Saturday, October 27, 2007

Game recap: Hurricanes 8, Isles 3

Aaaaand, we're back. Sort of.

This is exactly what everyone was afraid of with this ridiculous schedule, having a week off between games while Carolina was playing its fourth game of the week.

Rusty? You could say that. Rick DiPietro stopped just seven of 13 shots and made a terrible mistake behind the net that led to Carolina's second goal, which was sandwiched between two power play goals, which gave the 'Canes a quick 3-0 lead. And just when you thought maybe the Islanders could reclaim the game with a fresh start in the second period, Carolina scores 77 seconds in to go up 4-0. Good night, folks.

Carolina's backup goalie, John Grahame, got the win. And of course it always great to see Peter Laviolette come back the Coliseum and win a game. Just a bad, bad night all around.

Any good news? Well, Marc-Andre Bergeron returned to the lineup and scored a power play goal. And it looks like Shawn Bates will be back on the ice soon; he has been sorely missed and will add a spark to the team with his tough play. Other than that, let's hope the Isles use the next FOUR DAYS OFF to figure things out before Thursday's game against the Lightning.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Park welcomes new U.S. citizens

There was a time when Southern Californians playing in the NHL were as rare as, say, South Koreans. There just weren't any. Fast forward to 2007, and the Islanders have a two-fer in Richard Park -- a South Korean native who grew up in California.

Park detailed his journey from Asia to SoCal to Toronto to Uniondale at Friday morning's Citizenship Celebration, held at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University. Park was the keynote speaker at an event that saw dozens of people from more than 20 different nations take the Oath of Allegiance, officially making them American citizens.

I had the honor of attending the ceremony, which featured remarks by Congressman Tim Bishop as well as Stony Brook University president (and avowed Islanders fan) Shirley Strum Kenny. Bishop noted that for the United States, "It is in our diversity that we gain strength," and Park echoed that sentiment when he took the stage.

Park, one of four children born to South Korean parents, is only the second Korean-born player to ever play in the NHL. He explained how he grew up in California but ended up playing ice hockey, surprising his parents. He eventualy moved to Toronto at age 13 to pursue his dream, living with his sister while his parents remained on the West Coast.

Park said that as a kid he never gave much thought to his citizenship, until he started representing the U.S. at hockey tournaments. He played on a U.S. team at a tournament in Switzerland at age 16, and it was then that he felt the pride of representing his country. He added that his "proudest moment" was when he was named captain of Team USA at the world championships several years ago.

"Pride, honor, respect, dignity - these words come to the forefront when I think about this country," Park said. He added that he has a family of his own now, making his off-season home near Los Angeles with his wife and two children. "There's no other country I would rather raise my kids than the U.S." he said.

Park later invited America's newest citizens to come out and cheer on the Islanders this weekend. Of course -- he's a team player!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things I did on my mid-Fall vacation

- Looked up old issues of NHL HANDBOOK to look at head shots and hair ' dos of Islanders back in the day.
- Fine-tuned my CBS Sportsline fantasy hockey lineup.
- Organized and Febreezed the hockey bag.
- Took the dog to the vet.
- Paid some bills.
- Wondered why John Tonelli's number 27 isn't hanging in the rafters.
- Renewed my stance for the NHL going to European ice dimensions and against making the nets larger.
- Reminded myself that the Islanders will be back on the ice on Saturday.

So it looks like we'll be seeing more of Marc-Andre Bergeron now that Bryan Berard is out 2-4 weeks with a groin injury. Berard's two goals have been game-winners so he's made an impact despite not logging regular time. Now he's hurt, so the eight-defenseman quandary is solved - for now.

Next post - why you should be watching 30 Rock and The Office every week.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Game recap: Isles 4, Devils 3 (OT)

That was one heck of an entertaining overtime, and that was before Bill Guerin scored the game-winner in the final seconds. Of course, the game shouldn't have gone to overtime in the first place had the Islanders not let down in the third period, but overall another solid win -- and a division win at that -- for the Isles, who now get six days off. Enjoy it, fellas!

