Thursday, November 29, 2007

Game recap: Islanders 3, Senators 2 (OT)

There are games over the course of the season that are measuring-stick games, and this was one of them for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the Senators are one of the best -- if not THE best - teams in the NHL, and they have absolutely owned the Islanders, winning the last eight games between the clubs.

Not this time. Thanks to tremendous goaltending by Rick DiPietro and terrific efforts from players like Mike Sillinger, Richard Park, Josef Vasicek and Bill Guerin, the Islanders overcame two fluky goals by Andres Meszaros of all people and came away with a 3-2 shootout victory Wednesday night at the Coliseum, before another disappointing crowd of just over 9,200.

Maybe the Isles' dismal recent history against the recently-cold Senators kept fans from coming to the barn, but past performance is no guarantee of future earnings. The Islanders came to play in a hard-hitting, tightly-played game that featured yet another standout performance by DiPietro, who's certainly playing up to his contract now, isn't he? D.P. made 35 stops in the first 65 minutes, includes a few of the WOW variety, and then came up huge in the shootout. He made the final stop on Dean McAmmond look easy, moments after Sillinger beat Ray Emery for what proved to be the game-winner. Guerin scored the first shootout goal for the Isles on their third shot, after Ottawa had put one in off the stick of Daniel Alfredsson.

The Isles continue to live dangerously. This was the 11th game in the last 12 decided by one goal, and the ninth straight game where the Islanders scored two or fewer goals (shootouts notwithstanding). When the margin for error is that thin, you're going to get burned by goals like Meszaros' second, which deflected off Park. But give the Isles credit for not letting the second point get away from them, as happened the game prior against Dallas. Fun fact - the Isles are now 11-1 against Eastern Conference teams who made the playoffs last season.

We'll see how much the Isles have left in the tank when they play the Rangers at the Garden Thursday night. One player who won't enjoy that game is Sean Avery, who's injured -- again, what a fragile flower he is -- having just had wrist surgery. Get well soon, big guy. We'll miss you. And say hi to Mary-Kate (or is it Ashley?) - we always get them confused.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Game recap: Stars 3, Islanders 2 (OT)

You should never be happy to simply get a point with a tie at home. Never. Well, almost never.

When the opponent is on a five-game winning streak and is one of the best teams in its conference, then sometimes you take what you can get and that's what the Islanders are saying after dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime Monday night against the Dallas Stars, who won their sixth in a row. Mike Modano scored twice for the Stars, including the game-winner just 38 seconds into the OT.

It looked like the Isles were going to walk away with nothing after Jeff Halpern broke a 1-1 tie with six minutes left in the third on a fluky goal. Halpern was standing all alone to Rick DiPietro's right and Sergei Zubov should have passed him the puck. Instead, Zubov let go with a wrist shot -- which of course deflected off Mike Sillinger and directly to Halpern, who knocked it into the open side of the net.

The Islanders immediately blew a power play opportunity, stretching their man-up futility streak to 1-for-29, but they were given one more power play chance in the final minutes. This time, Miro Satan got to a rebound and put it home to send the game into the extra session.

Another bad bounce killed the Isles in OT when a deflected puck landed right on the stick of a charging Modano. As Ted Nolan lamented afterwards, "the puck went right to one of the most skilled guys in the league." And so it goes.

We liked Richard Park beating Marty Turco to a loose puck and putting it into a empty net for a shortie. That's Park for you. We also liked DiPietro's 28 saves.

We didn't like all the whistles against the Isles for obstruction - five penalties, three against Bill Guerin for hooking, holding and tripping (oh, my!). The referees were Dave Jackson and Dean Morton. I know, who? Also a pathetic turnout of under 9,000 for the game. Not unusual for a non-conference game, but still weak.

Marc-Andre Bergeron was the seventh defenseman as Nolan rolled three forward lines. I'm not a big fan of the seven d-men and you wonder when Bergeron will be dealt. WIth Berard getting a regular shift, MAB is the odd man out.

