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).