Friday, December 23, 2011

Milestone Goal, Isles Cold, and Strome

It is with a small sense of pride that I can announce the following: Kyle Okposo scored his 50th National Hockey League goal on Friday (12/23) night.

His wrist shot beat Toronto goaltender James Reimer's glove with 4:15 remaining in the first period of the game. Unfortunately, Kyle's Islanders found themselves trailing 3-0 at the time. While they did attempt a spirited comeback, twice narrowing Toronto's lead to one goal, they lost yet again.

As someone who has covered him since his college days, I can tell you it has been a long and sometimes uneven road for Kyle so far as an NHL player.

Fans will surely remember his very public departure from the University of Minnesota as a sophomore in 2008. However, he immediately took the American Hockey League by storm as a professional, scoring 28 points with Bridgeport in an abbreviated season.

He went on to have a solid 9 game "tryout" of sorts with the Islanders in that same whirlwind season.

"Okie," as his teammates call him, opened eyes in the following seasons, putting up solid 39 and 52 point efforts in his first two full campaigns. Fans viewed him as a star in the making; management as a core piece of the rebuild.

His career hasn't been without pitfalls, though. He missed more than half of last season due to a preseason shoulder injury. Before that there was a concussion suffered at the hands of Dion Phaneuf, also in a preseason game.

People also became concerned when he went through terrible goalless droughts, such as when he began this season without scoring for 15 games.

That said, Kyle still appears to have his best years ahead of him. He has rebounded with 6 goals in his last 15 games. He's signed long term on Long Island and seems to enjoy playing and living in Nassau County. What has been missing has been a playoff berth.

All that said, he has put up some solid numbers so far in his career, 50 goals and 79 assists in 222 games. It works out to 0.58 points per game.

Congratulations to him for reaching what is hopefully the first of many goal scoring thresholds in his career.

News and Notes:

- The Islanders' 5-3 loss to Toronto, coupled with Thursday night's 4-2 loss at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers leaves them at 11-16-6 on the season. With a mere 28 points earned in 33 games, they have basically fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race before Christmas.

- On a brighter note, beginning on Monday (12/26) you'll be able to watch top Isles prospect Ryan Strome on the NHL Network. He'll be playing on Team Canada in the IIHF 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship.

He, along with Islanders draft pick Andrey Pedan (Team Russia) will participate in the annual event that features many of the NHL's stars of the future. Prospective top 2012 draft picks Nail Yakupov (Russia) and Mikhail Grigorenko (Russia) are also expected to participate.

I'm hoping for a big tournament from Strome; hopefully a dominant one. Islanders fans could use the knowledge that a bona fide scorer is on the way to their team in the near future.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Okposo Shines But Isles Falter

Kyle Okposo had a good game and earned himself a star on Thursday (12/15) night, but his team was unable to beat the Stars that hail from Dallas. Kyle had an assist on Michael Grabner's game tying goal and scored the goal that gave his team the lead, but it didn't hold up as his New York Islanders lost 3-2.

Kevin Poulin, making his first NHL start in goal this season, played well enough to win, saving 26 Dallas shots, but was the victim of a weak defense and an insufficient offense.

Head Coach Jack Capuano, visibly upset after the game, noted that the Islanders should have and could have won the game. "A few mistakes in the third cost us the game," he explained, as the Isles allowed third period goals to Brendan Morrow and Jamie Benn and lost for the first time in regulation this season when leading after two periods.

Back to Okposo for a moment, though. He has scored five goals in his last 11 games and has 6 points in December (7 games). He fed Grabner nicely with a pass that clunked in off of the Austrian's skate at 16:38 of the first frame. The play was reviewed but was ruled a valid goal.

Kyle's goal, the "dirty" type which he tapped in after a scramble in front of Dallas netminder Richard Bachman, is the type of goal that Kyle (and the team in general) needs to score more often.

Okposo's statistical line for the seasons now reads 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points. The Islanders, somewhat less impressively, sit at 9-14-6, last in the Eastern Conference.

News and Notes:

- Brian Rolston suffered a concussion during the course of the game, this coming on the heels of the news that defenseman Steve Staios had done the same during the last game. Capuano hadn't received an update on Rolston's condition after the game.

- Mike Mottau played 18:29 in what was his 300th career NHL game.

- On the flip side, Calvin DeHaan made his NHL debut, playing 13:01, recording two hits and a +1.

- Late in the game, Michael Grabner appeared to leave the ice clutching his face. There was no word on an injury.

- The Islanders were 0-3 on the power play.

- The franchise once again falls to .500, now
1322-1322-347-80 all-time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holy Mouley! Isles' Offense Comes Alive!

If you're a person who likes to look ahead at a team's schedule (like I am), you couldn't have felt too optimistic about the road trip the New York Islanders began at the end of November. Looking at their opponents; New Jersey, Buffalo, Chicago, and Dallas, was likely enough to give even the most stout fan a case of heartburn.

Islanders fans, however, have learned to expect the unexpected. After some tough fought battles and seesaw games, the Islanders managed to take seven of the eight possible points from those teams listed above.

Matt Moulson, who scored seven goals during the stretch, nearly single-handedly won the contest in Dallas (12/3). His four goals staved off a potentially devastating mid-game collapse. Moulson, who struck early for two goals, watched as his defense and goaltender, Rick DiPietro, let the Stars knot the game at 3 in the second period.

Moulson sprung into action, though, restoring the lead for the Isles, capping a five goal flurry by both sides in the span of 3:09. He added a goal in the third period to give him his first four goal game in the NHL.

John Tavares, who hasn't hit the net in 13 games, has stayed productive. He has had more than his share of close calls, but in the meantime has notched 9 assists during his goal scoring drought.

P.A. Parenteau has contributed as well, putting up 7 points on the road trip.

Though he has looked better of late and scored in Chicago, Kyle Okposo hasn't yet hit a steady scoring stride with more than 20 games played. His curious tweet last week makes you wonder if his past injuries were bothering him this season more than he led most of us to believe.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Al Montoya. Montoya is absolutely carrying the team in net right now. I'm not going to pile on the Rick DiPietro hate-wagon, but Al has made one big save after another of late at crucial moments. His season numbers between the pipes are an outstanding 2.17 GAA and a 93.1 save percentage.

The defense needs tightening up; there are only a few D-men playing really well. It's not my style to single players out who are underperforming, but Mike Mottau has been poor, Milan Jurcina has had some serious defensive lapses, and before he was injured I felt that Andy MacDonald was capable of better play (he left with an injury with a -9, worst among the team's defensemen).

However, the Isles won 3-2 in New Jersey, slipped by Buffalo with another single goal margin (2-1), and escaped Chicago and Dallas with two 5-4 games (a shootout loss and a win, respectively).

Looking at the bigger picture, as I tend to, here are some franchise notes I jotted down after the most recent win:

- John Tavares has now cracked the top 50 in franchise scoring. His 142 points equal former captain Mike Peca's Islanders total.

- With his four goal game on Saturday night, Moulson passed both Lorne Henning and J-P Parise in the Islanders franchise goals leader column (74).

- Also in Saturday night's affair, DiPietro and Michael Grabner left with groin injuries. More seriously, Nino Niederreiter, fresh off his first goal of the season, left with concussion like symptoms. The hit by Mark Fistric that sent him off has to result in a suspension. Replays showed the Stars player's skates leaving the ice during the hit.

- Congratulations to David Ullstrom for his first NHL point, scored in Buffalo on 11/29.

- Lastly, the Islanders franchise regained their position above .500 after spending a day below the mark. They now sit at 1321-1319-347-79 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kyle Breaks Out!

Kyle Okposo finally had the night that everyone has been waiting for. Over the course of a single period, he broke his goal scoring drought, doubled his season's points total, and silenced his critics.

The only thing missing was an Islanders win.

On Wednesday (11/23) night, the Islanders hosted the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that has traditionally given them fits. Coming into the game the Isles had dropped 24 of their last 26 to their southerly neighbors.

It looked to be more of the same in store for New York, as just 18 seconds into the game a puck found its way past starter Rick DiPietro. Andrej Meszaros scored on the first shot of the game.

The script would change, however, just 19 seconds later, as Kyle took a brilliant pass from Michael Grabner and lit Ilya Bryzgalov's lamp.

Before most of the crowd of 11,086 had settled into their seats, two goals had been scored.

Okposo, playing with a sense of determination as yet unseen this season, gave the Islanders the lead with a pretty "tic-tac-toe" type goal at 10:26. Grabner had a hand in this one too, thrusting the puck to Josh Bailey who got it to Kyle's stick blade.

The Isles led 2-1, and suddenly thoughts of the team's (and Kyle's) scoring woes were a thing of the past.

Not sated by two quick goals after such a long and miserable drought, Kyle turned around and assisted Grabner on a goal with about 1:30 to go in the period. The outburst of scoring, coming after 142-plus minutes of nothing, coupled with the fact that they were outplaying Philadelphia, was astounding.

The problem was that the Islanders had forty more minutes to get through.

During the first break, Peter Laviolette showed why he is a good coach. He yanked his starting goaltender and ushered Sergei Bobrovsky into the game.

