Sunday, November 3, 2013

Two Big Wins And Okposo Passes 200!

Just when it looked as if the New York Islanders were slipping back into their old (i.e. bad) habits, they secured two huge wins.

After the clatter over the controversial Thomas Vanek trade died down, the Isles went back to work on the ice. Despite trailing by two goals at two different times on the road in Ottawa, New York secured an important victory on Friday (11/1) night.

Besting Ottawa in the shootout not only did wonders for the team in standings, but also gave them a psychological boost.

It was the first night that the newly acquired Vanek looked comfortable on the top line and in a new system, and it also settled fears among some fans that Garth Snow's bold transaction would fail.

Fast forward to Saturday (11/2) night, when the Isles battled both the Boston Bruins and a vocal minority of fans rooting for the visiting team in their own arena.

Jack Capuano decided to rest his usual starting goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, in favor of young Kevin Poulin.

It's a move that Jack needs to make more often, and without trepidation.

Poulin has been solid when called upon, and he was again on this night, deflecting 26 of Boston's 27 shots in a 3-1 regulation win.

Both John Tavares and Vanek scored in the contest, with Vanek first setting up Tavares' goal at 6:15 of the second period. Vanek's goal, incidentally, was his 500th point in the National Hockey League, so congratulations to him.

Congratulations are also in order for Kyle Okposo, who assisted on all three of the night's goals (Andrew MacDonald scored the 'sandwich' goal). He surpassed the 200 NHL point plateau, and his 13 assists this season leave him in third place in the league in that category.

Unlike so many games in the past against the Bruins and Senators, what turned these games in favor of the Isles was a complete defensive effort and a high number of shots on goal. The latter was especially true against Ottawa, when they peppered Robin Lehner with 57 shots.

With Lubomir Visnovsky sitting out, the Isles had been lacking somewhat on defense. They have certainly picked up their game of late, though, and need to continue doing so.

It will be back to the grind on Tuesday (11/5), as the Isles visit our nation's capital. Washington sits just a solitary point behind the Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, so it will be no time to let off the gas pedal.

They will, however, have a few days to savor this weekend's conquests and celebrate some individual achievements. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Isles Acquire Vanek, But At What Price?

The news came out late on Sunday night, an unusual time for National Hockey League transactions. The Islanders had made a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, acquiring forward Thomas Vanek for forward Matt Moulson, the Isles first pick in 2014, and the Isles second pick in 2015.

My initial reaction was glee. Garth Snow, who for years had sat idly by due to financial, roster, and club performance restraints while other teams had improved, had pulled the trigger on a massive deal.

They were trading away Matt Moulson, which, forgive me for being crude, sucked -- but the Islanders were vastly improving the team. Or so I thought.

I looked a little bit closer at the numbers and the deal as a whole. I still believe the team improved, but I'm kind of torn about it.

On paper Moulson and Vanek's production may be similar, but the games aren't played on paper. He is a much more physically gifted player. I've seen him in person. He sticks out on the ice. His scoring will be more consistent than Moulson's; I am fairly sure of that.

He'll be playing with John Tavares; his production should improve on that account alone.

I am not at all worried that Vanek will suddenly stop producing, or that he is in decline as a player.

I do have a few concerns about the deal, as well as the fact that other team weaknesses (defense and goaltending) were not addressed.

The downside of the deal is threefold: Similarity of age, contract, and the draft picks.

I, like several others on the internet, thought Vanek was much younger than Matt Moulson. He isn't. They're both 29, with Vanek being a few months younger. So they didn't get much younger, though both players are still in their respective primes.

Secondly, giving up draft picks stings a bit. Sure, picks are picks. You could get a bust or a bargain. As one NHL general manager once told a friend of mine, you don't know about a prospect for five years after he has been selected.

There's another aspect to this, though, which works slightly in the Isles' favor. The picks aren't expected to be worth as much as in past years. Meaning that if next year's pick they just sent to Buffalo is in the top 10, this season on Long Island has gone *horribly* wrong.

So it's not as if Garth is giving up the next John Tavares. At least we hope.

Now here's the kicker, and potential deal breaker (or maker).

Vanek, like Moulson, is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. To top it off, Vanek makes $2.5 million more than Moulson this season. If Mr. Snow can't convince Vanek to stay on the Island, then this deal becomes a potential disaster.

Mets fans, remember how the Mike Piazza trade went down back in 1998? It worked out in the end, but for a long while it looked as if Piazza was headed out of town after his trade to New York.

That's what we're looking at here, in hockey form, if Vanek accepts a huge contract from some team other than the Islanders next July.

We'd better hope the Austrian likes playing with Messrs. Tavares and Grabner.

After all this, though, I still like the deal. It was a bold stroke and signaled to the league that the Isles are trying serious about winning in 2014.

I think and hope the deal will work out. If not, as someone said elsewhere, heads may roll.

News and notes (Vanek edition):

- Thomas Vanek joins the Islanders with 497 career points, all with Buffalo.

- Vanek played his collegiate hockey at University of Minnesota, Kyle Okposo's alma mater (oh, you thought I had forgotten about him?)

-Vanek becomes the second native Austrian on the Islanders' roster (Michael Grabner).

- Moulson leaves the Islanders with 223 points. He had been the leading active goal scorer (118). That honor now falls to John Tavares (116).

- Best of luck to Matt Moulson, who you should already be following on Twitter at @MMoulson.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Off And Running!

Apologies are in order. For the two weeks,, the website that hosts this page, has been rather balky. I haven't been able to update statistics, author new stories, or save my work at certain times. It has been quite frustrating, especially right as the National Hockey season began.

What I won't apologize for, however, is the bold (some may say reckless) prediction that I made on Twitter (@RealKenDick) stating the New York Islanders will finish in second place this season. I believe they have the talent to compete with everyone in the Metropolitan Division except Pittsburgh.

So far, the early returns have been positive.  The Isles have swept up five of their first six possible points this season, and have held a lead in every game.

While John Tavares' 250th career point was largely overlooked during the Isles' 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus, what hasn't been missed is his hot start.

After Tuesday (10/8) night's 6-1 drubbing of Phoenix, in which the newly minted captain netted two goals, 'JT' has 4 points in three games.

Yet he's only third on his squad in scoring.

That's because the Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Michael Grabner line has been on fire early on.

Bailey, who I believe took a massive step forward in his development at the end of last season, scored a goal supplied by his mates that was so beautiful you just have to watch it.

The trio has accumulated 15 points, Grabner leading the way with six of them.

Helping the effort last evening were Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, and newcomer Peter Regin, all of whom scored their first points as Islanders (Regin had previously played for the Ottawa Senators).