The Islanders absolutely dominated the second period, outshooting the Devils, 16-7, getting tremendous work again from Vasicek, Satan and Bergenheim. And what was up with Satan's dance moves after scoring the go-ahead goal in the second? He looked like he was channeling Tony Manero there.

Islanders were again productive on the power play, with Comrie making it 3-1 later in the second, pouncing on a loose puck after Bruno Gervais rang a shot off the crossbar. And how impressive have Campoli and Gervais been? Marc-Andre Bergeron was scratched again. Something to ponder with such defensive depth.

But you could sense the letdown coming after a fluky / bad goal by Pandolfo cut the Isles' lead to one early in the third, and when the Devils tied it 10 minutes later, you thought back to the play of the second period and wondered where it all went.

But give the Isles credit for hanging on, with DiPietro making some nice stops. The overtime was wide-open with chances for both sides, and then Andy Greene was whistled for tripping with 32 seconds left in the OT. Brent Sutter was livid and let's face it, if a call like that went against the Islanders that late, you'd be just as ripped. But that's the new NHL and they're calling it tight, and that allowed the Islanders vaunted -- yes, I called it vaunted -- power play to work its magic. Nice pass from Campoli down low to Comrie, who threw it out front, where Guerin found it for the winner. Sweet.

And to cap off the night, we learn that the Rangers -- who lost to winless Atlanta this week -- got shut out by the Bruins to remain in last place in the division. Now if only the Jets could win tomorrow ...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Game recap: Isles 5, Caps 2

Now THAT was a nice win.

On the road, facing adversity in the third period in the guise of an overturned goal that preceded the loss of a two-goal lead, the Islanders buckled down and rallied with three goals while holding the Capitals without a shot over the final nine minutes of play. Bill Guerin scored a hat trick for his first three goals as an Islander, and the Isles scored three times on the power play. Like Schoolhouse Rock taught us: Three is a magic number.

How many times do you see something like a video replay go against a team, and then the momentum swings the other way? Well, this time the Islanders were able to regain that momentum after the Caps tied the score at 2-2, thanks to Bryan Berard's shot from the point. That's two goals for Berard - both of the game-winning variety. That's a move that's paying dividends.

Guerin also showed what kind of scorer he could be, adding to his six assists with his trio of tallies. His slapper made it 3-2 and then he took a nice pass from Comrie and flicked a wrister from the left circle to clinch it.

So many good things tonight -- Campoli continues to impress, particularly with his offensive instincts, with four (count em - four!) assists. Bergenheim also scored with assists from Vasicek and Satan -- that line has looked good so far, and the added scoring depth is crucial if this team is to succeed. And DiPietro was solid once again, making several big stops, including one on Ovechkin after the Caps drew within one.

Who? Ovechkin? Was he even on the ice? Exactly. VERY nice win.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Disoriented already

Hey, wait a second ... is it hockey season? Or is it over already? Where am I? In some kind of box ... hang on ... (SLAP!) Aaaahh, that's better.

I was sure I was seeing things, or that there was something wrong with the Islanders web site, when I saw that they had a FULL WEEK OFF between this Saturday's game against the Devils and the Oct. 27 game against the Hurricanes. But no, it's true ... a WEEK OFF! Sure, the guys can get some shopping done, maybe catch a few movies, get a pedicure if they're into that, but that's no way to get into the rhythm of the season.

And it doesn't help us bloggers, either. I know we're supposed to post a couple of times a week, but with so much time off in between games, it's going to be tough. I guess I could write about why The Office and 30 Rock are the only shows worth recording on the DVR, or my feelings about Starbucks (nutshell: I don't drink coffee) like some other popular online sports columnists do, but that's not why we're here, is it?

The Islanders burst out of the gate with six games in eight days and went 3-3, losing their last two. Sunday, Oct. 14 began a stretch of 19 days with just four games. Talk about slamming on the brakes. I agree with my fellow Blog Boxer Dee Karl that long layoffs are not good at all, particularly with this team.