Though Kyle played well (going end to end with the puck during one rush after making a nice defensive play, as an example), he and his mates were unable to solve Bobrovsky. "Bob" made 23 saves and was the benefactor of some quirky goals allowed by DiPietro.

Though they forced the game to overtime, and even had a man advantage during the extra session, the Islanders lost their 13th of their last 15 games.

Taking away the positives, though, Kyle appears to have put whatever was troubling him aside, at least for now. He looks like the young star that everyone saw for the last three seasons. He has regained a very nice chemistry with linemates Michael Grabner and Frans Neilsen, and even with Josh Bailey.

The Islanders haven't been able to have a game where they get scoring out of both of their top two lines on the same night. When they do, they're going to win the game easily.

Unfortunately for now, coach Jack Capuano is left to still tinker with his roster in order to get it tuned properly, and Islanders fans are left with a slightly less festive Thanksgiving mood.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will Kyle Be Back?

I had a moment to ask a very angry Coach Jack Capuano about Kyle's status for Monday's game (at the 2:30 mark) . While he didn't provide a definitive answer, one would imagine that after the stink bomb the Islanders put up against Boston on Saturday night (11/19), another shakeup will be afoot.

I expect Kyle to return on Monday night in Pittsburgh. I believe the message intended for Okposo and the team has been sent (and clearly received).

Unfortunately for the Isles, Sidney Crosby will be making a return of his own in Monday's game. As you know, he has been sidelined all season with the lingering effects of a concussion from last season.

Finally, a new face to look for in the Islanders' lineup is David Ullstrom. The young forward was called up as the corresponding move to goalie Al Montoya's placement on the injured reserve list. The young Swede has put up a 12-2-14 line at Bridgeport in 17 games.

There will be a lot to watch for tomorrow night. Hopefully Capuano rallies his troops in what has been a very difficult venue for the Islanders over the past few seasons.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Isles Win as Kyle Still Sits

Coming in to Thursday (11/17) night's game against Montreal, the Islanders were sitting precariously on the cusp of an unpleasant milestone.

The franchise, whose all-time record stood at 1317-1316-347-77 (W-L-T-OTL) before the puck dropped, was in danger of falling to .500 for the first time since 1978.

They were also facing a hot squad in the Montreal Canadiens, winners of 7 of their last 10 games. The one small advantage the Islanders perhaps held was that the Habs had played Carolina on Wednesday night.

Fortunately for the Isles, a bit of unpleasant history was averted.

The Islanders secured a 4-3 win, though they took an unconventional route to victory.

Evegeni Nabokov, part of the "three-headed monster" in goal (that has worked surprisingly better than expected this season) was injured just under eight minutes in. Rick DiPietro, the eventual winner, replaced him.

After an even first period, it took a lucky carom off the boards behind the goal and a misplay of the carom by Canadiens' goaltender Peter Budaj to gift wrap a goal for the home team.

P.A. Parenteau, the twenty goal scorer from last season, wasted no time in capitalizing on the mistake. For Parenteau, it was his third goal of the year.

Invigorated by a rare lead, Josh Bailey helped Jay Pandolfo score another one with just 3:01 gone in the period. For Pandolfo, it was a double milestone, as it was both his first goal as an Islander and number 100 in his NHL career.

Mark Streit tripled the home fans' pleasure with a goal of his own at 9:01. Of note, the goal was the first this season by an Islanders defenseman at even strength.

The tide turned against the Isles soon, though, as two poor defensive plays led to Montreal goals. The fans, and perhaps the coaches, were having flashbacks of the game against Colorado earlier in the season in which the Isles frittered away a 3-0 lead.

Matt Moulson righted the ship towards the end of the period, however. Matt has been hot of late, scoring four goals in his last five games. John Tavares and the aforementioned DiPietro assisted on the effort.

Though they allowed a late power play goal to Brian Gionta which set up a tense finish, the Islanders held on and secured a much needed victory.

The sentiment in the locker room after the win was both one of relief and a sense of a deserved payoff after some recent games filled with hard work and no points.

The Islanders get a chance to take another step in the right direction on Saturday night (11/19). More on that game below.

News and notes:

- Somewhat surprisingly, Kyle Okposo was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game. It was reported elsewhere that he has watched all of his shifts from this season on video. I fully expect him to return to the ice for Saturday night's tilt against the Boston Bruins.

- Speaking of Saturday night, Islanders legend (and the team's first captain) Ed Westfall will be honored in a pregame ceremony. He will be inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame, and will even call a period of hockey with "Jiggs" McDonald. It should be a fun evening.

- Nabokov left the game with a reported groin injury. He will be re-evaluated on Friday. Rick DiPietro, making his second relief appearance of the year, filled in ably by saving 24 of the 27 shots he faced.

- Lastly, this game featured a unique personnel quirk. It was believed to be the first time that four Swiss-born players had ever played in the same NHL game. The teams had two apiece; Mark Streit and Nino Niederreiter for the Islanders and Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber for the Habs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I'm going to keep this one short because after last night's gut-wrenching 4-3 overtime loss in Colorado, I'm completely deflated. So here we go...

The Good:

Josh Bailey (!) opened the scoring by netting his first goal of the season. One of the glaring underachievers so far this season (yes, Kyle obviously belongs in that category), Bailey ended his drought under five minutes into the contest.

Brian Rolston doubled the Islanders' lead less than a minute into the second period. P.A. Parenteau and Neilsen assisted the effort.

Michael Grabner looked like the Grabner of last season, scoring a beautiful goal (his 5th of the season) fed by Matt Moulson and having two other breakaway chances in which he did not score. (Who could have known how big those missed opportunities would be later in the game?)

Kyle Okposo gets partial credit in this column, as does starting goaltender Al Montoya. Kyle was strong on the puck during this game and chased down a few loose ones. One of his passes sprung Grabner on an aforementioned breakaway chance.

Montoya was good; very good in fact. For half or 2/3 of the game. There's the rub.

The Bad:

Montoya was run over several times during the game. Did it take a toll on him? Perhaps. Or maybe the thin air exhausted him. Or perhaps, and most likely, his defense allowed him to see 51 shots on the night, easily a season high for the team.

The Islanders blew a 3-0 lead and all of the good momentum they had built. Yes, just frittered it away during the final 20 minutes. Completely inexcusable, especially in a game in which they were at times (literally) running circles around the competition.

Also frittered away was a point that was desperately needed in the standings. Normally I'm a "glass half-full" kind of guy. Not on this one.

The Ugly:

Kyle's goalless drought now stands at 13 games this season. His season line is 0-3-3 so far. Ugly indeed.

Moving on, and sadly we must again discuss the officiating.

I really don't believe in blaming officials for a team's woes. However, the Islanders have been on the wrong end of some terrible calls this season.

Whether it was phantom tripping calls, no-calls, or very minor infractions that were whistled, the Isles had it all go against them in this game. Some of Colorado's power plays should never have even taken place. Oh well. Some among you will say that the Islanders should have overcome those bad calls, and maybe you're right, but on this night the poor officiating was egregious.

To add insult to injury, a rumor circulated around Twitter after the game that goalie Evgeni Nabokov had been traded to Columbus for defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

The rumor was, of course, unfounded.

If a trade is made (and believe me, the Isles need to shed a goalie in the worst way), you'll find out right here. The Islanders send me (and my fellow bloggers) press releases, you know.

The Isles get a chance to redeem themselves on Sunday night in Vancouver at 9 PM.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Brutal Call Beats Isles

The Islanders gave a full sixty minute effort on Saturday (10/29) night against San Jose, according to Coach Jack Capuano. They generated many good chances and matched the effort of one of the best teams in hockey.

Unfortunately, it was a phantom penalty call that doomed New York in the overtime period, causing them to potentially miss out on what would have been a hard-earned second point.

Rick DiPietro made his first start of the season, seeing his first "real" action (wink, wink) of the year and playing well. Though he allowed a power play goal just 17 seconds into the contest, he was solid all night, making 27 saves and cutting down on the bad habits that have plagued him in the past.

It was a good night for John Tavares and Michael Grabner too, both of whom scored. For Tavares, it was his 7th time lighting the lamp this season, while it was number three for Grabner.

Kyle, still goalless for the season, found Grabner with a pretty feed that the Austrian slipped right past San Jose netminder Thomas Greiss. That goal gave the Islanders a temporary 2-1 lead midway through the game. It didn't last, though, as an efficient San Jose side struck back less than two minutes later.

Kyle sits at three points, as you can see on the right-hand side of this page. He played 15:30, and to be fair, took a really bad and unnecessary elbowing penalty near the end of regulation time. It didn't cost his team the game, luckily.

The thing that did cost the game was a terrible delay of game call by the referees on Travis Hamonic that seemingly everyone in the building saw clearly. Everyone, that is, except the four men on the ice that really mattered. Hamonic was trying to get a pass toward John Tavares when the puck careened out of bounds.

Assistant Doug Weight nearly went berserk on the bench when the call was made, to no avail. He had good reason to be upset, as subsequent replays showed the puck hitting the glass on the way out of play.

Given a power play, it took Brent Burns only 38 seconds to sink the deflated Islanders. A very good all around effort by the home team was ruined.

