Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Islanders See The Wiz Off

In a move that is perplexing a lot of Islanders fans, today the team shipped defenseman James Wisniewski to Montreal. In return the Isles received a second round pick in the next entry draft and a condition 5th round pick in 2012.

Brad Kurtzberg has the full story here. It give me pleasure to feature Brad's work since he has been a terrific friend of this website and does an outstanding job covering the Isles for Inside Hockey.

As for my own expectations, I thought the Islanders might wait until the trading deadline to move Wisniewski, but apparently General Manager Garth Snow believes he is getting maximum value in this deal. The trade comes as no surprise to me (as Wisniewski is a free agent at the end of the season and wouldn't have re-signed), just the timing of it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Isles Stay Hot During A Blizzard

The Islanders played a game on Sunday (12/26) night in front of a crowd at about 19% of full capacity. I was scheduled to be there, but it would have taken either a hefty paycheck or a complete loss of sanity on my part to get me out into the blizzard conditions on Long Island. The Islanders, who wished to postpone the tilt, petitioned the league for a cancellation but were rebuffed.

Silly (some might say stupid or even reckless) league directives aside, the Islanders and Montreal played in front of a crowd of 3,136 hearty souls, most of them Canadiens fans.

We New York fans appreciate our Canadian visitors spending their money at our rink, but they left disappointed. The Islanders toppled the Northeast Division leaders by a 4-1 score behind strong games from Dwayne Roloson, P.A. Parenteau, and Frans Nielsen. Blake Comeau opened the game's scoring with his eighth tally of the year, and Michael Grabner matched Comeau's total with a nifty second period goal. The Islanders led 2-0 after two periods.

In the third period the Islanders solidified their win with an event that hasn't happened since Opening Night: a two power play goal period. Parenteau and James Wisniewski were the scorers and Roloson was the willing benefactor. He stopped 38 Montreal shots (of 39) to earn the win and first star of the game.

The win puts the Islanders on a five game point streak, as they've taken nine of a possible ten points over than span. While still well out of playoff contention, the uptick in effort and results is appreciated by their loyal fanbase.

News and Notes:

- Due to the weather, any fan that had a ticket to the 12/26 game can exchange their ticket to any future Islanders home game. Complete information via the team website can be found here.

- Forward John Tavares notched his 20th point of the season in this game.

- While there is no date for his return, it seems early to mid-January is a realistic timetable for Kyle Okposo's return to NHL action.

- The Isles take on the New York Rangers in a snowy New York City on Monday (12/27) night.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Introducing: Nathan Lawson

I'm not one of those people who pretends to know things when they don't. I'd rather admit that I don't know something than look like a fool pretending to. In the case of Saturday night's starting goalie, Nathan Lawson, I don't know much about him. And as for why the Islanders decided to start him, well, that's anyone's guess.

What I can tell you about Lawson is that he has been waiting for a shot to play in the National Hockey League for over three seasons. I might also mention that he played collegiate hockey at Alaska-Anchorage, putting up a GAA over over 3.00 each season there. Then there's the matter of his 3.78 GAA and .890 save percentage at Bridgeport this season.

So with the team issuing a brief statement about veteran goaltender Rick DiPietro experiencing some knee swelling on Saturday (12/18) morning, the decision was made to call up Lawson on an emergency basis. It was then determined that he would get that night's start against Phoenix.

But why not start Dwyane Roloson, who has 527 more games of experience in the NHL?

Well, this has been a season of curious decisions on the Island. And you can add this one to the list. Head coach Jack Capuano said earlier in the day that he knew Lawson from his time coaching in Bridgeport. And that if Lawson was going to be a part of the Islanders roster then he was going to start.

Well, I guess if you were going to make him drive the 60 or so miles it shouldn't be in vain, right?

Before I create the impression of being too negative, I should just say that I am happy for the guy, and in fairness, Lawson acquitted himself fairly well in what had to be the most nerve-racking start of his life. He lost in a shootout, 4-3, but saved 32 shots. I suppose the part of the game that annoyed me was seeing Lawson and the Isles blow a late lead and then being unable to stop any shots in the shootout.