The Islanders have done quite well on the power play and on the penalty kill, the kind of things you can really work on in practice. Where they've fallen short is generating offense at full strength, and it seems to me the best way to turn that around is to get into a flow, and you can only do that in games. Good luck with that, Ted!

Thankfully, there's a game tonight against the Caps, who the Isles should have beaten down in D.C. Not sure what to expect, but at least they'll be well-rested.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Game recap: Flyers 3, Islanders 1

Is anyone on the Islanders scary?

I don't mean scary-boo (if I did, Miro Satan's eyebrows would be a definite 'yes'), but scary as in you never want to see him on the ice when one goal could mean the difference between winning and losing. Does anyone fit that bill?

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Flyers, which dropped the Islanders to 3-3 after a 2-0 start, the Isles had Josef Vasicek, Sean Bergenheim and Satan on the ice in the final minutes looking for the equalizer. Granted, the trio had the best night of the forward combinations and earned the right to be out there, but the point is the Islanders don't have that one guy or two guys who strike fear in the hearts of opposing goalies. There isn't an Alex Ovechkin or Jaromir Jagr or Dany Heatley (or Jason Blake, for that matter) to turn to when you need a sniper. Where's Mike Bossy when you need him? His back's OK now, right?

Much of that is by design. The Islanders have several players who have the ability to step up when needed and put one between the pipes -- Satan, Comrie, Fedotenko, Hunter, Guerin, Vasicek -- but through six games, the Islanders' offense has been downright dismal, especially in even-strength minutes. While the special teams have been exceptional, when it's 6-on-6, there's been little scoring punch. Take away the hot start by the Comrie-Fedotenko-Guerin line, and the Isles have shown as much punch as Steve Zouski.

Saturday's effort was inconsistent. The Isles had several chances in the first period but couldn't finish them, then allowed the Flyers to grab a 2-0 lead in the middle period before awakening in the third, getting a shorthanded goal by Vasicek on a play thaw saw Brendan Witt press into the offensive zone. Like the loss to the Capitals, Saturday's game could have gone the Islanders' way had the effort been there for 60 minutes. It wasn't. That needs to change.

The good news is that Chris Simon is back, and he shook the rust off by dropping the gloves. The Flyers weren't too feisty, no surprise after seeing two players suspended for 20 or more games in the season's first two weeks. Jesse Boulerice -- who was waived today -- got 25 games for his gutless crosscheck to the face of Ryan Kesler. That matched the 25 games Simon got, and Boulerice should have gotten more.

Maybe Simon's return will spark the team out of its funk, and he's been known to score a goal now and then. Coffee is for closers only, and right now, no one on the Islanders has a mug in his hands.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Game recap: Maple Leafs 8, Islanders 1

You know those radio ads that claim to have to have the perfect system to amass incredible wealth and will send you A FREE DVD explaining how? Well, I've got them all beat. Just bet the mortgage against the Mets when they face a rookie pitcher and against the Islanders the game after they play the Rangers. It's money in the bank.

The Islanders had to travel to Toronto (home of old friend Darcy Tucker and ex-Islander Jason Blake) the day after beating the Rangers, and with Wade Dubielewicz in net to give Rick DiPietro a rest, you could be fairly certain the Islanders' fifth game in seven days would end badly. But 8-1?

This one was over once Matt Stajan put a shorthanded goal past Dubie late in the second period to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead. It was 5-1 before the second intermission, and that was pretty much all she wrote. Marc-Andre Bergeron made defensive mistakes on both goals, but it's hard to label one guy the goat when you lose by seven.

What bears watching is the seven-defender rotation. I can't see it lasting very long, but who's out? Bergeron, Witt, Martinek and Sutton are all pretty much locked in, and Gervais and Campoli are playing well and deserve to stay in the lineup to develop. But with Berard as the seventh d-man, that means forwards get shafted for time, and one thing we've noticed so far is that other than the top line, there's been no consistency or flow among the other forward combinations. Is it worth having Berard around for a few minutes of power-play time per game?