The call was the topic of discussion in the postgame debriefing session, though the players were careful to avoid blaming the referees directly for the loss.

Hamonic explained how the events unfolded. "I chipped the puck off the glass. Obviously the call was what the call was. I don't think there's much else to say about that."

His teammate John Tavares had similar thoughts, saying, "It's a tough call at the end. You know, it happens...we've just got to put it behind us...tough break."

Perhaps the coach had the most fitting last words on the entire mess, when asked if he received an explanation from the officials. "They just didn't see it."

Despite the debacle, Thursday (11/3) will be your next chance to see the Islanders as they take on the Winnipeg Jets at Nassau Coliseum. It will be nice to see the Jets play their first game in New York after a long hiatus. I'm looking forward to that one, and hopefully the Isles breaking their five game losing streak that they are currently on.

News and Notes:

- Prior to the game, the Islanders honored the 1992-1993 team. They remain, somewhat sadly, the last Islanders team to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was thrilling to see players like Pierre Turgeon, Darius Kasparaitis, and Patrick Flatley return to the Coliseum ice.

- 11,742 fans attended the game despite the presence of an unusually timed winter storm hitting the area.

- The Isles were 2-for-4 on the power play, improving to a cool 21.2% success rate on the season (7-for-33).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Deuces Wild In Pittsburgh

Kyle Okposo's 200th National Hockey League game turned out to be wilder than expected.

The theme of the game was "two," though the visiting Islanders weren't able to secure two points against Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday (10/27) night.

The Islanders held a 2-0 lead at one point, their opening goal coming on Frans Nielsen's second goal of the year. Kyle earned an assist on the play. It was, you guessed it, his second assist (and point) of the season.

In the second period, the Islanders offense again went to sleep, as it has done a few too many times this season. The visitors were only able to muster two shots against Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

Still, the Isles held a lead entering the third period, saved by the good goaltending of Evgeni Nabakov and at least two goals saved by his posts.

Matt Martin doubled the lead 45 seconds into the third period. The lead didn't hold, though. Chris Kunitz and James Neal brought the Pens back.

With the game tied at two, and with no goals scored in the overtime period, the Islanders used their second goalie of the evening.

Nabokov had apparently fallen ill (according to Coach Jack Capuano) late in regulation or overtime, and Rick DiPietro, who had seen no ice time this season, was called upon.

He saved two of the three shots he faced, allowing an Evgeni Malkin shot to squeak under him, but the Islanders didn't score on any of their shootout opportunities.

The final score from Pittsburgh: Penguins 3, Islanders 2. A single point earned, and a lot of head scratching afterward from fans and media.

We must take the coach at his word, but I guarantee there will be a lot of hand wringing over the timing of his decision. This is, after all, the Islanders we are talking about. Everything is scrutinized to death. Lets hope the injury turns out to be very minor.

Luckily, the Islanders only have one day off before they return to the ice.

On Saturday (10/29) night they'll take on the San Jose Sharks. The team plans to honor the 1992-1993 squad that defeated the then-Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and played in the Eastern Conference Finals.

A banner was raised for that team. After the events of this wild game, the goalie situation will be up in the air too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Confidence Building Win Over Rivals

After a deflating loss to Florida on Opening Night (10/8), the New York Islanders had a chance to put up a meaningful win in front of another sell out crowd last night (10/15). They seized upon the opportunity, gaining a 4-2 decision over the rival New York Rangers.

The Rangers, who opened their season in Europe and won't play a home game until October 27th (due to renovations currently underway in their home arena), had a good amount of support (as they usually do these days) at Nassau Coliseum. But their blue-sweatered supporters were quieted in the first period by a significantly improved home team, and they headed for the exits after John Tavares had once again worked his magic.

Tavares, fresh off a four point night in the Isles' win over Tampa Bay (10/13), matched the output against the Rangers. Unlike in that game, he netted a hat trick, the third of his career.

The Islanders, who had gone with the same lineup in their first three games, tweaked things a bit before this match. Scratched from the lineup, somewhat surprisingly, was Blake Comeau. Trevor Gillies saw his first action of the season. Additionally, starting in goal, in his first NHL game since April 10, 2010, was Evegeni Nabakov.

Nabokov played well, saving 29 of the 31 shots he faced. There was mild concern for his well-being midway through the third period, when he was slow to get up out of his crouch and was seen flexing his legs. A trainer was not needed on the ice, however, and he assured the media after the game that his movements were only due to a puck catching him in a "place where there was no protection." Okay, Nabby, we feel your pain.

The first star of the night was clearly Tavares, though, despite very good efforts from P.A. Parenteau (3 assists), Mark Streit (2 assists, 24:50 played), and the fourth line (Coach Jack Capuano has consistently praised them).

Tavares is currently tied for the league lead in scoring with David Legwand (Nashville) and Toronto's Phil Kessel. Back-to-back 4 point nights will do that for a player.

The only tone of concern, as the Islanders sit at 3-1 and prepare for their first road trip, has to be the secondary production. Lines two and three have barely clicked at all. It has been nice to have the top line carry the team so far, but players like Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner haven't yet found the net with regularity. Okposo has just a lone assist this season and Grabner scored his only goal from it.

Coach Capuano also spoke of some defensive fumbles that he'd like to see cleaned up before his team next hits the ice.

"We can play better. We had some breakdowns. [The Rangers] had some really good scoring opportunities." He continued, "We have to get better in certain areas of our game, for sure."

But that's a worry for another day. The Islanders will have four days off before they play again (at Tampa Bay on 10/20).

Right now, Isles fans, your team is 3-1 and goaltending hasn't been an issue. Enjoy it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spreading the Joy of Hockey

Last night (10/13) I did something I hadn't done in a very long time. I attended an ice hockey game as a fan.

My friend Simon has been visiting New York (he's from England) this week, and I was hoping to give him a quintessentially American (or in this case, North American) sports experience. I was also hoping to select a match-up that would be filled with action, enough scoring to keep him interested, and hopefully one that resulted in a New York Islanders win.

I purchased two seats in the lower bowl so that he would be close enough to the game to really feel part of it. I was also optimistic that a game involving Tampa Bay and the Islanders would have a fair amount of goal scoring in it.

I chose wisely.

Just 36 seconds into his introduction to the NHL, Simon watched John Tavares race down the ice, fire a shot that was saved, only to see big Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman swipe the rebounding puck into his own team's net with his hand.

The crowd was elated at the good fortune that had fallen upon the home side. Simon was all smiles and I had a sense that he was a hockey fan in the making.

After an equalizing goal from Tampa Bay's #91, Steven Stamkos, at 7:10 of the same period, the Isles' offensive onslaught began.

Matt Moulson and Tavares hooked up 2:18 later on a pretty goal to recapture the lead, then Moulson returned the favor at the 15:15 mark. "JT" had a quick 3 point night and the Isles had a 3-1 lead.

But he wasn't done.

With time running down in the first, we were able to witness a fourth home goal, this time from P.A. Parenteau. Right there to pick up another assist, was, of course, John Tavares.

4 points in one period! Simon had seen a full game inside of twenty minutes.

With Al Montoya continuing to play a with a special kind of focus in goal and a 5th Isles goal (Grabner from Okposo) for good measure, the Islanders cruised to a somewhat easy victory.

A few concession stand snacks were enjoyed, a visit to a sports bar was made immediately following the win, and a great win was celebrated.

I always tell people that sports beings people, even those of diverse backgrounds and speaking different languages, together. I know Islanders fans all over the world; from Germany, Sweden, Japan, and so on. I know some blind fans who love a game that they can't even see.

I think last night proved my point yet again. I imagine that this morning the Islanders have one more fan from England they didn't have 24 hours ago.

News and Notes:

- Tavares' scoring outburst was the first time an Islander scored 4 points in a period since Niklas Andersson in 1996. (Thanks to Isles' statistician Eric Hornick for that one).

- 2011 draft pick Ryan Strome, just returned to the Ontario Hockey League, opened his season with a hat trick for his Niagara IceDogs. Yes, in case you hadn't heard, he's one to watch.

- Evgeni Nabakov dressed as Montoya's backup but saw no action. Rick DiPietro is out with a concussion, the team announced.

- The Isles improve to 2-1-0-0 on the season, with a home game against the rival New York Rangers on Saturday (10/15) night.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

"The season is a marathon, not a sprint."

You hear the above phrase uttered a lot when people discuss the baseball season. It can also be applied to the hockey season. Despite the Islanders laying a 2-0 egg to Florida in front of a sold out crowd on Opening Night (10/8), all is not lost.

Sure, I would have liked to have seen a more solid and consistent effort from the Islanders in front of a loud packed house on Saturday night. The fans were ready to see potential and promise turned into profits, at least with respect to the on-ice product. Mike Bossy was on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck, the player introductions were spectacular, and the decibels were deafening.

Unfortunately, the air came out of the balloon once the game started.

While the team didn't send the crowd running for the exits with a total stink-bomb, they did leave their fans wanting much more than they received after a long summer.

Al Montoya was given the nod as the starting goaltender by Jack Capuano in the coach's first NHL season opener. Montoya played well, saving 27 of the 29 shots he faced.

