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.