Meanwhile, Mats Sundin was honored for setting new, all-time team records for goals (390) and points (917) and received a much-deserved ovation from the home crowd. Blake also had a nice assist on Tomas Kaberle's goal in the second period, carrying the puck into the Islanders zone, stopping on a dime and spinning to find a streaking Kaberle with a quick pass. How many times have we seen that before? Great play by a very good player who is missed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Game recap: Islanders 2, Rangers 1

The Islanders gave Bryan Berard a shot. It's a good thing they did, because the team's newest acquisition scored on his only shot of the game, providing what proved to be the game-winner in Wednesday night's 2-1 victory over the Rangers.

Berard, who played for parts of two seasons at Columbus for Gerard Gallant - now an assistant coach under Ted Nolan - paid his own way to attend the Islanders' training camp and impressed enough for the team to release Fred Meyer and sign Berard to a one-year deal. Meyer was since claimed on waivers by Phoenix.

The Islanders dressed seven defensemen with Berard, which meant a big cut in playing time for Sean Bergenheim, Richard Park, Josef Vasicek and Jeff Tambellini, called up to replace Jon Sim, who looks to be out for the year with a knee injury. Nolan, however, said after the game that the team will likely continue the 7-man rotation for the time being and deal with the ice-time juggling.

Berard's goal on a 5-on-3 late in the second period showed why he can be a valuable addition, especially on the power play. Berard took a pass from Bill Guerin and rifled a slap shot from the top of the left circle, beating Henrik Lundquist high on the glove side.

The goal gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead after two, remarkable considering how the Rangers took it to the Islanders in the middle period. Fedor Tyutin scored for the Rangers 2:10 into the period to tie the score at 1-1, and from then on, the Rangers controlled the play, and the home team was fortunate to have a lead entering the third.

The Islanders had taken a 1-0 lead with just 3.5 seconds left in the first period, scoring on the rare 3-on-3 situation. Faceoff specialist Mike Sillinger won the draw and got the puck to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who was unguarded in the circle. The defensive lapse cost the Rangers, as Bergeron's stiff wrister beat Lundquist short side.

While Berard's goal (his first as an Islander since 1998) was the feel-good story, the most valuable player was Rick DiPietro, who made 36 saves and helped keep Jagr, Gomez and Drury off the scoresheet. D.P. made several big stops from in close in the first period and then again in the third as the Isles killed two two-man disadvantages, one early and one late. The Rangers have yet to score a POWER PLAY GOAL! this season and are 0-for-16 in man-up situations. Ouch.

The Rangers pulled the goalie and had a few good chances late. Sillinger won another key draw with 17 seconds left, allowing Hunter to clear away the Blueshirts' final opportunity. Once again, Brendan Witt sacrificed his body with five blocked shots, keying a solid all-around defensive effort.

The 3-1 Islanders hit the road for three games beginning Thursday night in Toronto.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Game recap: Caps 2, Islanders 1

Ted Nolan said it best after the game, noting that while the Islanders outshot the Capitals Monday, 31-12, they didn't have nearly that many quality chances. "Sometimes the shots aren't indicative of the play," Nolan said. "We really only had five or six good chances. The effort was there, but we had a couple of costly turnovers that went in."

Consider it a lesson learned on Kid's Opening Day, which brought with it much pomp, circumstance and energy. This was an eminently winnable game. Had the Islanders taken some more chances and taken it to the Capitals, and played smarter in the offensive zone, they could easily be 3-0. But they let Olaf Kolzig off easy. This was one of those games where you look at the scoreboard and realize, "This game is tied?" Because it felt as if the Islanders had the game in hand from the get-go.

That all changed midway through the third when Brooks Laich scored to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. The Islanders had some good changes in the final minutes but couldn't get the equalizer. New York was also 0-for-4 on the power play and failed to score on a 5-on-3 in the second period. On the plus side of the special teams ledger, the penalty kill was a perfect 6-for-6, continuing its outstanding start.

Richard Park scored the only goal for the Isles, marking the signing of his two-year contract extension in style.