At 16:37 of the opening period, Stephen Weiss banked home a loose puck that tricked through Montoya's pads and seemed to stick in the crease. Florida, who had out shot, out-physicaled, and out-everythinged the Isles, were up 1-0. The fans, who expected a goal barrage from the Isles, were checking their ticket stubs to make sure they were at the right show. Just 3:08 later, reeling a bit from Florida's shot barrage and after taking consecutive penalties, Montoya allowed a 5-on-3 slap shot to hit the twine.

On a night with far too many Islanders penalties, lines that seemed out of sync, far too few shots, and heaps of defensive mistakes, 2-0 was the final.

The crowd, enticed all summer by thoughts of a young and potent crop of scorers, didn't get to hear the new "mystery" goal song even once.

After the game, Capuano went to his familiar "too many passengers" line and said that the team couldn't take any periods off. He didn't have a look of worry on his face; maybe one of slight embarrassment due to his team stumbling out of the gate.

With a short turnaround for an afternoon game on Monday (10/10) and 81 games remaining, I suspect that the Islanders' performance will be much improved for the matinee.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Here's Hockey!

A special treat for you as we get closer to the opening game, only four short days away!

(And a special thank you to my friend Jan from Punkrock, Football, Drinks and other boring stuff).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Underwhelming Effort in Calgary

I'm going to keep this one short. There was very little to take away from the Islanders' 2-0 loss in Calgary on Tuesday (9/27) night.

The good news, I suppose, is that it was only preseason and the Islanders dressed a team of mostly prospects and guys fighting for jobs. Additionally, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov looked fairly good for a guy who hadn't played a real game in, well, forever. He saved 15 of 16 shots in two periods of work.

The numbers pretty much tell the story: 13 total shots on goal for the Isles. 0 for 3 on the power play. No shots from Ryan Strome or Kirill Kabanov to even make Flames goaltender Henrik Karlsson sweat.

In a word: meh. But that's what preseason is for.

I don't know if it was the cross-continent flight or just a lack of NHL readiness by some of the guys on the ice, but I was hoping to see a better effort. Matt Donovan showed a bit, if I had to pick a player wearing white.

Compounding the woeful display were the injuries that struck Milan Jurcina (strained left groin) and Rhett Rakhshani (injured left knee).

The Islanders' top two lines, barring injuries, are basically set and have looked good this season. Defensively, Mark Streit has looked like a man on a mission after being named captain last week.

But if the Islanders want to be a playoff team this season, as Kyle Okposo told me they must be, they'll need to get a better showing from their role players than they had in this tilt.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Blood Drive Before the Game

If you're going to come out to Saturday (9/24) night's preseason game, I would ask you to strongly consider helping your community beforehand.

I realize that there are a lot of good causes out there, and many of you give your time and money generously, but this is something that may directly save a life: The American Red Cross blood drive.

Hopefully you or your loved ones will never be in a situation where you need blood, but if you do it is comforting to know that a supply will be available. It's more important than you think.

As a "thank you" from the New York Islanders, you'll also receive a pair of tickets to a future weeknight game (first 200 fans). So it's a win-win all around.

For more information, please see the official website. I hope you'll think about giving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tavares Extension and Rookies to Watch

I had been waiting until something official was announced, but it seems that whispers of a long term extension for center John Tavares are true. TSN is reporting the contract as a 6-year, $33 million deal. That's quite an early birthday present from Garth Snow. Tavares will turn 21 years old next Tuesday (September 20th).

I have no idea what John's beverage of choice is, but I imagine he'll be able to afford plenty of it now.

Garth Snow has done an excellent job of acquiring and keeping his young core of players on Long Island. This is another feather in his cap. In the last several months he has locked Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, and now Tavares in to long term deals. Well done, Garth.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but yesterday I noticed the players' dressing room at Nassau Coliseum had been freshly painted. Over the door sit images of 4 Stanley Cups and the word COMMITMENT beneath.

Mr. Snow has certainly taken the word to heart and put his trust in what he has assembled.

Speaking of assembling a championship caliber team, the pieces of future Islanders teams were on display the last two nights.

The Islanders held two rookie games against Boston's rookies, and while the first game didn't go so well for the young Isles, Tuesday night's showing was much better. They won 7-2, and a few players really shined.

Without too much analysis, here are some young guys who impressed me:

Nino Niederreiter - He is going to make the Islanders out of training camp. After a decent 9 game look last season, he is poised for a full time role in the NHL. Am I crazy to think he might even have a big impact at the NHL level? Could he score 20 goals? I wouldn't rule it out.

Ryan Strome - The early returns have it looking like Garth and company have struck draft day gold. He's a long shot to make the Islanders right now, but I wouldn't rule out a nine game trial with the big club at some point this season. He put up 106 points in the OHL last year. Can he improve upon it?

Casey Cizikas - A center taken in the 2009 entry draft. He's not John Tavares, but who is? He played a really nice two games, scored some goals, and didn't shy away from contact.

David Ullstrom - Another center that looked pretty good to me. The young Swede wearing the 41 sweater scored 41 points (17-24-41) at Bridgeport last season.

Tyler McNeely - The Northeastern University product took me by surprise this week. I would imagine he'll see a lot of playing time at Bridgeport (AHL) this coming season after a short 10 game stint there last year.

Anders Nilsson - The Isles have a logjam at goal, but the large Swede has been working with goalie guru Sudarshan "Sudsie" Maharaj and looked really solid in the win. He squared up nicely against Boston's shots and made some nice saves when his team was on a 5-on-3 penalty kill.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Decade Nights" and Isles Hall of Fame Thoughts

The 2011-2012 season is right around the corner! As many of you know, this will be the Islanders' 40th season on Long Island. Management has already put a number of tributes in place to honor the special season (just look at that beautiful logo on the ice).

In a nod to their storied history, the Islanders will hold four “Decade Nights” throughout the
season. On each night, a vital member of the Islanders' past glories will be inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame.

Ed Westfall, the face of the early Islanders, will be honored on November 19th. Number 18, who played 18
seasons in the National Hockey League, will be inducted on a night when the Islanders face the only other franchise he played for, the defending champion Boston Bruins. As most of you know, he was the first captain in Islanders history and is a fine choice to represent the decade of the 1970s.

Ken Morrow, who I had the pleasure of meeting, was a critical part of the 1980 "Miracle" Olympic
team and the Islanders Stanley Cup dynasty. In a career spent entirely on Long Island, he was a great defenseman during the Cup years. I am still amazed at his +53 rating during the 1981-1982 season, arguably the greatest Islanders team ever (54-16-10, 118 points). His night will be held on New Year's Eve, December 31st.

Pat Flatley, who tallied 488 points in
his Islanders career, will be honored as the player of the 1990s. He was the fifth captain in team history, and captained the last Islanders squad to win a playoff series (1992-1993). (Hopefully we won't be able to say that much longer, but I digress). Islanders Hall of Fame honors will be bestowed upon him on January 14th, 2012.

The last of the honorees will be Swedish defenseman, and one of my personal favorites, Kenny Jonsson
. The quiet defenseman's work is sometimes overlooked by fans, but he was a key to the teams that returned the Isles back to respectability in the early 2000s. He is now a coach in his native Sweden, but will return to Long Island for a very special evening on February 11th, 2012.


While I am pleased that the Islanders are choosing to swell the ranks of their Hall of Fame with the
above men, I have one constructive criticism of its setup.

The aforementioned men all played vital parts in franchise history. They will each be honored with a bronze
plaque and have their names added to the banner that hangs from the Nassau Coliseum roof.

However, I believe Halls of Fame are for the people to enjoy, and a way for the fans to connect with
their team's history.

The Islanders currently mount their plaques immediately outside the home dressing room, in the hallway.
The players pass images of former great Islanders on their way out to the ice. Many of these men have been honored in the NHL Hall of Fame in Toronto also. The idea is to inspire the players to greatness.

However, I think the team would be better served moving the plaques to a public area where they could be
seen and enjoyed by the fans. I know there are plans to do this if and when the Islanders get a new building. I just think it should be done now. Perhaps the lower concourse, where the New York Sports Hall of Fame once occupied space, could be used.

I once visited Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. At the time the building was old, the team was miserable,
and the entire atmosphere was bland. But one thing they did right was to have their Hall of Fame plaques on display in the concourse. Fans could stop by, read them, touch them, and perhaps hear a story from a family member about a player.

Similarly, the New York Mets now have a public Hall of Fame, a great improvement over what they had at Shea Stadium.

It serves the Islanders no purpose to have their legends tucked away in an area that the fans can't

I know it seems petty, but I think it would be a positive change for the new season.


Fans, remember that the Rookie game versus Boston is on Tuesday night (9/13) at 7 PM at Nassau Coliseum.
See you there!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

10 (Islanders) People To Follow On Twitter

I was initially hesitant to join Twitter; I certainly didn't feel that I needed another time vampire in my life. My attitude has changed, however, and I find that social media can be a great way to get current Islanders news, opinions, and connect with your fellow fans.

Here's a list of 10 "Islanders essentials" that every Isles fan should be following, if they aren't already:

10. @NYIslanders. The official team account. News, press releases, special offers, etc. Tweets straight from the mother ship.

