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.