So maybe this was a good loss, if there is such a thing. There will be no room for complacency Wednesday night when the Rangers come to Uniondale. Remarkably, tickets are still available. That link should only be used by Islanders fans, by the way.

Sadly, Sean Avery will not play as he is out 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder, suffered in the loss to Ottawa on a hit by Chris Neil. And yes, the hit was clean.

Finally, best wishes go out to Jason Blake, who is reported to have a rare but treatable form of leukemia. The outlook is good, however, so here's hoping he has many more years in the NHL.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Game recap: Isles 3, Sabres 2

Jason who?

You remember, little guy, goal scorer, brought lots of energy, fan favorite? Blake, yeah. Well, it looks like the Islanders found a suitable replacement in Mike Comrie, who scored two goals for the second straight game as the Islanders swept the season-opening home-and-home with the Sabres with Saturday night's 3-2 win.

Comrie, Guerin and Fedotenko (The leftovers line? Can we come up with something better?) have combined for 16 points in these first two games and put on another show in a much more defensively sound game than the Friday premiere in Buffalo. Comrie scored twice in the first nine minutes of the third period with his two linemates recording an assist on each goal.

The second was a joy to behold. Guerin banked a clearing pass off the boards and Comrie chased it down deep in the Sabres end for a scoring chance. He was stopped, but Fedotenko swept in, won the puck, slid behind the net and then fed Comrie in the slot with a perfect pass, and Comrie converted to make it 3-1. A sloppy/fluky goal by Hecht cut the gap to one but DiPietro shut the Sabres down at the end and had another solid game, despite a couple of near-misses. The Islanders' defense was much stronger tonight, particularly in front, and the special teams was outstanding once again.

Chris Campoli also scored for the second straight game, roofing a shot in the second period to tie the game 1-1. Campoli has looked terrific so far and the coaches are praising his maturity. A breakout season for him on the backline would be a huge boost for a team that -- and we know it's early -- has looked very, very promising thus far.

The Islanders last opened the season this well in 2001, when they won their first four games, all on the road. They'll look to continue the momentum Monday afternoon against the Caps on Kids' Opening Day. Take Sunday off, fellas. You deserve it.

Game recap: Isles 6, Sabres 4

Ten goals are not exactly a coach's delight, but there was plenty to like about tonight's season opener in Buffalo, not the least of which was the two points on the road.

What more could you have asked for from the new-guy line? (There has to be a better name than that - we'll work on it.) Two goals and two assists from Comrie, a goal and two assists from Fedotenko and three assists by Guerin -- these guys were a rash on the scoresheet. Toss in a goal by Vasicek (off a nice cross by Gervais) and the additions wasted no time making their mark.

Goal of the night? While Comrie had a terrific individual effort on his breakaway goal in the second to make it 5-4, you had to love the tic-tac-toe passing and Campoli's anticipation on the power play goal that gave the Isles a 3-2 lead in the first; Guerin to Fedotenko in the corner, then the one-touch pass to Campoli sneaking in? You couldn't have drawn that up better on Sega NHL '94.

DiPietro played very well despite the four goals allowed and made 22 saves. He flat-out never saw the first one and the Isles had a couple of bad defensive lapses, which the coaches will surely remind them of. But DiPietro's fine save seven minutes into the third led to a 3-on-2 that ended with Hunter shoving the puck past Miller in the goalmouth, which we hope we'll see a lot of this season.

All in all not a bad start. Still getting used to the new unis, but they grew on me as the night went on. I'm not a fan of the string ties or the orange sleeves. I think I'll end up getting a blue jersey at some point. But then again, fashion was never my thing.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The opener is just six hours away...

Some thoughts as the Islanders prepare for their season-opening, home-and-home series against the Sabres:

- Always great to begin the season against the team that bounced you from the playoffs the previous year, and the Islanders get that team twice in two days. And have we mentioned that it's also the team Ted Nolan used to coach? With so many new faces looking to make a statement from the get-go, expect the Islanders to be absolutely flying.

Good job by the team in signing Radek Martinek to a three-year contract extension. This guy was sorely missed and will be a huge difference maker if he can stay healthy.