9. @KatieStrangNYI. Newsday's beat reporter. If the Islanders conducted their business from an underground bunker 30 floors below Fort Knox she would still get the story.

8. @ChrisBottaNHL. The former team employee hasn't turned his back on the club. He gives his own take on all things Islanders and provides a popular comment section/sounding board for the fans.

7. @Islesblogger. My fellow Blog Box member not only plays hockey, but lives hockey. He always has an interesting take on the current events in Islanderland.

6. @grabs40. Michael Grabner's account. Tweets are directly from the Islander forward. He's easily the most interactive player on the roster.

5. @RobCarlinMSG. Islanders and Mets superfan. It also help that he's MSG Network's pre- and post-game reporter for all Islanders games.

4. @7thWoman. Everybody knows Dee, right? She'll let you know what she's thinking, eating, wearing, and more. And somehow she ties it all in to the Islanders. I don't know she does it, but I appreciate it.

3. @IslesRM. A superb writer for 'The Checking Line' who got his start (and continues to write for) the Islanders Blog Box. When he's not watching or playing hockey, he's educating your kids.

2. This one's a tie. Everyone loves Matt Moulson (@MMoulson). Everyone except Kyle Okposo (@bookerT2116), that is. Honestly, along with Grabner the duo has a healthy friendship/rivalry. On *and* off the ice.

1. Lastly, me (@RealKenDick)! I know, shameless. But I do find following the Islanders incredibly fun. I have always said that the day it stops being fun is the day I stop writing/Tweeting. So far, it's still fun. And I am very much looking forward to this upcoming season.

So there you have it, folks. Get on Twitter and enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Trade and a Vote

News emerged today that the Islanders traded Trent Hunter to area rivals New Jersey in exchange for 37 year-old left wing Brian Rolston.

I like the deal for several reasons.

First off, one of (Islanders General Manager) Garth Snow's core philosophies is having veteran leadership in place. Rolston, the 16-year NHL veteran and former Stanley Cup Champion, certainly qualifies. He'll be brought in to help mentor a still-young team of which expectations are steadily growing. After four barren seasons, a postseason berth is expected of the squad that Snow has meticulously crafted, mostly through the draft.

In my mind at least, despite his age, Rolston is still an effective point producer. If I had to guess, I would say that 20 goals are not out of reach for Rolston, barring injury. Of course, that's the biggest risk at his age.

As an aside, you'll remember that the last man brought in for leadership, Doug Weight, didn't spend a lot of time on the active roster. But I digress.

Additionally, this move also adds by a bit of subtraction, though that seems a bit harsh.

After a stellar 51 point rookie season back in 2003-2004, I became a Trent Hunter fan. He was a big right wing who had been productive at Bridgeport, and had seemingly made a smooth transition to the Island. Not one to lavish quotes on the press, he did his talking with his hockey stick.

Unfortunately, it was shortly after that when Hunter went into the Witness Protection Program, so to speak. He was invisible on a lot of nights, and in more recent times, injured. Over his next three seasons he averaged only 16 goals, down from '03-'04's 25. His production slipped even further as the injuries claimed a lot of his playing time.

Lastly, the move eases fears that the Islanders would have trouble reaching the salary cap floor. Rolston's salary cap is over $5 million for the upcoming season, while Hunter would have been on the books for the next two years at $2 million apiece.

The Islanders will gladly take on the money after the aborted Ehrhoff deal, and will be glad to get out from an extra year of a non-productive salary cap in the following season, especially with John Tavares set to get a big pay raise at this time next year.

As long as Rolston stays healthy, it's a good move for all parties involved.

As you surely know, Monday (8/1/11) is D-Day on Long Island. If you are a citizen of Nassau County, I urge you to get out and vote for the new arena plan, and vote 'yes.'

The plan has broad support from unions, fans, and many citizens, and will provide jobs for our suffering construction sector.

In talking with a Rangers fan, of all people, he recently told me has was voting 'yes' because, simply put, he was afraid of a scenario for Nassau County where nothing was built on the site.

There are many reasons to vote yes, whether your primary concern is the local economy, ice hockey, having a top-notch venue for your kids to see the newest acts, or just the civic pride that comes with having a new landmark.

So please take 5 minutes out of your day on Monday to find your polling place and vote yes. Like today's trade, it seems like a good move for all involved.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Introducing: Mei Ushu

I’m a big believer in the power of sports to bring people together. There is something magical in unifying a group with diverse backgrounds toward a singular goal.

The Islanders, from what I can tell, believe in this message as well. This past week I had the pleasure of again covering Prospect Mini-Camp at Nassau Coliseum. It’s a weeklong event designed to showcase new draft picks, prospects, and local players in a professional atmosphere. It’s also a great chance for fans, scouts, and management to have a look at players they may not yet be fully familiar with. In short, it’s a look into the future.

The Blue and White Scrimmage and Skills Competition, held on Saturday night, caps off the week.

Invited by the New York Islanders, players travel for the camp from near and far. Hockey hotbeds such as Sweden, Russia, and Canada, are normally, of course, represented. Some non-traditional areas produced players this year as well, like Lithuania, Switzerland, and Japan.

Anyone who knows me would say I like to focus on the Japanese sports scene. So I took some interest when I saw that Mei Ushu had been invited to join the festivities.

Mr. Ushu is a 6’0”, 196 pound ninensei (“second year player,” or sophomore) who plays his college hockey at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo. He’s a 20-year-old defenseman who has also been selected to his homeland’s national team.

When I first met him early in the week, his size caught my attention. Coupled with his youth, I realized that just those two factors could add up to him being a legitimate NHL prospect down the road.

When speaking to him more in-depth a second time, after he had completed the scrimmage and skills events, he mentioned that he would like to add some more muscle and work on his skating. It’s a fairly common sentiment among many of the young players and prospects.

Nerves, he admitted, were a problem prior to playing on the Nassau Coliseum ice, but Coach Jack Capuano said that Ushu handled himself nicely and “fit in just well” in the scrimmage game (played in front of 5,000+). Both men admitted to having bit of a language barrier, but Mei told me that he seemed to become more comfortable with his surroundings as the week went on. He and his mates found ways to communicate.

This was his first trip to the United States, I was told.

One final thing that troubled Ushu was the size of the rink. In Japan they play with the wider, international size hockey rink (200 feet x 98 feet). He seemed to adjust well, though I did see him make one error near his own blue line very close to the sideboards.

Asked what he’ll take away from the experience, he mentioned that he learned how to prepare better for games mentally, and picked up tips on puck movement from his defensive teammates.

He’ll return to Japan on Tuesday of this week. His immediate plans are to continue playing for Waseda, and he will attend some camps for Asia League ice hockey and Japan’s Under-22 team.

I hope he will return to Long Island next year, so we can see what progress he has made. I also hope he continues to chase his goals, perhaps even as far as becoming the first Japanese defenseman to play in the National Hockey League.

He was a pleasure to meet and speak with, and I wish him well.

Special thanks to Taka Shirai and Kazuhide Yamanouchi for their assistance this week. You can follow Mei Ushi (@Meichel23) [Japanese] on Twitter, as well as the author (@RealKenDick).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Impressions From Prospect Camp

There's scarcely anything in hockey more enjoyable for me than getting to meet the newest members of the New York Islanders. Prospect mini-camp week is my chance to view many of the young players management believes will be the next stars on Long Island.

It's done at this time of year when hockey is dormant, in a fairly relaxed atmosphere, which makes for an easier transition to the pro game for the players, and fewer barriers exist for media and bloggers when trying to converse with them.

One of the newest selections, fresh out of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (chosen at #34 overall), is Scott Mayfield. An affable and approachable 18 year old with a winning smile, the tall (6'4") defenseman told me that his being passed over in the first round will be a motivating factor for him.

"It was kind of tough sitting there Friday night (1st round). I sat there for 30 picks and wasn't called, but at the same time I can use it for more motivation." But, he added, now that the matter is settled, he "couldn't be happier [to be a part of] this organization. Everything's more professional here."

Mayfield is committed to the University of Denver, where fellow prospects Rhett Rakhshani and Matt Donovan played their college hockey. He's working on the offensive facets of his game after saying that his numbers were down last season, he's looking to add some weight, and is simply taking in his new environment.

He even tried an Italian ice, which he was told is something of a Long Island specialty.

As the first players went off the ice and the new shift emerged from the bowels of the arena, news broke that Jeremy Collition had been signed to a new deal.

The second shift, or the White Team, as they're being called in advance of Saturday night's prospect game, allowed me to have a look at Mei Ushu. He's a big kid, listed at 6'0" and 196 pounds, a sophomore from Waseda University in Japan.

I introduced myself and wished the young man good luck, but I'll have more on him after the game on Saturday.

When the second group was winding down their activities, I had a few moments with two important members of the Islanders, both who hope to move their careers and team(s) from the "potential" column into tangible results. I am referring to Kirill Kabanov and Coach Jack Capuano.

Kabanov, who perhaps didn't leave such great impressions in his bosses minds last season, seems a bit more focused on his game this year. He told me he's working to be as good in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive one, including blocking shots and back checking. He also has his mother joining him on Long Island this summer as well to help keep tabs on him.

