Thursday, December 20, 2007

Isles lose Simon, lose to Sabres, but gain Okposo

While it may seem hard to believe that Chris Simon got an NHL-record 30-game suspension for what he did to Jarkko Ruutu, I can't argue with the decision by Colin Campbell. This is the new NHL, after all, and you have to take into account a player's past transgressions, and Simon is currently one of the league's worst offenders and should not -- cannot -- be on the ice.

Simon's seventh career suspension in 15 seasons was his second in nine months, coming on the heels of the 25-gamer for whacking Ryan Hollweg in the face. I thought that suspension was a bit harsh considering the circumstances, but the league has a zero-tolerance policy now and all the players know it. And while tripping Ruutu and then stepping on his foot isn't nearly as bad as the fouls committed by Jesse Boulerice or Steve Downie, or the cowardly hit by Dale Hunter on Pierre Turgeon, or Todd Bertuzzi's sucker punch of Steve Moore, it's still, in Campbell's words, "repugnant and totally unacceptable."

It's good to see that Simon will undergo counseling "at the behest of Charles Wang" according to Newsday, and everyone who knows the Islanders knows Simon is well-liked and respected by his teammates. Here's hoping he can resolve whatever issues he has, but his time on the Islanders is very close to an end.

Regarding Campbell's comment that Simon would meet with "drug and alcohol doctors," that's typical Campbell. The guy seems to be a few cents short of a dollar, and Ted Nolan was right on the money for calling Campbell's comment "idiotic" as well as racially insensitive. But we're not surprised.

Meanwhile, the Isles fell to .500 with a 2-1 loss to the Sabres at the Coliseum Wednesday night, despite outshooting Buffalo, 43-17. Credit Ryan Miller for making several big stops, but it's the quality of chances that count, not the quantity. The power play lost its recent momentum, going 0-for-5. Brendan Witt, of all people, scored the only goal with a great screen by Sean Bergenheim, who has really played well lately.

All those shots couldn't get the Isles the lead, and then Maxim Afinogenov provided the backbreaker with a backhander with 2:17 left in the third. A 6-on-4 with DiPietro pulled came up empty, and now the Islanders have only won two of their last 10 games. The offensive problems are really taking their toll now.

But help COULD be on the way in the form of Kyle Okposo, which is making our pal Ken at Okposo Net a happy man - even moving him to compose poetry! The seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft was struggling in his sophomore year at Minnesota after a fine freshman year, and decided to call it quits and go pro. Unhappy playing center for coach Don Lucia (and with the Golden Gophers playing like, well, gophers) Okposo will represent the U.S. at the Under-20 World Juniors next week in the Czech Republic and could be an Islander (or at least a Sound Tiger) in January, if they can work out a deal - which they should.

The 19-year-old Okposo is a stud, a guy who can really help on the right wing, and the Isles could use some new blood up front. With Freddy Meyer and Blake Comeau playing against Buffalo, is a major shakeup coming? Probably not, but some change is needed to snap this team out of the goal-scoring doldrums.

Just one last note on the attendance Wednesday - just over 10,000. Not horrible, but the pattern of sparse weekday crowds and big weekend crowds at the Coliseum was not lost on Mike and the Mad Dog, who opened last Friday's show -- believe it or not -- talking about the Islanders. Francesa actually watched some of the game against the Coyotes, and - admitting he knows almost nothing about the Islanders - had praise for, as he put it, "number 28." Told it was Tim Jackman, Francesa said he liked what he saw from him, but didn't have much to say about anyone else.

Thanks for the insight, Mikey.

Russo harped on the attendance, noting that it was terrible weather against a Western Conference opponent, but he still didn't think those were reasons enough for so many empty seats. He has a point - you would like to see more fans and it's something I've noticed - but the weather combined with the who-are-these-guys Coyotes PLUS the way the Isles have been playing lately doesn't add up to a sellout, no matter how you slice it.

So should we be happy that M&MD took some time to talk Islanders hockey? Or should they stick to football, tennis and horse racing?

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