- The Sabres had a rough off-season. That may be more of an understatement than saying Willie Randolph is on the hot seat. Daniel Briere is in Philly and we all know where Chris Drury is. And don't forget Danius Zubrus in New Jersey. Throw in Teppo Numminen's heart troubles and the Sabres could be in for some trouble. Then again, with Ryan Miller between the pipes, there's always hope.

- Have you seen the Versus TV ads? The one with the little guy in a Flyers T-shirt breaking panes of glass from 30 yards? That's Briere. He looks like he should be skateboarding in a Waldbaum's parking lot somewhere, and he just turned 30! Are we sure he's not related to Doug Flutie? How many times did we all yell "Just HIT HIM!" last season? And now we'll get to do it even more when the Flyers are across the ice. Beautiful.

- Three games in less than four days for the Islanders when they host the Capitals Monday afternoon in Kids' Opening Day. When you think of the Caps, do you picture Bryan Murray behind the bench? Me, too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Your season is now - Islanders preview

So what did you do over the summer?

If you're like me, you mowed the lawn (a lot), took the kids on vacation, and tried to complete at least a couple of items on the neverending honey-do list. Some of us were immersed in the baseball season, and today Yankees fans eagerly await another playoff run, while Mets fans step down from the ledge. The lucky ones are also hockey fans, and therefore have something to live for now that October is here.

The really lucky ones are Islanders fans, of course, and the summer was also good for providing some breathing room and perspective on the free agent signing period, which began with an exodus not seen since Spaulding yelled "Doodie!" at the Bushwood pool.

It was a dark day, indeed, mostly because Ryan Smyth decided to take the money in Colorado, which we know from Mike Hampton has excellent schools. But were we really surprised? You knew Blake and Poti were going, and that Smyth would have been incredible here but was probably a long shot. So give Garth Snow a ton of credit for sticking with a game plan and then going out and finding quality players who fit the system.

And that, dear reader, is the key: Fitting the system. Ted Nolan and Snow are on the same page and Nolan knows what he wants in his players, and Snow did his best to find those players. And he did a good job. Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin will help provide some of the pop lost with the departure of Smyth and Blake, and Guerin also steps into the captain's role, one that never suited Alexei Yashin, whose buyout is almost the definition of addition by subtraction.

Throw in Mike Sillinger, the underrated Ruslan Fedotenko and a solid player like Jon Sim, and the offense should produce, providing players like Miro Satan and Trent Hunter can step up their games. We love the tenacity of Richard Park and the strength of Chris Simon (we forgive you, even though Hollweg won't), and Josef Vasicek, in his second season following his knee injury, could surprise. Andy Hilbert on the second line is a surprise. We can't believe Darryl Bootland is wearing Tonelli's No. 27. If the fans had any say, that number would be retired, too.

The key could be Sean Bergenheim, who played in Europe last season having not signed with the Islanders. He is back and could be one of those special players; he is already a fan favorite. Jeff Tambellini did not make the opening roster, but Nolan put it best when he said Tambellini is not a fourth-line guy. Expect Tambellini to make it back to the Island at some point this season, and stay.

The Islanders got tough on defense with the addition of Andy Sutton. Nolan begins the season with eight defensemen, and with Brendan Witt, Marc-Andre Bergeron, a healthy Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli, Aaron Johnson and Freddy Meyer, there is certainly depth. And don't forget about Bryan Berard, who could well end up on the team if, as reported on several blogs, the Isles can work out a trade.

That's plenty of support for Rick DiPietro, who is rounding into one of the top goalies in the league. Here's hoping his play gets more coverage than his contract, which is old news. Wade Dubielewicz gets the backup spot and we couldn't be happier.

So what does it all mean? In a tough division, the Islanders took a step back and then a few steps forward. This was a playoff team last season and despite the losses, this year's model is deeper and more well-rounded, with plenty of talent surrounding DiPietro, who should carry the Islanders to another post-season berth. Can you say sleeper? Shhhhhhhhhhh. It's going to be a fun season.