During his down time, he's enjoying tennis and the beach like any other soon-to-be 19 year old. He's making sure that he's on time this year, and I even witnessed him sharing a moment with fellow prospect Andrey Pedan, with whom he shares a common language. While they were engaged in a private conversation, perhaps Kirill was imparting some 'veteran' (of mini-camp, at least) wisdom to the Lithuanian defenseman.

Jack Capuano summed up the day by saying that the camp is about putting aside college rivalries, working together as members of the Islanders family, and getting a change to meet potential teammates of the future.

The coach mentioned Brock Nelson as a player who had improved from last year. He also liked "where Calvin [DeHaan] is mentally," believing that this camp will be used for him to "make a statement."

Let's hope that's the mindset of all of the attendees, and that they put on an impressive show on Saturday night.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The People Have Spoken

Thank you to all of those who voted in the 'Who Should Be Captain' poll. The results are in, and the overwhelming majority of you believe Mark Streit should wear the 'C' in 2011-2012.

Nearly 60% of respondents chose the Swiss native. I imagine he will be strongly considered for the captaincy. He is in the midst of a long term contract that tied him to Long Island, has been a top scoring defenseman when healthy, and has led by example. His quiet demeanor suits him well for the top role.

Finishing second in the polling was Kyle Okposo (24%). Kyle has become one of the young 'faces' of the franchise, but has he done enough to earn the 'C'?

Kyle has played under 200 games as an Islander due to various ailments over his first few seasons. He, like Streit, is more of a quiet leader who lets his game talk for him.

However, the ink has just dried on a fresh five year contract that keeps him an Islander through 2016. He is also one of the longest tenured "young" Islanders (at age 23) with parts of four seasons under his belt. And though people may be reading too much into it, he was asked to announce the selection of #5 pick Ryan Strome at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on Friday.

John Tavares finished with nearly 10% of the total votes. I think this is just a case of him being too young, despite evidence of his overwhelming talent. I think he's certainly in line for an 'A' on his sweater this coming season.

Lastly, 'other' received 5 votes (8%). I'm not quite sure who people had in mind, as nobody left a comment proposing an alternative to the three listed. Trent Hunter and Rick DiPietro have the most tenure with the Islanders at this point, though I can't see either being awarded with a 'C' (and generally goaltenders are prohibited from becoming captains).

I think the people got it right. I expect Mark Streit to be named the new captain, succeeding the recently retired Doug Weight. I wouldn't rule out Kyle being the honoree, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.

If you have any further thoughts or names, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bonne Chance, Bruno!

Just moments ago it was announced that Bruno Gervais was traded to Tampa Bay for future considerations.

It's bittersweet for me, as the 2003 draft pick was one of my first interviews as a member of the Blog Box. He is known for his wild sense of humor and as a great guy in the locker room. Unfortunately, his defensive shortcomings and contract status (Restricted Free Agent) have made this the time for him to move on.

In Tampa Bay, Gervais will be reunited with former Islanders Nate Thompson, Dwayne Roloson, and Sean Bergenheim.

I wish him success with his new team. 'Bonne Chance!' to the Quebec native.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Full List of Picks

Here's a handy guide to help you sort through the complete draft for the Islanders in 2011. Picks are subject to change, of course.

(Round) Overall #

(1) 5. Ryan Strome - Center - Niagra IceDogs (OHL)
(2) 34. Scott Mayfield - Defense - Youngstown (USHL)
(2) 50. Johan Sundstrom - Center - Frolunda (SEL)
(3) 63. Andrey Pedan - Defense - Guelph (OHL)
(4) 95. Robbie Russo - Defense - US Nat'l Development Team (USHL)
(5) 125. John Persson - Left Wing - Red Deer (WHL)
(5) 127. Brenden Kichton - Defense - Spokane (WHL)
(7) 185. Mitchell Theoret - Left Wing - Niagra IceDogs (OHL)

Draft Party Live Blog

Keeping with tradition, I'll be liveblogging from the NHL draft party (sorry, not the actual draft this year). Check this space for the pick at #5 and any other Isles related news and/or trades.

UPDATE: With Kyle at the podium, the Islanders selected Ryan Strome from the Niagra IceDogs.

ANALYSIS: I really like the pick. Stats aside, he trains with John Tavares and is friendly with Matt Moulson. So there's already familiarity, and perhaps a bond.

The overiding theme when discussing Strome is that he is a wonderful playmaker and makes those around him better. His whopping amount of assists on last year's stat line shows that.

Dishing the puck isn't his only game, though. He netted 33 goals with the IceDogs last season and was the Ontario Hockey League's top point producer with a very healthy 1.63 points per game. Searching for his name on Youtube reveals a heap of highlight video goals. What great stuff to watch.

The pundits on TSN and elsewhere are salivating over seeing him potentially teamed with John Tavares on the Islanders. Of course, we have to keep in mind he'll probably be slated for a little more seasoning down in the minors before he hits the Island. He will not be rushed to the National Hockey League.

It's nice to see the Islanders stacked with so much young talent. I can't remember the last time I felt this optimistic heading into an Islanders season.

As Trevor Gillies told the crowd at the draft party, 'I wish the season would start right now.'

I've been hearing that from a lot of people, for good reason.

Additionally, you can follow new Islander Ryan Strome on Twitter at @Strome18.

Don't forget, rounds 2-7 are tomorrow, where scouting departments really earn their money. You can see the full list of pick and names in the post following (above) this one.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Should Be Captain?

Since the NHL entry draft is still two full weeks away and my predictions on the subject are notoriously incorrect, let's take things in a different direction.

Since this is a Islanders blog and doesn't cover the full NHL, there hasn't been a whole lot to discuss since the captain retired.

There are a few candidates worthy of wearing the 'C' next season. I have my thoughts on the subject, but I'd like to see what the fans think. I have set up a poll on the right hand side of this page. Please click on your choice and I'll share the results with everyone (along with my thoughts) when the poll closes in two weeks.

If you would like to leave a comment or make a case for a player, the comments section is always open.

Also, friends, don't forget about the draft party on Friday, June 24th at Nassau Coliseum. I'll be there. Will you?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tearful Weight Terminates His Playing Career

In a ceremony filled with tears, laughs, and nostalgia, Doug Weight announced his retirement as an NHL player on Thursday. Flanked by Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and team owner Charles Wang on a dais, Weight read a prepared statement but at times was overcome with emotion. His family, former teammates from several franchises, and a large amount of Islanders staff were on hand to join the Islanders captain for his "day of celebration."

While his playing days are over, it was revealed that Doug will stay with the Islanders as an assistant coach and special advisor to the General Manager. In a career filled with many high points, he noted that he regretted not being healthy enough to perform at a high standard for the Isles. He stated many times during the day, though, that he believes he has plenty to offer the team in a non-playing role.

Having watched Weight on the ice for many years, I knew what kind of player he was. While he often wasn't the most offensively talented piece on many of his teams (not to take away from a 1033 point career), you can see why he was a captain for two franchises. It's more than having a "presence" in a room, as Garth Snow put it. The man reeks of class.

The thing that most struck me was that even though his greatest achievements came in places other than New York, he acts and talks as if he had played on Long Island for 15 years. He and his family have made the Island their permanent home. His donations to local charities were highlighted. And most of all, he is a revered figure by young Isles such as John Tavares and Matt Moulson, who were on hand. It's hard to believe that he played only 107 games an Islander.

Despite being 40 years old, Weight called himself "green" with respect to management and coaching, and admitted that he has a lot to learn. Though he felt blessed to lift the Cup (with Carolina in 2006), he speaks in a manner that tells you he is eager to do it again. Unfortunately, his body will no longer allow it on the ice. But he noted that he is hopeful of repeating the scene "on the other side of the boards," as he put it.

So on this day congratulations, and thank you, to Doug Weight. I join a legion of hockey fans today in appreciation of his career.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kyle Signs For Five

The next player to be featured in my "Signs For Five" series is Kyle Okposo. You'll surely remember that just less then two weeks ago Michael Grabner signed a long term deal. On the heels of this news, Islanders' General Manager Garth Snow today made another bold and swift move to lock up one of his young star players. Kyle Okposo signed a new five year deal as well.

The official word came from the Islanders this afternoon. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With Doug Weight's retirement expected to be announced tomorrow, speculation has begun over who will assume the duties as team captain. Mark Streit is a very worthy candidate. Kyle's name could be another in the mix. I know from speaking with him many times over the past few years that he would be honored and humbled at even the suggestion of it.

It goes without saying that today's move is right not only for Okposo, but for the Islanders, the fans, and the future of this team. There is no player working harder to restore the franchise to glory than Kyle.

If I learn anything further this evening, you can be sure that it will be posted here.

Please visit this site tomorrow when I have some thoughts following Doug Weight's announcement at Nassau Coliseum. Thanks for reading, as always.

Update: Newsday's Islanders beat writer Katie Strang recently tweeted with details of Kyle's new contract.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Draft One Month Away!

It hasn't been my intention to let so much time elapse between posts. Goodness knows there has been a lot of news surrounding the Islanders, including a pretty important arena vote scheduled to take place on August 1st.

While the aforementioned date is important, there's another important date coming up before it. I have my calendar circled on the date exactly one month from today. It's one of my favorite days in the sports year: the NHL entry draft.