Oh well, chalk it up to inexperience.

So now we observers are left with starting goaltender speculation, injury speculation (the team said DiPietro's swelling was "minor" and the goalie himself wasn't worried), and potential trade speculation. The beat goes on for Islanders fans.

So to recap, the Islanders lost, rumors are sure to abound, and I didn't really introduce Nate Lawson at all. On the other hand, at least I finally found a use for the neat little 'Lawson' logo.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A-Mac's Coming Out Party

And now for something positive: The Islanders were 3-2 winners against Anaheim on Thursday (12/16) night! But even more encouraging was the play of defenseman Andy MacDonald.

Against a bigger and stronger Anaheim team, MacDonald and fellow youngster Travis Hamonic performed the heavy lifting against the Ducks' front line seemingly all evening. Paired together, MacDonald paced the team with 25:53 in ice time, while Hamonic chipped in 23:38 of his own.

"I thought the two young kids were up to the challenge and played extremely well," said a jubilant head coach Jack Capuano after the game. 'Cap', as he's known, earned his second win as the head coach of the Islanders in a season that has been short on smiles.

MacDonald, the third-year man out of Nova Scotia, set career highs (as far as we can tell, some of the data is incomplete) in hits and blocked shots. He surpassed his former career high of seven blocked shots, set on March 2nd, 2010, against Chicago, by one. Along with the eight blocks were a solid five hits. He took four shots and would up a +1 on the night.

"It's been a rough go lately," a relieved MacDonald said after the game. "The important thing is that we got two points and something to build on."

They got the lead and eventually the two points by hammering three goals home in 99 seconds, the flurry beginning with about 5 minutes left to play in the first period. P.A. Parenteau, Blake Comeau, and Matt Moulson were the scorers.

The key to defeating a more talented Anaheim side, at least according to MacDonald, was being "strong on pucks and tying up [opponent's] sticks." Denying Anaheim's potent scorers shooting lanes was another winning approach the Isles took. Furthermore, he felt it was his best game since returning from a broken hand at the beginning of this month.

While MacDonald's Herculean effort earned him the second star of the game, the first standout on this night was goaltender rick DiPietro. DiPietro saved 30 pucks and stymied a late comeback attempt. It was a nice rebound after his last start, a game in which he and his teammates frittered away a lead against Atlanta.

News and notes:

- The Islanders broke a six game losing streak. The poor attendance continues, however, with an announced crowd of 7,659 in the house.

- Defenseman Milan Jurcina returned to action after being sidelined for 18 games with a hamstring injury. He logged 13:19 of ice time.

- Former Islander Jason Blake hurt his old team with his sixth goal of the season and an assist.

- The Islanders next take on Phoenix Saturday (12/18) evening, who lost to the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime on Thursday.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Worst Season Ever?

Remember a while go when I asked if the Islanders were for real? At the time the team was 4-1-2 and off to a surprisingly hot start. Who could have known that the optimism expressed at that point in the season might wind up the high point of the year?

As an Islanders fan, I have lived through a lot. The Tommy Soderstrom era, for example. Butch Goring's coaching tenure (no, disrespect intended to Mr. Goring, who is a lovely man). Mike Milbury (as a coach and GM). And that's just relating to events on the ice.

I can't recall, however, a season shaping up as hopeless as this one. Staggering to believe, I know. After Monday (12/13) night's 5-0 whipping in Nashville, the Islanders have lost 20 of their last 21 games. Again, 'staggering' is the only word that comes to my mind. They sit last in the league with a pitiful 15 points to show for their effort. They are 21 points out of a playoff spot before the Christmas holiday. The New Jersey Devils, who have been equally inept this season, are the only team remotely close to the Islanders in the standings, in a league which gives teams points almost by accident. Unreal.

And the blame has been equally shared by all involved. Whether it's Rick DiPietro sleeping in goal one night, or the utter lack of offense, or Garth Snow saying he has no financial restraints while building a patchwork roster that says otherwise, or an owner who gives the appearance that he no longer wants to spend one more dime than he has to.