The defense was reliable, and Evgeni Nabokov has jump started his 2013-2014 season by recording a 1.89 Goal Against Average. Not bad for a 38-year-old.

If the team can continue to keep up this effort, I am going to (for once) look very smart.

The challenge will get a little tougher for the Islanders, as their next games take them to Chicago and Nashville.

For now, though, the Isles are off to their best start since the '01-'02 season, and have gotten out of the gate as well as could have been expected.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gearing Up For Hockey!

With the season closing for both New York area baseball teams, we sports fans once again turn our attention to the world of hockey. Many of us struggled to get through a summer which began with a scrappy and determined New York Islanders team suffering a playoff exit to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins.

If we're at all lucky, and I think we Isles fans will be, the 2013 playoff ride was just a taste of things to come. This team's window of opportunity is just opening, I feel, and hopefully the Islanders can close a few other team's windows this coming spring.

Back to the here and now, however, and admittedly I have been out of the loop for the second half of the summer. Having been in Minnesota (a.k.a. Okposo-land) for part of it, I missed a lot of the off-season news. I also missed the exhibition game that was played in Brooklyn, though I heard it mostly went well.

Let's not forget that the Islanders still have two full seasons left to play at the old barn in Nassau, and with the new area a mere 15 miles away (consider the alternatives that were once being discussed other than Uniondale), I think as time goes on there will be some "forgive and forget" among the fanbase.

I understand your collective frustrations, but I know many Quebec, Atlanta, and Hartford fans that would have accepted keeping their beloved teams within yelling distance. So we'll just have to move forward.

Furthermore, it's on the Islanders to fill these coming two seasons with lasting memories. To achieve that goal, however, Islanders management still has some pretty important roster decisions to determine before the opening game on October 4th.

As you know, the notable pieces added this off-season were forwards Cal Clutterbuck (traded for Nino Niederreiter) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. More notably, some big names have departed, such as Rick DiPietro (contract bought out), former captain Mark Streit (signed with Philadelphia), and 35-point scorer Brad Boyes (free agent).

The "kids" are going to be tested by fire, it seems, even though they're not really kids anymore. In fact, players like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson (who will be playing for a contract this season), and others need to earnestly show us what we've all been waiting for. Not next year, but now.

We the fans are asking for consistent efforts every night, and winning hockey. Anything less will be a failure in my book. And yes, a playoff berth should be the bare minimum for this team to achieve.

As for those roster decisions, it is looking more and more like Brock Nelson will make this team. But what about highly touted prospect Ryan Strome? He's the one guy I saw during this summer's prospect scrimmage who looked heads and shoulders above the other players, if you will.

Another question mark will be how big of a role Kevin Poulin will play in goal. Head Coach Jack Capuano can't possibly ride Evgeni Nabokov for 85% of the team's games like he did last season. Or can he?

Major strides were made last season on defense, and I think that squad will be fine, despite the only real veteran presence being 37-year old Lubomir Visnovsky. With 800+ NHL games under his belt, he's not done just yet. Those around him may be young and short on experience, but they have looked very good when called upon.

I never put too much stock into preseason records. How many times have we seen a team go 5-1 or so in the preseason only to fall on their faces when the games count? And it's true in every sport. So throw the Isles' 2-4 record right in the dustbin where it belongs.

More telling, at least to me, are the bookmakers who are giving this team a real shot at contention for the first time in years.

They're rarely wrong, and if their analysis is to be believed the Islanders are right around a 12/1 shot to win the Eastern Conference. That's right, a decent, though by no means strong chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Well, there's a lot of work to be done before that dream can be realized, though the same bookies believe our Islanders should be in the mix for second place in their newly realigned division. Yes, my friends, behind Pittsburgh for sure but right alongside Washington and the New York Rangers talent-wise.

Wouldn't it be sweet to finish ahead of those guys for the first time in a while?

I'll leave you with that thought.

Enjoy the final 2 preseason games, and I'll see you on October 4th.

As always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Introducing: Viktor Crus Rydberg

Each year the New York Islanders hold a mid-summer prospect camp on Long Island. The format consists of a week's worth of drills and instruction from the top team's coaches, all while bringing the young men to the Island to become familiar with the area, the facilities, and their fellow prospects.

There is also some fun downtime for the guys as well, as the team usually makes at least one excursion to a local Major League Baseball game or goes on a fishing trip.

The week's events are capped off by the annual prospect scrimmage and skills competition, which takes place at Nassau Coliseum and is open to Islanders fans. Many attend as a respite from the heat and a chance to think about ice hockey on a July evening.

On Thursday night (7/11), the media and fans got to see a a fun and family friendly event featuring many of the team's recent draft picks. Many of the younger fans went home with player autographs as well.

Most people on hand agreed that top prospect Ryan Strome had the best night. He's playing on a different level than many of his camp mates, and he celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring a goal and two assists.

Many other players looked good as well, some who, like Strome, have a chance to make the Islanders roster this autumn, including Brock Nelson and Griffin Reinhart.

After the game I had a chance to chat with one of the lesser known standouts, newly drafted forward Viktor Crus Rydberg.

The Växjö, Sweden native, who is one day away from being exactly 20 years my junior (oh, joy), was drafted by the Isles in the 5th round (pick 136) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

He spoke of how he was not in attendance when his name was announced inside New Jersey's Prudential Center (he was flying home from Minnesota at the time), but he was thrilled to learn he had been selected.

"I stopped looking at the draft when it was number 135, and then the Islanders drafted me at number 136," he said with a laugh. He said upon hearing the news in transit in Amsterdam, he felt great.


Viktor knows he has a very long road ahead of him if he plans on playing in the NHL. He said he has at least two seasons forthcoming in Plymouth (OHL), but on this night he dazzled the 5,000 or so Coliseum fans with a superb shootout move during the skills competition.

He said he has practiced the move since age 15, though he hadn't been afforded many opportunities to showcase it.

"This time was the best."

In order to move forward as a prospect, he said he "need[s] to play physically hard. I need to be better for every game. I need to be better and better every day." He mentioned focusing on his skating and explosiveness.

Asked about what he thought about his first visit to Long Island, he said very simply, "I think it's awesome. It's just great."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Draft Day Is Here!

Today is the National Hockey League's 2013 Entry Draft! It's always a day filled with intrigue, trades, and fast-breaking news. Stay with us here all day as the picks come in and the transactions are confirmed.

The first pick will take place shortly after 3 P.M. EDT, and the New York Islanders will pick first at #15.

