo remains in New York, not Minnesota, as he and Mark Streit begin their arduous trips down the road back from shoulder injuries.

- Nino Niederreiter's family made the trip from Switzerland to see his first NHL game. I only wish he had scored in front of them.

- Lastly, Scott Gordon would not commit to playing either DiPietro or Roloson for Monday's matinee against the Rangers. My guess would be that he'll go with Roloson.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quick Notes From A Saturday Night

While I couldn't attend the Islanders' preseason game on Saturday night (10/2) in Nassau due to a prior commitment, I did manage to scrape together a few notes and thoughts:

- Of utmost importance to readers of this site, Kyle Okposo had successful surgery on his injured shoulder, reports Newsday's Katie Strang. When a timetable for his return becomes known we will post it here.

- In a similar vein, the same doctor performed surgery on fellow assistant captain Mark Streit in Cleveland. Word is that Streit's procedure also went well, though he is expected to return later in the season than Kyle, perhaps February.

- The Islanders defeated the New Jersey Devils in the aforementioned home exhibition by a 2-1 score. Rick DiPietro was solid in goal, saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced. Also returning to the ice was Doug Weight, the team's captain. Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau netted the goals for the winning side.

- Goalie Manny Legace didn't fare as well in the split squad game in Quebec City. The Islanders' "B" team was steamrolled 7-2 by Montreal. Nino Niederreiter was slashed on the leg in this game and left the ice. No word yet on the severity of his injury.

- The Islanders issued a release announcing that Rob Figren, Kevin Poulin, Anton Klementyev and Tony Romano had been reassigned to the minor league Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Also of note, Dustin Kohn was placed on waivers.

- Lastly, the regular season opens just one week from now on Saturday, October 9th. My goal from that night onward is to function less as a news aggregator, but to give you all the vital storylines, images, and opinions from this critical season of New York Islanders hockey.