Having attended the draft in the past, I can tell you that it somewhat makes up for a poor season on the ice. I experienced the nervous anticipation, terror, and absolute jubilation that led up to the 2009 selection of John Tavares. And that was only in the hour leading up to the selection.

It's an important day for the franchise. It's the culmination of months of hard work by the scouting staff and hundreds of collective days of travel. And it shapes franchises. Perhaps not immediately, but it does. For better and worse.

This year, in case you haven't heard, the Islanders will make their first selection from the 5 spot. And much like in the past few years, save perhaps for the Tavares pick, I have no idea how Garth Snow is going to use the pick.

I've been going over the mock draft lists. Some of my fellow bloggers have their own. I have gravitated toward this one recently. I like it because it provides a prospect's statistics and a short biography in an easy-to-use format. I'm not sure that their guesses will be accurate, but then again whose routinely are?

What I do know is what I want out of this draft, and it's different than most years. That the Isles should select the player available whom they feel has the most talent goes without saying. I am a big believer that talent trumps character. I think the selection of Kirill Kabanov will eventually bear that out.

But I think I'd also like the player selected this year to be a bit of a character, in the mold of a Kabanov or a Michael Grabner. A kid who will help forge the identity of this Islanders team. A counterbalance to the no-nonsense approach of players like Tavares and Josh Bailey.

With the impending departure of Zenon Konopka, I feel the Islanders are losing a bit of their personality. I believe it is to the team's detriment.

I'm not saying they need a Sean Avery in the locker room. Far from it. Just someone who, down the line, of course, could be another "face" of the Islanders. It would certainly make this team even more fun for us all to watch and root for in the future.

Maybe they'll pick him on June 24th. I know I'll be watching.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grabner Signs For Five

As the New York Islanders chase the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup in the coming years, they have now identified another one of the players who will be joining the pursuit.

Despite the calendar reading Friday the 13th, five was the lucky number of the day for the Isles and winger Michael Grabner. "Grabs," as he's affectionately known by fans and teammates, signed a 5-year contract for a reported $15 million.

It's great news not only for Grabner, who has had quite a whirlwind year that included 34 goals as a rookie and the birth of a son, but for Islanders fans.

It also signals that General Manager Garth Snow (and, by extension, owner Charles Wang) is committed to not only identifying the pieces that will help build a championship caliber team, but holding on to them.

Even if Grabner is unable to repeat his 2010-2011 goal performance in the coming years, we must collectively remember that he's only 23 years old. His speed and his skill will certainly help those players around him to increase their scoring opportunities.

It's a very reasonable deal for both sides. At about $3 million per season, the deal is in line with the contract extension fellow top scorer Matt Moulson received earlier this year.

The Islanders didn't have to make this move today. After all, Grabner was only coming into restricted free agency. But I'm glad they did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nino Advances to the Championship

Nino Niederreiter will play for a championship in 2010-2011. His Portland Winterhawks (Western Hockey League) defeated Spokane on Monday night by a 6-3 score and won their conference final four games to two. In the victory, Nino scored the final goal of the game to go along with an earlier assist.

Beginning on Friday night, Portland will take on Kootenay for the right to raise the Ed Chynoweth Cup. For Nino, it will hopefully give him a chance to experience and play under the pressure of truly meaningful games before he becomes a full-time NHL player. Nearly everyone I have spoken with expects that next step to come in October, 2011.

Niederreiter has had little trouble handling pressure to this point. As you'll recall, he followed a nine game NHL stint with a 70 point (41-29-70) regular season for Portland. Nino has been a major contributor in the playoff run that followed, scoring 8 goals and 15 assists in the sixteen games that ensued. He'll get at least four more games, we now know. If he maintains this pace, he'll likely finish as the WHL's playoff points leader.

Congratulations to Nino. It would be nice for his many fans, myself included, to see him win the Cup. But it will be infinitely nicer to see him donning the blue and orange sweater next season and scoring goals as the Islanders' newest young winger.

To follow Nino on Twitter, please check To follow the author, click

Monday, April 25, 2011

Checking In On Nino

I haven't written anything in a while. That's solely due to the riveting NHL playoff action that I have been glued to the television watching. There is other playoff action going on, too; some that even involves Islanders. Nino Niederreiter has been having a productive playoffs in the Western Hockey League.

Nino reached the 20 point mark on Sunday evening as his Portland Winterhawks evened their Western Conference Final series (versus the Spokane Chiefs) at one win apiece.

Nino has put up seven goals and 13 assists with a +6 over his first 12 playoff games. While he's still one goal shy of last year's 8, he has surpassed the point total from a season ago (16) and has a minimum of three games yet to play in this campaign.

Personally, I can't wait to see him get to training camp and infuse the left side of the Islanders with some scoring.

If you are a Twitter user and wish to follow Nino, his username is @hawksnids22. Good luck to Nino the rest of the way!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jack Cap is Back

To nobody's surprise, Jack Capuano had the "interim" tag removed from his former title as "Interim Head Coach" of the New York Islanders. His staff will also be retained.

As I wrote here, I believe this is the right move for the budding talent on the franchise. It doesn't matter that Capuano isn't a "big name" in coaching right now. He seems to be the right fit for the franchise at this time.

Furthermore, at some point in their careers all "legends" of coaching were unproven.

Congratulations to the Islanders for doing the right thing with Mr. Capuano.

(The official team press release can be found here).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kyle Sums Up the Season

The final home game of the 2010-2011 season for the New York Islanders had everyone in a talkative mood. The normally reserved John Tavares gave extra lengthy answers that had me in the dressing room long enough to miss coach Jack Capuano's debrief. Of particular interest, as always, was what Kyle Okposo had to say. He shared a few of his thoughts looking back at the campaign for the team and his own performance.

"We had a different attitude," Kyle noted about the club in the second half of the season. "We had a little bit of swagger in our step, a little bit of jam in our game." He continued, "The thing that impressed me about the guys is how they responded after everything that happened in the first half of the season."

In case you forgot, or willingly chose to erase it from your memory, some of those things included Kyle missing 44 games with a shoulder injury that required surgery, Scott Gordon being dismissed as Head Coach, and the team losing 20 of 21 games at one point.

The team rebounded, however, to play 25-20-8 over their last 53 games (with one more remaining), and that's with their recent 1-5-1 spell included.

"We came together as a team and we're competing," was his explanation for the turnaround.

Though that line doesn't explain much, the competitive spirit was on display Friday night, as the scrappy Isles closed out the home portion of their schedule.

Oddly enough, the game seemed to be a microcosm of the entire season.

The Islanders fell down 2-0 to Pittsburgh, the Islanders rallied back to tie with the help of their young guns (Blake Comeau scored twice), and fell back down 3-2 in the third period. The Islanders, refusing to bend to a superior team, tied the game once again with just 35 seconds left to play.

They fell just short, losing in a shootout, 4-3. The same could be said about the season, as who knows what would have happened with a fairly healthy roster?

As for his abbreviated season, Kyle noted that he "didn't really really like the way [he] played for a lot of [the season]." He admitted that it's tough coming back from an injury but at times things "weren't clicking" for him, as he put it. He mentioned that he has a long summer of work ahead of him to become the player he feels he can and should be.

And so it will be a long summer without hockey, but everyone I talk to seems to think the team turned a corner this year, to use a cliche. I have noticed it and written about it, reflected statistically and in the attitudes of the young players who will make up the bulk of next year's roster. Don't forget that the team is poised to add some more firepower, too, with Nino Niederreiter expected to play one of the left wing slots and Mark Streit set to return.

I guess I can best conclude with some lines I posted on Twitter (@RealKenDick) after the final horn had sounded.

"Good night, Nassau Coliseum. See you next October. You will be filled with loud and happy fans in 2011-2012."

I honestly believe it will happen.

News and Notes:

- Blake Comeau's two goals put him at 24, tying the most he has scored in a professional season (Kelowna Rockets, WHL,
2004-05). It is 7 more than his previous NHL high, set last season.

- Kyle assisted on Travis Hamonic's game-tying goal. For Kyle, it was his 14th assist of the season.

- The game was a sellout, with 16,250 on hand to see it. For most of the game, the crowd was loud and into the action.

- Matt Moulson had a goal disallowed with 1:38 left to play, as the referees ruled that John Tavares was in the crease.

- After the game, the Islanders gave many fans their game-used sweaters as a token of their appreciation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Winning Cures Everything

The New York Islanders played another "encouraging loss" in Boston on Wednesday (4/6) evening. Rookie phenom Michael Grabner scored a power play goal and a short handed goal in the losing effort. Grabner has lit the lamp 33 times this season and has now surpassed the 50 point threshold.

For a team playing so undermanned that they had to sign a defenseman to a tryout contract before the game, the Islanders put up a spirited effort. Additionally, the loss temporarily improved their potential NHL entry draft standing. If the season ended today and the lottery odds came out as expected, the Isles would select 4th overall in June.

The time for encouraging losses, however, is over. As I've said many times before, the pieces are in place for a winning team. Not just for next season, but for many more after that.