As it stands now, the Isles will select at:

(Round 1) 15: RYAN PULOCK (D) Brandon Wheat Kings
(Round 3) 70: EAMON McADAM (G) Waterloo Black Hawks
(Round 3) 76: TAYLOR CAMMARATA (C) Waterloo Black Hawks
(Round 4) 106: STEPHON WILLIAMS (G) Minnesota State-Mankato
(Round 5) 136: VIKTOR CRUS-RYDBERG (C) Linkoping
(Round 6) 166: ALAN QUINE (C) Belleville Bulls
(Round 7) 196: KYLE BURROUGHS (D) Regina Pats

UPDATE: Nino Niederreiter has been traded to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and the 70th pick (Round 3) in the draft.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

O Captain! My Captain!

With the Stanley Cup Finals beginning this evening, I decided to get back into hockey mode after a brief hiatus. As you all undoubtedly know, though they battled admirably, the Islanders fell short of this year's Finals.

The "good" news, however, is that the team that sent them packing, the Pittsburgh Penguins, also failed in their quest for hockey's ultimate prize.

The news came out today that the Islanders, fresh off their best season in six years, had traded impending unrestricted free agent Mark Streit.

The move basically concedes that at age 35, coming off a five year contract, Streit's salary demands were going to be too unpalatable for Islanders General Manager Garth Snow.

It is with some sadness and a hefty amount of respect and appreciation that I bid the former Isles captain farewell, and thank him for his years of service. He was always a gentleman in the locker room even after very tough losses and always willing to talk to the media.

Rather than lose him to free agency for nothing in return, Philadelphia agreed to trade for the Swiss defenseman, sending Shane Harper and a 2014 fourth round draft pick to New York.

For the Islanders, it means the end of an era but the beginning of a new one, as nearly everyone expects that John Tavares will be named the 14th captain in franchise history.

With this move Garth Snow has clearly try to start the summer off right, and you can start your summer off right as well by joining the Isles at their annual draft party at Nassau Coliseum.

All seven rounds of the entry draft will take place on Sunday, June 30th, in New Jersey. If you aren't crossing the Hudson River to be there live, why not cross Hempstead Turnpike and get into the air conditioning, as the Isles continue to add to their young core?

If you can't do that either, rest assured that I'll have all the picks as they are selected right on this page.

I wish you all a good summer and will have news/free agent signings if and when they happen.

Congratulations to those of you who have recently graduated, and I look forward to sharing another season of Islanders hockey with you in September! Have a great summer!

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rolling With The Punches

Where to begin?

Like the old television series 'Dragnet,' let's start with the facts. Coming into Tuesday (5/7) night's game in Uniondale, the Islanders found themselves trailing their best-of-seven series with Pittsburgh two games to one. They had also lost their previous seven playoff games on home ice, dropping their home winning percentage at "Fort Neverlose" below 66% for the first time since 1976.

After losing a 4-3 overtime heartbreaker on Sunday (5/5) afternoon, the Islanders had put themselves in a perilous position. Lose again, and they would find themselves down 3-1 in the series with a good chance of quickly closing the book on the season. The fans, who had eagerly awaited the return of playoff hockey to Long Island for six miserable seasons, would likely not see another game at Nassau Coliseum for four months.

Rather than try to find the words to tell you what an up and down, see-saw battle Game Four was, it might just be easier for you to watch the condensed highlights, courtesy of

Once again the crowd, in full support of their Isles, was amazing. Islanders fans seem to always been in full throat. It's quite a scene.

The emotions of the game seemed to ebb and flow drastically; the Islanders would gain a lead. They would fritter it away just as easily. They would take a punch, so to speak, but give one right back just as hard.

Travis Hamonic, amidst a very crowded and cheery post-win locker room, may have said it best.

I asked him how it was that his team "keeps getting punched in the mouth" and it doesn't seem to faze them. The 22-year old (with his own dental issues) replied, "When you only have one tooth you don't care." What a great line.

"The Hammer," as he's known, had a great game too, logging over 28 minutes of ice time. Defensive teammate and team captain Mark Streit scored two goals. John Tavares scored the winning goal and earned the evening's "first star" honor.

Kyle Okposo, who scored a mere four regular season goals, has played like a man on a mission. He netted his third goal of the series at a pivotal moment, banking the puck in off a shaky Marc-André Fleury.

But the win didn't come completely issue-free.

Andrew MacDonald, Hamonic's partner, broke his hand during the game and likely will not return for the remainder of the season.

Evegeni Nabokov, who Head Coach Jack Capuano has ridden nearly to the breaking point, had another subpar game, again allowing four goals. Not all of them were solely his fault, mind you, as there was some shoddy defensive positioning at times in front of him, a few deflected pucks, and a horrendous shift change that directly led to a Penguins goal.

Lastly, I'm usually not one to criticize officiating. I believe, whether you agree or disagree, that blaming the zebras is the domain of the sore loser and/or whiner. Let me be clear, though, the officiating in the series to this point has been putrid.

There have been blatant penalties missed, strange calls on the ice, and Pittsburgh has taken clear liberties with several Islanders players and not been made to pay for it.

Let me just briefly show a clip of what I mean. Here's Brenden Morrow face-slamming (#53) Casey Cizikas behind the play four or five times:

Is this part of professional hockey? And is this that hard to miss? Come on, guys. Get it together for the rest of the series, please.

All in all, though, it was a great night for Long Island. The Islanders, who began the series as heavy underdogs, have at least given themselves a chance to defeat the top seeded team in the East. They've already exceeded many of the pundits' expectations by just getting to this point.

I'm cautiously optimistic. If they can take everything Pittsburgh can throw at them, and so far they have, they might just shock the hockey world and advance to the Conference Semifinals.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Mental Game

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not into the technical aspects of hockey. It's not that I wouldn't love to fully understand that facet of the game, I'm willing to learn. It's just that I never played ice hockey and have more of a fan's perspective than one of a participant.

