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.