The Islanders are on the verge of something special. For you New York area baseball fans out there, this team feels similar to the way the Mets did in 1984 or the Yankees felt a decade later, in 1994. Both teams were two years away from greatness. And both had very good seasons marred by disappointing endings the following season. That is, before they both won the championship the following year.

So that's where we are. Next year, if the team performs as I expect them to, there won't be talk of the number of man-games lost, draft positioning, attendance, arena shortcomings, or disputes over media credentials.

Because winning takes the headlines away from that nonsense. It cures all.

There has been some debate about what is "wrong" with Kyle Okposo. People have asked me if he's hurt, unlucky, or something else.

Honestly, when I see him charging hard to the net but not scoring I am willing to chalk it up to bad luck. I don't know of a health issue and I don't see evidence of a lingering one. I know in the past he has been a very streaky scorer. I think the points will be there for him next season. Michael Grabner told me last week that the linemates have a good relationship and work well together, though Grabner seems to be the big beneficiary on the scoresheet right now.

Lastly, while Grabner will likely be nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy (league rookie of the year), he won't win. Not because of any behind the scenes voting shenanigans, but because Carolina's Jeff Skinner had a slightly better season.

If I had a vote, I'd vote for Skinner, even though Grabner has surprised and amazed me at times this season. It's just my opinion, folks; yours may differ. Kudos to Garth Snow, yet again, for finding a player that was on nobody's radar and hitting the jackpot.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'll Bet This Pair of Jacks

Yes folks, it was a good night in Islanderland.

With the rival New York Rangers fighting for their playoff lives fresh off a 1-0 loss at the hands of Buffalo, you would think the Islanders would have faced a desperate team flying out of the gate. Instead, the visiting Rangers received a thorough dismantling by the hometown Islanders on Thursday (3/31) night, who sent them back to Manhattan with their tails between their legs.

6-2 was the final score in a fight and penalty filled affair. Of note, Michael Grabner was out of the lineup awaiting the birth of his son. Frans Neilsen was injured by Marian Gaborik toward the end of the first period. League pest Sean Avery had his eye bloodied by Islander Michael Haley. Most importantly, the Rangers' most vital player, Henrik Lundqvist, was beaten for four second period goals and pulled to start the third. The visiting Rangers fans sat quietly on their hands as the Islanders racked up goals and most were on the highway with ten minutes remaining in the game.

Was it any wonder why Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't in a chatty mood after the game?

But, let's remember, this was just one game. The Islanders aren't a playoff team in 2010-2011. But there are two men who might ensure they are in 2011-2012: Jack Capuano and Jack Hillen.

Much has already been said about Capuano elsewhere. The players have responded to his coaching style and subtle changes in system and attitude after the dismissal of Scott Gordon. And this is not a knock against Gordon. But the proof lies in Capuano's 26-26-9 record since he assumed the top role. Keep in mind many of those games have been played with a depleted lineup, much like this latest one.

However, Jack brings a laissez-faire approach to his coaching; it's apparent in his postgame debriefs, win or lose. He usually has a smile on his face and doesn't get overly technical in his explanations, unlike his predecessor. The players seem looser when I interact with them. Some of that is natural growth as players and as a team.

But others have said it and I'll go ahead and write it: the Islanders would be crazy to move forward with anyone other than Capuano next season.

He might fail, but he has earned a fair chance to guide this team under a new contract.

One other person I briefly want to mention worthy of a shot is Jack Hillen. I know he's not considered a top candidate for what should be an improved defense next year, but I think if the team is in need of a final defenseman on the roster it should be Jack. I'd certainly prefer him to Bruno Gervais if it comes down to a numbers game. To be clear, I have nothing against Bruno; he is a funny and polite young guy. In fact, he was one of my first interviews four seasons ago. I like Bruno very much.

I'm not sure there will be roster room for both men next year. I just happen to think Hillen is more capable in the defensive end.

Getting back to the here and now, Capuano praised Hillen's work after the 6-2 victory.

The coach simply stated, "He's skating." He continued, "We wanted our net front [defense] to activate. He was a big part of our breakout tonight and I can't say enough about the way Jack is playing right now."

I think going into next year, if I'm really seeing what I think I'm seeing as this season winds down, I'll be happy to bet on both Jacks.

News and notes:

- The aforementioned Hillen played 22:13, made four hits, and was a +2.

- Kyle Okposo had several good chances and went hard to the net more than once, but was again blanked on the scoring sheet. He's stuck at 5 goals and 13 assists.

- Six different Islanders scored and Isles goalie Al Montoya made 25 saves for the win.

- Statistical wizard Eric Hornick reports that this was the Islanders' largest margin of victory over the Rangers since February 20th, 1992.

- The Rangers were 0-for-8 on power play chances.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Montoya Signs an Extension

Next season's goaltending situation cleared a bit today when it was announced that goalie Al Montoya signed a one-year contract extension with the New York Islanders. Montoya, brought over in mid-season from Phoenix in exchange for a 6th round draft pick in the upcoming draft, has performed yeoman's work on Long Island. His play in the midst of an injury filled season earned him the security for next year.

His record currently stands at 8-4-4 with a 2.35 Goals Against Average. He'll certainly have a few more starts before the books close on the 2010-2011 season.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Islanders.

Monday, March 28, 2011

El Niño Update

As you may have read, I'm excited about next year's team. You may also know that I take a special interest in Islanders prospects. In my mind, Nino Niederreiter is the number one guy to watch right now. I have no doubt that he'll be a member of the New York Islanders next season.

That said, "El Niño" (who gave him that nickname anyway?) is tearing through the minor league playoffs again. Fresh off a 41-29-70 regular season (in 55 games), Niederreiter has stayed hot with two goals and three assists in his first two postseason games. In Game 2 of the series, his three point night (2G, 1A) earned him the honor of being named the 'first star' of the game.

In case you have forgotten, Nino performed well in last season's playoffs for his Western Hockey League Portland Winterhawks, putting up an 8-8-16 line in 13 games. His team came into the playoffs as a five seed and advanced one round, eventually losing in the Conference Semi-Finals.

This season it's a different story, as he is playing with a much stronger team. Portland earned the top seed in the Western Conference. He has more firepower around him, and he's a year older and more experienced.

He's off to a splendid start, and I'll provide periodic updates. The Winterhawks are up 2 games to 0 in their best of 7 series against Everett. Game 3 is on Wednesday, March 30th.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On The Cusp

The title of this post has a double meaning. While the Islanders are on the cusp of playoff elimination for the 2010-2011 season (one point gained by Buffalo or lost by the Islanders will seal their fate), they are also nearing a better, happier fate.

While I believed the Islanders were going to be a playoff team this season, it just didn't happen. A combination off injuries, inconsistent play, and some bad luck doomed them. And though by now I sound like a broken record, seemingly saying it at the end of every season, I really think next year they're going to be the story of the year.

Let me put it this way: For years I have bemoaned the Islanders' lack of scoring punch. That argument no longer has legs. I don't think we need to keep saying that for the first time in a long time the Isles have a legitimate top two lines. The team is on pace to score 229 goals this season, and that's without full years from Kyle Okposo and blue-liner Mark Streit. And I'll throw another name into the mix that I think will help the team next season: Nino Niederreiter.

Nino, who had a trial with the Isles at the start of the season, is having a terrific season in the Western Hockey League. He has 41 goals in 55 games, which prorated over a full season makes him one of that league's top goal scorers. Naysayers will mention that he hasn't done anything in the NHL yet, and they have a point, but I'm pretty high on him.

Now add a defense with some burgeoning young stars (Hamonic, MacDonald, and likely DeHaan) and veterans like Mark Streit to the mix, plus presumably another top 5 draft talent (who the Isles always seem to rush right to the NHL), and it starts to come together. If Garth Snow signs a free agent over the summer, even better. Which leaves only one remaining question mark: goaltending.

I'm not going to pretend to know what the goalie situation next season will be. I'm pretty sure Rick will be given a shot. ;) I'd like to see Kevin Poulin establish his career. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.

As for the game at hand, the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers came to town on Saturday (3/26) night. Head Coach Jack Capuano liked the way his Islanders competed, but they didn't finish their chances. Young Philadelphia forward James van Reimsdyk netted a hat trick, the first of his career, and the Islanders fell 4-1.

But the theme in the dressing room after the loss was all about the future. Rick DiPietro, the losing goalie, sounded a very positive tone for next season.

"I'd like to get everyone healthy here, " he began. "I wish we had a time machine to get to October and start the new season." On the other hand, he noted that the slew of injuries allowed some younger players to assume leadership roles and sped up their maturity. He viewed that as a positive outcome in a bad situation.

He lamented that the team never really had a chance to play as a full unit, even in training camp. They lead the league in man-games lost, with well over 500.

But he, like this author, certainly feels that the Islanders are on the cusp of very good things next season.

News and notes:

- The Islanders were eliminated when Buffalo defeated New Jersey before the Isles fell to Philadephia.

- Earlier in the week, defensemen Mark Streit and Andy MacDonald were declared out for the remainder of the season.

-Kyle Okposo had several chances to score, including a pretty 2-on-1 with line mate Michael Grabner. Kyle did not record a point, though.

- The attendance at Nassau Coliseum was 15,458.