Taking it even a step farther, I have trouble even watching the postseason games. With more on the line, I get too nervous and am prone to outbursts of violence. :)

That said, here are a few points to possibly help the Islanders win their first playoff series in twenty years:

  • Going into the series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, I felt there would be one game where the Islanders would be blown out. As it turns out, that game was Game 1. The Islanders rebounded nicely in Game two, evening the series with a 4-3 win. This guy had something to do with it. Now level again, the initial 'punch in the mouth' is behind them.
  • Continuing with that line of thinking, the Islanders find themselves in an even series and they haven't even played their best game yet. Game 1 was a mess; the follow up started off terribly as well but the Isles luckily found their legs before they were buried. A flukey goal (we'll take them) won the game for New York.
  • The Isles need to draw inspiration from last year's Los Angeles Kings. Sure, they may be an eighth seed, but great things happened for last year's (Western) eight. This is the NHL. 'Eights' beat 'ones.'
  • The Islanders need to feed off their crowd. Sunday will feature Uniondale's first postseason game in six years. The fans are ready. They're actually more than ready. An opening goal for the home side within the first ten minutes of game would likely bring the arena down.
  • A key to victory will be to do what worked during the regular season. At the risk of getting "technical," they need to stay strong on the puck and fire shots at the Pittsburgh netminder. We don't yet know if they'll be facing Marc-André Fleury or Tomas Vokoun. Either way, the Islanders need to keep that man seeing rubber all afternoon.
  • The hard part is over. The Islanders somehow, almost inexplicably, earned a split on road ice. They control home ice right now. Don't give it up.
  • Finally, to each player, just play your game. You functioned as a team to reach this point. Continue to play that way. Josh Bailey has looked like a changed man. Evegeni Nabokov has done all that has been asked of him. The secondary scorers have scored.
Remember, the Pittsburgh roster has lots of talent, but they're not invincible. Of course, it's still a tall task to win the series, but it can be done.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kyle's Final Stats

Just a quick note. Now that the regular season has been completed, you can see on the right that Kyle Okposo finished the season with 4 goals and 20 assists.

While it wasn't the goal output he desired, he will be going to the postseason for the first time in his National Hockey League career. He has told me many times that a playoff berth, more than any personal goal or milestone, has been something he has desired as a professional.

While the Islanders' opponent has yet to be determined, I am pleased that announce that his first playoff series will also be mine, at least in terms of attendance.

As fate would have it, our playoff debuts coincide because of a foolish decision I made 20 years ago to forsake tickets to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. At the time I figured I would have plenty of opportunities to take in a playoff game at Nassau Coliseum in coming seasons.


Anyway, I'll try to bring you the same (heavily biased) coverage of their playoff games that I have provided for the past six seasons. Hopefully we'll take a fun ride together this May (and June?).

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate all of you.

P.S. For a look at Kyle's career stats, check

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We HAVE Playoffs!

Tuesday (4/23) night was the night I have waited over six years for. No, let me correct that. It was the night that we, Islanders fans, have waited for. We've waited through six seasons of misery, injuries, bad breaks, bad bounces, bad luck, and draft lotteries.

But the wait is over. The New York Islanders are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Frans Nielsen, and so many others will get their first tastes of the National Hockey League postseason.

But as excited and pleased as I am for them, I'm even happier for the fans that have been with them through the rebuild.

I'm happy for the folks in Loudville section. I'm happy for the college kids who routinely sit in the top few rows of Nassau Coliseum with an obstructed view of the scoreboard. I'm happy for the season ticket holders who held on to their seats, knowing that better days would return for Long Island's hockey team.

I'm even pleased for the doubters, naysayers, and bandwagon jumpers who have watched this team grow into a (hopefully) legitimate title contender in the coming seasons.

I feel somewhat vindicated as well, because just as things were getting ugliest for Kyle Okposo this year, he and his linemates powered the Isles to a 11-1-3 record in their last 15 games, seemingly growing into legitimate scoring force in unison.

In the month of April, Kyle has recorded 10 points. While he had a subpar season, he salvaged it in the last two weeks, feeding beautiful passes to Nielsen and Bailey in big spot after big spot. He stopped turning the puck over. He played a true power forward position. And his line added a scoring compliment the first line.

He stepped up when he was called upon. All three players did.

Even last night, down a goal to Carolina with time dwindling in the game, he found a way to get to the net and help the team secure a massive point in the standings (the tying goal was eventually reviewed and credited to Tavares).

Though his final scoring totals won't be flashy, if you prorate his assist total over a full 82-game NHL season, he would have set a career high (approximately 36).

But in a game filled with numbers, there's only one that matters right now: 0. That's the "magic number" of points needed for the New York Islanders to clinch a playoff spot.

Congratulations, everyone. See you in the playoffs! (Damn, that sounds good, huh?)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Critical Games Coming Up

While it is protocol to stay stoic in the press box, I'll freely admit that I had a hard time getting over last Saturday (4/13) night's 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers.

Ask anyone who was with me; I was a nervous mess up on the press level and was going "Jerry Tarkanian" on the pile of napkins immediately to my left.

In that contest, the Islanders outplayed their Manhattan rivals for long stretches of the game, however they were unable to solve Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The Isles rang several posts, but a win wasn't in the cards that evening.

A silver lining was found, however, when the Islanders' overtime "loser point" allowed them to retain an edge over the Rangers in the standings at the end of play on Saturday.

Fast forward to last night (4/16), when the Isles demolished the nearly hapless Florida Panthers, 5-2. It was a game the Islanders had to win, and they did. Kyle Okposo chipped in an assist, raising his season's total to 19 points, which you can see to the right.

As an aside, the victory moved Head Coach Jack Capuano into second place all-time in Islanders coaching victories, with 82. He has some work to do before he catches Hall of Famer Al Arbour (740).

Additional good news, not of the Islanders' doing, came later in the evening when it was revealed that the Rangers lost to Philadelphia, frittering away the momentum and points they had gained in their win on Long Island.

But this Islanders team isn't about looking back. It's about looking forward. And staring them right in the face are two important games that could seal their playoff fate.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, 4/18) the Isles will take on a tough Toronto team at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs currently hold the 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, and if New York has designs on moving up the table they likely need a victory. The two points would also go a long way in helping them vault clear of the trailing Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, who both sit on 46 points. The Islanders currently possess 49. The Rangers have a game in hand.

Taking a longer view, on Saturday (4/20) afternoon the Islanders travel to Winnipeg to take on the aforementioned Jets. As a critical "4 point game,"  a win in this one would basically assure the Islanders of a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As well as the Islanders have been playing of late, it would be nice for them to win (or at least earn points) in both games, but if there's a "must have" game coming up, it's the one versus Winnipeg.

Thanks for reading, and as always, Let's Go Islanders!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sticks And Giggles

Everything is going the Islanders way, and frankly it's a little weird.

In a game where I was hoping for them to come away with a point at best, the Islanders went into Boston and improved on their already stellar road record. The 2-1 victory, powered by two Josh Bailey goals and 30 saves from Evegeni Nabokov, moved the Isles' road record to 12-5-2 this season.

You know things are going well when Travis Hamonic appears to have sustained a major knee injury in the first period, only to be back on the ice before the frame ended.

You know things are going the Islanders' way when accidental stick fouls that draw Bruins blood are missed by referees.

You know things are going well when you step into a bar during the third period and more people are watching and cheering for the Orange and Blue than any other game in the place.