Oddly enough, the Stars are now just 1-5-0-1 against the Isles over the last 6 1/2 years. Another interesting factoid - the game featured three U.S.-born players who were drafted No. 1 in Modano, DiPietro and Bryan Berard.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Doubleheader recap: Isles vs. Bruins

On the plus side, it's nice to know players like Andy Hilbert and Richard Park - who will never be confused with Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier - can step up and score a goal when the team needs it. On the negative side, you know things are going bad offensively when the team needs a couple of grinders to give it a boost.

But a win is a win, and when it comes in front of a full house like it did Saturday night, all the better. The 2-1 win over Boston salvaged a split against the Bruins and stopped a two-game losing streak from growing any larger. What continued was the Islanders' habit of keeping it close. Since shutting out the Lightning, 4-0, the Isles have played 10 games and nine of them have been decided by one goal.

The Tums concession has never been more popular.

Friday's loss was lackluster - maybe the L-tryptophan hadn't left the players' systems after Thanksgiving. The Isles fell behind 2-0 before Mike Sillinger scored on a redirection.

What killed the Islanders was futility on the power play, a common theme lately. They blew a two-man advantage early in the third and had another opportunity wasted late in the period when they were desperate to tie the game.

After getting off to a strong start, the power play is 1-for-26 over the last seven games. Marc-Andre Bergeron, a healthy scratch in the last five games, was on the ice Saturday but couldn't spark the unit.

Not that the Islanders weren't getting chances - they outshout the B's 12-2 in the first and 23-7 through two periods. But even when the Isles are outshooting their opponents these days, it's not the quantity but the quality of the shots that are lacking.

Rick DiPietro had an eventful game, making 20 saves and getting an assist (with Sillinger) on Hilbert's goal. He was also whacked in the head in the final five minutes but stayed in the game.

In other news, Newsday reports that Shawn Bates may finally be ready to rejoin the club, which is good news for his fans and the team. Maybe he can be the spark that gets the offense going.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Game recap: Canadiens 4, Islanders 1

I'm in a holiday mood, so I'll pass on breaking down Wednesday night's dismal effort against Montreal, only to say that the Isles were flatter than Hempstead Turnpike. You can't win every home game and you're gonna have nights like this, but you should beat Montreal.

Instead, I have a question for Cablevision and Fox Sports NY:

I live on Long Island. I also have an HDTV, and I enjoy the high-def programming that Optimum delivers, particularly sports and especially the Islanders.

So imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that the Islanders-Canadiens game - broadcast by Fox Sports NY - had been relegated to C-SPAN2 (channel 79), and was NOT available on ANY of the high-def channels. WTF?

This was an Islanders HOME game. Instead, the Devils were on regular Fox Sports NY and on FSNHD. Couldn't Fox Sports have broadcast the Islanders game in HD, with Cablevision putting it on MSGHD (the Rangers were on the road and not in HD) or on Mojo 701 or one of the other less-popular HD channels?

As a Long Island cable subscriber, I expect MY LOCAL TEAM to be in HD, not a team from New Jersey. And if you want to blame FSNY, fine -- ALL home games should be broadcast in HD, even when two teams are on at the same time.

Utterly ridiculous. I ended up watching the game on a 19-inch set in my office because I can't stomach watching a game that should be in HD on an HD set when it's not in HD.

The question is why FSNY chose to broadcast the Devils in HD and not the Islanders, and you get the sense that this is always the way it is going to be. Don't tell me the Devils attract more viewers. People in New Jersey don't care about the Devils. And if there is a difference, it has to be negligible. Either broadcast all games in HD and have the cable companies find a home for them (which they can) or alternate between the teams so one fan base doesn't get screwed.

I think we're going to be screwed. We'll see.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Game recap: Islanders 2, Rangers 1

In my post from the last Islanders-Rangers game I said that we needed an answer chant for the Potvin cheer, but you know what? We have one:

YOU CAN'T BEAT US! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) YOU CAN'T BEAT US!

