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.