The only thing that didn't go well on this night for the Long Islanders was that all of their playoff competition (Ottawa, Washington, and Winnipeg) also won.

It's April, and Islanders hockey is all the rage. And it doesn't feel like it will all come crashing down, either.

The Islanders are 8-1-1 over their last ten games. They entertain a Rangers team that trails them in the standings on Saturday (4/13) night.

Right now, the Islanders are living a charmed life. And it feels a little strange, at least to this fan.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

180 Degree Turnaround

Hockey players like to talk when they win. The New York Islanders sure have had a lot to say lately.

What a difference a month or two makes in sports. And what a departure from the dark days and tight lipped post-game debriefings that formerly defined this hockey team.

Fresh off their fourth consecutive win on home ice (a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia) and seventh win in nine tries, the Isles' locker room was buzzing on Tuesday (4/9) night.

"I've never been in this situation as a pro," Kyle Okposo said of the team's current playoff push. "We're just enjoying it and we're just focused on gettng two points." He added that the team has cut out the mistakes that had led to a number of previous losses and seemingly never ending frustration.

Suddenly the days of blown leads seem well in the rear view mirror, though Head Coach Jack Capuano offered a slightly different argument.

"I think if you go back and look at some of those games, some of the bounces didn't go our way too. I mean there were some crazy bounces that a puck found a way to go in a net."

With all respect to Mr. Capuano, though, who is he kidding? Tuesday night's game offered a perfect example of what has changed for the better.

Early in the first period Colin McDonald crashed into netminder Evegeni Nabokov on a shot he might have otherwise saved. The play was reviewed, and the Flyers were (rightfully) credited with a 1-0 lead. The Islanders rallied past the adversity and eventually took charge, responding with four goals of their own.

Capuano's "unlucky" Isles would have melted faster than a snow cone in July at Jones Beach.

It was this same Philadelphia team, let's not forget, that wiped the floor with the Islanders in a 7-0 home defeat on February 18th.

"We know we can go out there and play with any team in the league. I think we've proven that," said John Tavares, who scored his team-leading 24th goal of the season.

A statement like that is hard to believe when you hear it, considering where this team has been, but it's the new reality on Long Island. With the win, the Islanders vaulted into 6th place points tie in the Eastern Conference, though Ottawa holds a game in hand.

"We're doing the right things when we get into the game. We've been starting a lot better lately than we did earlier in the year, we're obviously playing much more consistent [sic] throughout games." Tavares summarized. "We're playing much better at home."

In addition to his explanation, the biggest differences I can see are threefold. Maturity, communication, and confidence in the face of adversity.

The core of the team has been together for two to three seasons. Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey have "grown up" together; they know what to expect from each other. While Moulson isn't a youngster, his career has without a doubt flourished as an Islander. The core has finally matured after years of talking about it.

They communicate better on the ice. Capuano once again singled out Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic as somewhat unsung heroes. And while Kyle, for example, will still make the occasional 'pass to nobody,' he has been performing the fundamentals of offensive zone play well and has been stronger with the puck.

This has lead to confidence in the face of adversity. It means no longer blowing late leads to teams like Carolina. It means rallying to win against a more physically imposing Flyers squad. It means playing smarter and not turning the puck over in your own zone. It means getting to the net, and getting pucks on net.

"We feel confident. We want to get the lead and when we get it we stress about trying to get that next [goal] and really putting pressure on them and making things hard on the other team, not sitting back."

Well said, John Tavares.

The Islanders will get another chance to test their mettle when they head to Boston on Thursday (4/11) night to face a tough Bruins team.

Should they come away with a win, you can be sure of two things: the turnaround is for real, and playoff games are very likely coming back to Nassau Coliseum.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Better By The Day

"The Islanders are getting better by the day." - Robert "Butch" Goring, 4/2/2013

On Tuesday night, Islanders announcer "Butch" Goring said what many of us have felt for a very long time. The young Islanders are improving.

A quick look at the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference standings confirms this. The New York Islanders are currently in possession of a playoff spot (8th).

Coming off a big 3-1 road win against New Jersey, the team immediately ahead of the Isles in the standings, on Monday, the Islanders needed a win against Winnipeg on Tuesday (4/2). And they got it.

Prior to the tilt, the Islanders hadn't won the back end of consecutive games this season in five tries. They also hadn't gotten a victory out of any goaltender other than Evegeni Nabokov.

The team broke both of those unenviable streaks against the Jets with a 5-2 win. Kevin Poulin won his first game of the season, recording 23 saves.

Matt Moulson broke a streak of his own, scoring a goal after a 13 game goal-less drought. And get this, young Anders Lee, the 2009 draft pick from Notre Dame, scored on the first shot of his NHL career.

"I'm just trying to enjoy it and soak it all in," said Lee after the game. When media legend Stan Fischler asked him if he belongs at this level, he added, "I think so."

So with everything suddenly going right for the Isles, there was one more bit of pleasant news delivered: Ryan Strome, Garth Snow's 2011 first round draft pick, reportedly scored on his first professional shot at Bridgeport. He had a goal and an assist in his game, and many Isles fans are salivating over soon seeing his talents on display with the top club.

As for the immediate future, the Islanders will try to keep the good feelings rolling and improve their playoff standing on Thursday (4/4) night in Washington, D.C.

As Frans Nielsen opined after the Winnipeg victory, "[There are] still a lot of points we have to play for."

But make no mistake, the optimism surrounding this team is growing by the day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

This Is The One

If the New York Islanders have designs on making the playoffs this season, tonight's (3/28) game in Philadelphia is one they must win.

Never mind that the Isles have only won twice at the (now) Wells Fargo Center since 2007, or that the Flyers have basically owned New York in recent history, winning 25 of the last 28 contests.

Put all that aside, because a win this evening might signal the start of a "different" Islanders team. The way the season has played out so far, it's certainly a different Flyers squad (13-17-2).

Thursday night's game is the first time an Islanders team is within reach of a playoff spot this late in a season since 2007.

Naturally, some of it is due to the abbreviated lockout season the league is playing. But some of it is actual change for the better, such as Michael Grabner's return to health and productivity. Some is Kyle Okposo picking up his production (five points in his last six games), though his season is still well short of expectations. And of course, a lot has to do with John Tavares' growth as a scorer and Evgeni Nabokov's steady hand in net (2.80 GAA on the season).

But this game is important for another reason, in that it would get the Isles over a mental hurdle as well. Not only would they win in Philadelphia, but to put down and keep down a team struggling in the standings below them. Furthermore, they need a win to keep pace with their competition in a league where seemingly everyone gets at least a point on any given night.