That works for me.

Monday night's 2-1 victory over the Rangers makes the Islanders 9-1-2 in their last dozen games against the Blueshirts, so you could say Ted Nolan has Tom Renney's number. And to all the Rangers fans who added 'SUCKS!' after the 'D.P.!' chant at the Coliseum, suck on this: Rick is 3-0 against the Rangers this season, with four goals allowed. What's that? Yeah, I thought so.

Monday's win was also the seventh straight one-goal game for the Islanders, which is an NHL record. But that's the way this team wins. DiPietro said in the postgame that the win was "a good road win," and that winning the close ones was "the kind of identity we want to create."

You could argue the converse that all these one-goal games shows how little margin for error the Islanders have, and that there will be a stretch where the decisions go the other way. But you could also say that playing in so many nail-biters will prove to be invaluable experience come playoff time.

Yeah, I said it. We're just a quarter through the season, but it's clear that this is a playoff team, and by the looks of it, is a team that few will want to face in a short series. It's tough, has great goaltending, and won't blink when the pressure is on.

The Rangers were hot coming into the game, winners of five straight, but you wouldn't know it by the result. Sure, the Rangers came out hitting, but Jagr, Gomez and Drury were awfully quiet, a testimony to the defensive play of guys like Witt and Martinek, who were solid all night.

Once again, the newcomers provided the offense, with Fedotenko scoring on a perfectly executed set play eight seconds into the second period off a face-off. And Vasicek was all over the place, roofing a wicked wrister for a 2-0 lead, and later stepping into the face of Orr in defense of his teammate.

You didn't like the shorthanded goal that cut the gap to 2-1, but there was precious little to complain about tonight. The Rangers had just 19 shots on goal, with few second-chance opportunities, which was a huge help to DiPietro. All in all, a tremendous win coupled with the shutout over the Devils.

Game recap: Islanders 1, Devils 0

Martin who?

Rick DiPietro's shutout of the Devils Friday night was just what the doctor ordered for a team that had lost two straight. Sure, the losses were close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as Col. Sherman T. Potter once said, and the Islanders were looking at a three-game skid if Martin Brodeur was able to win his 500th career game playing at home.

But DiPietro was stellar, stopping 26 shots but also playing smart and displaying a growing maturity that Ted Nolan didn't hesitate to mention in his postgame comments. This team is built around DiPietro and needs him to be the kind of netminder that teams hate to face and he is playing that way so far this season. His biggest save may have been when he stoned Patrik Elias in the final minutes.

And how 'bout that Josef Vasicek? The shorthanded goal against the Devils was a thing of beauty. You only get a chance to deke the goalie that many times when you're practicing one-on-nones in the driveway, but Vasicek came through, thanks to a godawful turnover. Hard to believe, with his size and skills, that Vasicek has been a career third- or fourth-line player. If he's blooming late, we're glad he's blooming here.

Another solid game from Chris Campoli, and Trent Hunter also played big, drawing comparison's to John Tonelli from Jiggs McDonald on the play-by-play. When Jiggs compares you to J.T., you know you're doing something right.

You kind of feel sorry for Brent Sutter. He looks like his head is going to explode one of these games.

Up next, the Rangers at MSG Monday night. Think Sean Avery will get into a pre-game scrap with Brendan Witt? We can only hope.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Game recap: Penguins 3, Islanders 2

Just when the Islanders could use a day off - and they've had more than their share so far - there's none to be found. Instead, the Islanders get to visit the Devils and Martin Brodeur, who not only has beaten the Isles 38 times with 10 shutouts, but is going for career win No. 500. It's his third shot at the mark, and it's at home against a team he has pretty much owned.

Good luck, fellas.

The Islanders head to Jersey fresh off another close loss, this one a 3-2 defeat against the Penguins at the Igloo. The Isles battled back to tie the game in the second period after being down a goal, but lost the lead for good when Sidney Crosby picked Brendan Witt's pocket and fed a perfect feed to Georges Laracque of all people, who roofed it for a 3-2 Pens lead. The third period was scoreless.