Of course injuries have devastated the roster. But they seem to every year on Long Island, and yet the team hasn't gone through a spell of hockey this awful in recent seasons.

I am usually an optimistic person. Sometimes unrealistically so. But this is getting ridiculous. I hope for improvement, of course, but right now I see no way for it to occur. On any front. And that includes the return to the ice of Kyle Okposo.

At this point I am only hopeful of a return to somewhat competitive hockey. And the entry draft in June.

News and Notes:

- Prospect Rhett Rakhshani made his Islanders debut, playing 11:44 and recording no shots on goal. He was drafted out of the University of Denver in 2006, 93 picks after the Islanders selected Okposo.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good News For Kyle

Some encouraging news emerged today, as Newsday's Katie Strang reported that Kyle Okposo skated in full gear today (12/4). While there is no date for his return yet, this is the best news the fanbase has received in a while.

It can't be emphasized enough how important Kyle's return to the undermanned Islanders will be, whenever it occurs. The team has scored a woeful 51 goals in 24 games, so any boost in offense will be greatly appreciated.

Stay with us as Kyle's return to the ice gets closer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Isles See Seesaw Scrap Slip Away

Thursday (12/2) night featured several buzz-worthy match-ups in the sporting world; fans in places like Ottawa and Cleveland had circled the date months in advance to see former players return. The Islanders perhaps had anticipated the evening too, as a visit by the hated New York Rangers normally provides excitement on par with anything the three other major leagues can provide. Local fans, though, seemed to have a differing opinion as the game failed to sell out. Though the game was action-packed, nobody mistook it for great hockey. In the end, the Rangers slipped out of the building with two points, and the Isles slipped a bit further down the standings.

The Rangers blew out to an early two goal lead as Erik Christensen and Ryan Callahan put the puck past goalie Rick DiPietro. DiPietro, who had made it clear earlier in the day that he enjoys beating his team's archrivals, didn't get much help from his teammates in the first period. Most of the play was in the Islanders' defensive zone, and providing a team so many chances will kill you every time. That proved to be the case here too, though Zenon Konopka got a trickling puck past Marty Biron in the last minute of play to cut the Ranger lead in half.

Just as heavyweights Trevor Gillies and Derek Boogaard traded blows earlier, so too would their teams for the rest of the game. The Isles stung the Rangers with consecutive goals in the middle period, taking a 3-2 lead. Matt Moulson banked his 9th goal of the year, while Rob Schremp contributed his 3rd.

The Rangers weren't stunned for long, as they recovered and recaptured the lead thanks to Slovak star Marian Gaborik, after Brandon Prust had previously tied it.

"He's just a good player," DiPietro said of Gaborik later on. "You get opportunities like that...a guy's going to take advantage of it."

Gaborik certainly took advantage of his opportunities on this night, widening the Rangers' lead to 5-3 as the third period opened. Goals from Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau added to the craziness of the affair as the game was again tied, this time at 5 goals apiece.

Unfortunately while the details of the tying goal were still coming over the public address system, Gaborik scored again and hats came flying onto the ice surface. It was his 8th tally of the year, and Sean Avery's third assist of the night. The Islanders had about five and a half minutes to mount another comeback, but could not. 6-5 was the final, with Gaborik and Avery earning the game's first and second stars respectively.

Turnovers were key, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano mentioned after the loss. "Both teams had opportunities. When it was 5-5 I felt pretty good about our chances," he added.

The Isles will have another shot at the Rangers, and they won't have to wait more than 24 hours. The two teams meet on Madison Square Garden ice on Friday (12/3) for the completion of the home-and-home series.

News and Notes:

- Travis Hamonic recorded his first NHL point in the game.

- Matt Martin and Mike Sauer fought after Gillies/Boogaard had set the tone earlier.

- Capuano announced that Dwayne Roloson will be Friday night's starting goalie.

- The Isles have taken only 5 of their last 32 possible points, and 15 over the entire season (5-13-5).

- 13,742 paid to see the game.