In the first game against the Flyers this season, the Islanders folded their collective tents and lost 7-0 on home ice. But now they can see the finish line ahead of them and it's a chance for Jack Capuano's squad to "show and prove."

Losing this one, followed by a loss in Pittsburgh, would finish their playoff drive.

A win would do the opposite, sending them into Western Pennsylvania with momentum and three consecutive wins. The boost in the team's self confidence would be enormous.

I realize most of you aren't viewing tonight's battle as make-or-break, but with 14 games remaining after it, I believe this is the one on which the season could turn.

They won! The Islanders rallied from a two goal defecit, winning 4-3 in a shootout. John Tavares scored, Colin McDonald had two goals, and Josh Bailey netted the shootout winner.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Barely Breathing

As the script being written by this year's New York Islanders becomes more familiar and repetitive, my posts become shorter. It's not that my passion for this franchise has waned, just that we as fans and bloggers have invested so much of our time and money with little in return.

Barring a major turnaround, it's looking like the 2012-2013 (it was really just 2013 this time) season will be another one on Long Island without playoff hockey.

Despite how many times I have felt encouraged to share how much improvement I've seen in this team over the past six years, they are still not good enough. I've assured you that help was on the way (Cizikas, Poulin, Niederreiter, etc.) and is still on the way (Strome), but the results haven't come.

What has come are late game meltdowns, frustrated post-game interviews, and management unwilling or incapable of changing its ways.

I can tell you that this season is on life support, despite what John Tavares or Head Coach Jack Capuano may say on any given night.

The Isles sit in 11th place, "just" three points out of a playoff spot but much farther back in reality. They have played the same number of games or more than all the teams they are chasing.

With an inability to close out games in which they are leading or tied, the campaign feels doomed. The fact that the staff, going all the way up to the owner, can't seem to change very much doesn't help matters.

The clock is ticking on this season, and they players know it too. Just the other night Kyle Okposo was so despondent after another third period meltdown he could barely muster the sufficient words to discuss his 300th game milestone.

Scoring one goal every 10 games will do that to a guy.

The players care, they just seem to lack to ability to change the situation. How many nights have we heard Capuano talk about "passengers?"

A coaching change might give the team a temporary boost in the standings, but I don't know who is available and willing to come to Long Island, and more importantly, who Charles Wang is willing to pay.

What is really needed is a culture change. But sadly, I think it's too late for this season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's Alive!

It's alive! He's alive, too!

By "it" I mean the Islanders as a team and their post season chances, which had been foundering and was nearly on life support some games ago. And the "he" is Kyle Okposo, who is still struggling by any objective measure, but who notched a goal last night in New York's 4-3 win over Florida.

It always seems as if each game we fans struggle though is a microcosm of the entire season. Once again this game was no different, as the Islanders rocketed out to a three goal lead, only to fritter it completely away in a span of 103 seconds. Yes, you read that correctly -- 3 Panthers goal in 1:43.

Casey Cizikas saved the day, though. With just over seven minutes remaining in regulation, "Zeke" scored his fourth goal of the season. The youngster, who has been unquestionably valuable in tight spots this season, put a wrist shot past Scott Clemmensen for the game winner.

On the goal, Cizikas was helped by Colin McDonald and Keith Aucoin. Which is a nice segue into sharing the news that Mr. McDonald was signed by the Islanders to a two-year contract extension on Friday. The forward has 11 points in 25 games this season; the move keeps him with the franchise through the 2014-2015 season.

Back to the present, however, and Saturday's (3/16)  win completed the "Florida sweep," thanks to a win two evenings earlier in Tampa. John Tavares more or less won that game for the Isles, netting his 17th goal of the season. Brad Boyes finished it off with a late goal. As everyone knows, the bulk of the team's offense has come from his line. That doesn't bode well for the future. Evgeni Nabokov kept his sheet clean in the 2-0 final.

The future, though, is what the Isles can focus on right now. Despite all of their warts, they are solidly in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Nobody is confusing them for world-beaters, but as of this posting they sit in 9th place in the East, two points out of a playoff spot and just three points out of the 6th position.

They have a four game homestand coming up beginning on Tuesday (3/19) night, which should also double as Kyle Okposo's 300th game in the National Hockey League.

We'll be on hand for that, and hope to give you his thoughts on the milestone immediately after  its completion.

Until then, remain positive, everyone!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kyle Milestone

Just a quick note on this evening's game, a (refreshing) 6-3 home win over Montreal. Kyle Okposo recorded the primary assist on Radek Martinek's game winning goal. It was Martinek's first goal of the season and Kyle's 100th career point.

The Islanders have won consecutive games on home ice for the first time this season. Matt Moulson opened the scoring with his 11th goal of the year. John Tavares added his 14th of the season.

Evegeni Nabokov, who has performed yeoman's work in the crease this season, notched the win.

News and notes:

-  Kyle became the 49th member of the Islanders to record at least 100 assists with the franchise.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What More Can I Say?

In the six seasons that I have covered this team, I feel as if have written this post over and over. Nothing ever changes.

Whether it was Ted Nolan, Scott Gordon, or current Head Coach Jack Capuano, we fans and media were led to believe that the New York Islanders have the talent to win, it just needs to come together.

The fact of the matter is that the Islanders have some talent, but they have almost no depth, and are the only team I know of that have only two, maybe three (if you count Michael Grabner), dependable scorers.

Folks, John Tavares and Matt Moulson aren't going to do it alone. Something needs to change.

The record is skipping, and nobody is willing to pick up the needle.

The Islanders are funny. They tease you. They play well on the road; they are lost at home. How can you expect your fans to come out, support you, and create an atmosphere of formidability if you never provide anything to attract them with?

This year's team is 2-7 on home ice. Both Capuano and Tavares told me tonight they can't figure out why. Just over 10,000 fans trekked through the turnstiles on a Sunday night to see this product. No members of the Blog Box besides myself bothered to suffer through another blown lead (4-2 to Carolina).

I don't know what is going to change this cycle that the Islanders are perpetually stuck in. A new head coach? General Manager? Team owner? The move to Brooklyn?

I can't put all the blame on Capuano. However he did tell us after the game that his squad was "lazy" and there were "passengers." But he has been trotting out this line for weeks. Why hasn't it been corrected?

It is inexplicable how players like Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, Keith Aucoin (recently), Marty Reasoner, and so on can just disappear for stretches of games. Even worse, they're out of the locker room before the media even gets inside.

At least face the music, guys.

Something is going to change, I can tell you that much. It will probably be Jack Capuano's head that gets the proverbial axe. Doug Weight will most likely take over in an interim basis, perhaps eventually permanently. He's a fiery guy, from what we've seen, but honestly, I'm not sure Scotty Bowman could get these guys going right now.

Twenty minute stretches of quality hockey don't win games. They certainly don't get teams into the playoffs. And right now, in their current state, the Islanders aren't doing either.

News and Notes:

- John Tavares scored his league-leading 13th goal in the opening period. Linemate Matt Moulson netted his tenth of the season.

- Kevin Poulin made his season debut for the Islanders, performing ably in the loss. He made some terrific saves throughout, stopping 24 Hurricane shots.

- Trenton, New Jersey native Bobby Sanguinetti scored his first National Hockey League goal at 10:17 of the third period. It proved to be the game winner.

- Kyle Okposo played 13:13 and recorded three shots on goal. He has one lone goal in 19 games this season.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's Gotta Be The...Hair?

The Islanders came back from a two goal deficit to win in Madison Square Garden on Thursday (2/14) night 4-3 (SO). John Tavares scored the game tying goal, but more importantly sealed the victory with his shootout winner.

Now some of you will be looking for hard hitting analysis or biting commentary, but hey, this is a blog. And while they may drive us all crazy, if we're not having fun with this team, then we're doing something wrong.

So just as Mars Blackmon suggested it was the shoes for Michael Jordan (see below) back in the ''s gotta be the hair, right?

Tavares = winner. (Special thanks to Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) for the screencap).

P.S. For you non-kids out there...remember when? (The Isles were good back then too).

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Song Remains The Same

The New York Islanders' season is one quarter over, and after another loss, this time to Carolina on Monday (2/11) night, the song remains the same.

The Islanders scored four power play goals and they still lost, 6-4. Rick DiPietro started in place of the workman-like Evegeni Nabokov, but the change didn't alter the team's woeful luck. They have lost five games in a row, and the seat is getting hotter for Head Coach Jack Capuano.

Kyle Okopso has had scoring chance after scoring chance but can't seem to find the net. He's stuck on four points for the season.

Despite the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky, who scored his first goal as an Islander against Carolina goalie Cam Ward, the defense is thin. Probably more than thin, in fact. I'd call them weak.

John Tavares netted another goal, but he and Matt Moulson can't be the entire offense. On most nights, sadly, they have been.

The Islanders are following the path they seem to take every season: come out of the gate hot, get the fans excited, and suddenly go into a tailspin.

The talk of the playoffs has been muted now that the Islanders have fallen very near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Unfortunately for me, this is the sixth time I've written this sentiment since I began my stint in the Blog Box.

Honestly, I don't know what to change. It seems that something different fails in each loss, whether it's the defense, the power play, or (rarely this season) the goaltending.

You're all familiar with the old adage "You can't fire the players." In his post game press conference, Capuano said some players looked "soft" to him. He continues to say he needs all 20 guys to work hard each night in order to win.

Hopefully Jack can figure out how to right the ship. He has tried line changes without much productivity. If he can't unfortunately it will be Jack who pays the price with his job.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Litmus Test

On Thursday (2/7) night we'll learn a little more about the New York Islanders, as they take on the New York Rangers for the first time this season.

The game will be played in Madison Square Garden, which hasn't exactly been kind to them in recent times. The Blue and Orange have lost eight in a row in that building.

The Rangers, who were picked by many before the season began as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, find themselves in the somewhat surprising position of looking up at the Islanders in the standings. The Blueshirts have opened their campaign with a 4-5-0 record, notching one fewer point than the team from Uniondale.

Both teams have been slumping offensively as of late. The Rangers are averaging a meager 2.2 goals per game so far this season. The Islanders haven't converted a power play chance in 14 tries, dropping their two most recent games.

I would expect the starting goalies to be Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov.

Of note, Kyle Okposo is four points shy of 100 for his career. Rangers star Marian Gaborik has lit up the Isles for 28 points over their last 18 meetings. Lastly, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky should arrive and begin skating with the Islanders, who should benefit from his presence when he's ready to join the action.

The game should give fans a fair accounting of where the Islanders stand going forward, and a look at how much (or not) they have really progressed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Introducing: Casey Cizikas

One of the noticeable differences from last season's Islanders to this current one is the energy they have brought to the rink on most nights.  Leading the way has been young center Casey Cizikas, who I was fortunate enough to have seen drafted in person (2009).

I had a few moments after Tuesday (2/5) night's 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh to chat with Casey. I appreciate him providing me some post-game time, and we touched on a few aspects of his young career.

Having scored his first goal exactly one week earlier (1/29) against the same Pittsburgh team, he stressed several times how fortunate he felt to be playing in the National Hockey at this point in his career.

Cizikas defined his role, other than being a ball of energy on the ice, as one not of finesse but rather physical strength, hard work, and going hard to the net at every chance. He stressed that he needed to take the body, keep moving on the ice, and finish his checks. "That's my role here," he summarized fairly confidently.

He wished to emphasize the faith and commitment that the Islanders have shown in him throughout his career, from draft day until now. He mentioned many coaches and mentors specifically, including his former minor hockey coach, Ontario Hockey League coach, (former Islander) Eric Cairns, Bridgeport head coach Matt Bertani, and of course Islanders head coach Jack Capuano.

Casey added, "I'm lucky to be here. I'm not going to take anything for granted." He continued, "There are a lot of guys in Bridgeport (the Islanders' American Hockey League affiliate) that could be in the position I'm in right now."

Though he was drafted 91 spots below John Tavares in Montreal, he said the organization that gave him his chance to become an NHLer means everything to him.

"They stuck by me my whole career," he said. "I've got to go out and battle every night. They gave me a opportunity."

Getting back to that first goal, he said it was something kids dream about. He'll remember it along with his first NHL game for the rest of his life, as anyone would expect.

Unfortunately, he doesn't have that first goal puck in his possession and doesn't know where it is. He said he's not worried about it, but come on, whoever has the puck needs to get it to him ASAP!

"It may have taken me twenty games to get it but it was definitely an exciting moment," coolly describing his accomplishment.

Let's hope it doesn't take twenty more games to get that disc back in the hands of the Toronto native.

As for closing thoughts, I can only say that he so far has lived up to the things he told me. He's hard hitting, high energy, with a nose for the puck. Nobody is going to confuse him with Matt Moulson or John Tavares on the score sheet, but I can see him playing a vital role on this year's team and into the future. He's a humble kid with a handshake like a bear. He's only 21 but wears several scars on his face from his rugged style of play.

"I'm going to try make it hard on the [Islanders] coaching staff to take me out [of the lineup]."

If he continues at his current pace, it won't even be an issue.

You can follow Casey Cizikas on Twitter at @zeeker11 and the author at @RealKenDick.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That Felt Good

It had been a long time since the New York Islanders have looked good on national television. Well, they looked good on Tuesday night (1/29) as they went into Pittsburgh, shut the Penguins down for nearly 59 minutes, and took home two points.

Evegeni Nabokov was stellar again, saving 37 shots in the 4-1 rout. Casey Cizikas, who I saw drafted in person (2009), scored his first National Hockey League goal.

The Islanders did almost everything right, save for a dumb Colin McDonald boarding penalty at the end of the second frame.

Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner each scored their fourth goals of the season; John Tavares his second. The Islanders penalty kill remained nearly airtight.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'd love to write more, but I'm about to slip into a warm bubble bath, light a cigar, and enjoy this martini...


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Uneven Play Marks Season's Start

After witnessing the New York Islanders rally from behind and then drop a two lead and eventually lose in Winnipeg tonight (1/27), one word comes to mind: inconsistency.

In the midst of a five game road trip, in a season in which a good start is mandatory in order to remain competitive, the Islanders have waffled. There have been bright spots, such as a burst of three goals early on in tonight's third period (an eventual 5-4 OT loss to Winnipeg). There have been dreadful stretches that wholly lacked energy, such as most of the first two periods tonight or the final period in Boston.

On an individual basis, there have been some pleasant surprises. Head Coach Jack Capuano was pleased with defenseman Thomas Hickey's National Hockey League debut tonight, even rewarding Hickey with late game minutes.

Journeyman Keith Aucoin has three goals and has surpassed expectations so far. David Ullstrom, the Swede, has led by example. Brad Boyes has fit nicely into the scheme, and Michael Grabner is skating like a rejuvenated man after a 20 point decline last season.

Conversely, Capuano noted after tonight's game that the first scoring line (Moulson-Tavares-Okposo) isn't working they way he'd like. The problem hasn't been J.T., who has notched three multi-point games this season.

I'll say what Capuano wouldn't state over the air. As much as I like and prefer to lavish praise on Kyle, I must also be critical of him now.

I believe he'll be dropped down to the second line for the next game (Tuesday, 1/29, in Pittsburgh).

For some reason, he fares better when placed apart from Moulson and Tavares.

Mind you, he hasn't been awful. He has scored this season, and as we should all know by now he's a slow starter in most years. But he, like the team, has had inconsistent stretches. Just going by the most recent game, he began slowly and had better shifts as the night wore on.

Make no mistake, the team is .500. They are in the midst of a grueling trip travel-wise (I know the season has just begun, but consider the miles they have logged and the lack of down time).

The Islanders are improving. Help is also on the way in the form of Lubomir Visnovsky.  Moving Kyle to the second line (and moving Ullstrom or Boyes up?) might be the tweak this team needs to really get on a roll.

We'll see what, if anything, Jack chooses to do.

News and Notes:

- Evegeni Nabokov has been outstanding this season, at times single handedly keeping the Isles in games. He came into the Winnipeg game with a 2-1 record and a 3.02 GAA. He saved 30 shots in the loss.

- Travis Hamonic and Matt Martlin logged a combined 12 hits in the loss.

- With his two assists, Tavares ties Benoit Hogue and Mikko Makela for 30th on the franchise's all-time list (124).

Monday, January 21, 2013

It Shouldn't Have Been That Hard

Coming off an opening night loss to the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders rebounded nicely on Martin Luther King Day (1/21) and notched their first win of the season.

Kyle Okposo, who has been somewhat of a slow starter in past seasons, netted his first goal of the season in the 4-3 win.

The two points avoided a calamitous 0-2 start for the Isles, who nearly frittered the victory away in a six minute stretch in the third period. Up 4-0, with me already tweeting that the win was in the bag, so to speak, Tampa Bay roared back with goals from Martin St. Louis, Benoit Pouliot, and Steven Stamkos.

The Isles rode out a final ten minutes and wrapped up the win after the Lightning took two penalties in the final minutes.

Over 15,000 attended the Monday matinee, and Head Coach Jack Capuano was in attendance as well after missing the opener with a medical issue (kidney stones).

Though he couldn't have liked what he saw in the third period from his team, his side played well and at time dominated a more talented Tampa Bay squad.

Travis Hamonic played well and is rounding into form on defense, and Evegeni Nabokov has been solid in both of his starts. He stopped 23 of 26 shots for the win.

It's too early to indicate any trends yet; we need to see a few more games to identify some of the issues that will surround this version of the Islanders. They'll get tested this week, as they play five straight games on the road, beginning Thursday (1/24) in Toronto.

This shortened season is going to fly by. As of right now, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

And We're Back!

After a prolonged involuntary hiatus caused by the National Hockey League's labor dispute, New York Islanders hockey is almost back. The abbreviated 2012 (?) - 2013 season begins Saturday (1/19) night at Nassau Coliseum, but we were afforded a sneak peak last night. In attendance for the annual Blue and White Scrimmage, along with 3,000 or so loyal fans, we had a chance to reconnect with Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, and Matt Moulson. We also had our first look at some newcomers, such as Ryan Strome and Matt Carkner.

Make no mistake, the roster is still in flux. Strome and Griffin Reinhart were returned to their junior teams today, while the Isles added veteran center Keith Aucoin this morning.

The 48-game format will be a "sprint" to the playoffs with some added challenges thrown in. Games will be played more frequently than in a normal season and the travel burden will be heavier. One of the pressing concerns Head Coach Jack Capuano expressed last night was the recovery time for his players, especially his veteran goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. He said that the team's conditioning staff will have to be especially vigilant maintaining tabs on the hydration and nutrition of his players.

"Cappy" was pleased with what he saw during the split squad exhibition game, noting that the players have been skating and eager to play meaningful games since September.

With seven regular season games before January ends, they'll get plenty of opportunity.

As for Kyle, Capuano has him playing on the top line with Moulson and Tavares. While Okposo wasn't available for comment, Moulson noted that the trio are familiar with playing together even though they "need to work on some things." He didn't further elaborate.

Realistically, how this team fares over the season should depend on the defensive corps, special teams, and goal tending. It will be interesting to watch how Capuano and his staff distributes the playing time among his forwards.

The team should get deeper and have some defensive relief if and when Lubomir Visnofsky reports to the team and if Mark Streit remains healthy.

We should see a leap forward in production from the young forwards once again, though in hockey as in life nothing is certain.

Our fingers are crossed and we are cautiously optimistic that, as Matt Moulson predicted yesterday, the New York Islanders will be a playoff team in 2013.