Bryan Berard, back on the blueline, lamented after the game that this was one that the Islanders should have had, which was pretty much the feeling after the loss to the Flyers on Monday night. But the Isles managed only one shot on two power play attempts, while the Pens had six man-up advantages, scoring once. The Isles are now 2-4 on the road.

Mike Comrie and Josef Vasicek scored for the Isles and they're tied to the team lead in goals at six. Comrie deflected a shot by Witt and Vasicek made a terrific play after winning a faceoff in the Pens' end, drifting behind the defense to get in position for what was a game-tying goal.

Now, the Islanders will try and break out of its offensive rut against the Devils and Brodeur. True, the Devils and Brodeur himself have struggled thus far, but this will be a tough game. A win for the Isles here would be huge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More than just a new arena

Make no mistake about it - the future of the Islanders as a professional hockey team on Long Island is firmly tied to the proposal that Charles Wang and development partner Scott Rechler filed with the Town of Hempstead on Tuesday. And as an Islanders fan, nothing is more important.

Not the power play. Not the penalty kill. Not the line combinations. Not the progress of top prospect Kyle Okposo. Not the quality of the cheesesteaks or the nachos sold at the Coliseum (although based on the renderings of the renovated arena, you'd hope the concession fare would improve dramatically as well).

The Islanders have been playing in what is easily the National Hockey League's worst venue for years. It is the league's third-oldest arena and has the smallest seating capacity. Every attempt the team has made to either build a new arena or extricate itself from the heinous lease agreement the team has with Spectacor Management Group -- signed by former owner John Pickett in what is unanimously regarded as a colossal blunder -- has been thwarted. Now, there is a plan in place to change all that, and while Wang and Rechler may not get everything they want in their multi-phase proposal -- and there will be many questions to answer, particularly regarding traffic -- the Coliseum phase of the project needs to be approved if the Islanders are to remain, as we all are, Islanders.

If memories were all an arena required to make it successful, then the Coliseum would be the Taj Mahal of the NHL. And when the barn is packed it is an intimidating place to play. But the squat, outdated structure has been obsolete for years, plagued by physical problems and space issues, not to mention rats and cockroaches that GM Garth Snow joked "are so old they have Stanley Cup rings." Anyone who has tried to navigate the concourse between periods knows all about the arena's faults. And walking across the vast, windswept parking lot in the dead of winter is like traversing the Siberian steppes.

Maybe the arena isn't why free agents have been reportedly reluctant to sign with the team, but combined with the crippling lease agreement, the Islanders need to be as frugal as they can, even with the league's new collective bargaining agreement in place. Wang is reportedly losing $15 million to $20 million a year on the team, and while he is invested in Long Island in multiple ways -- never mind the fact that he's made it his home for 55 years -- it should be obvious that no one is going to stand for losing that kind of money for long. And he shouldn't be expected to.

Certainly, Wang and Rechler have a wide-ranging proposal on the table that should make the both of them quite a lot of money in the long run. It's far beyond just a new home for the Islanders. But they're not the only ones interested in remaking the parcel of land off Hempstead Turnpike. Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi has said that the lot is the centerpiece of a "new suburbia," one that would feature smart development and less of a reliance on driving and more public transportation. It's a very valuable piece of property with tremendous potential, but making the project a reality will require endless cajoling, negotiations, public input and good, old-fashioned shmoozing. Thankfully, it seems a new 99-year lease agreement would be part of the deal if it is approved, one that should be much more friendly to the team.

So what should you do as an Islanders fan? If you live in Nassau County, get involved. Talk to your local legislator, attend public meetings, ask questions, take advantage of public comment. Make it clear to the power that be that the Islanders are important to you and extremely important not only to the town and the county but to Long Island itself. The team is part of our identity, and if we want them to stay then a new arena is absolutely required.

Of course, no one seems to argue the point. But getting there has been impossible. There's been talk of a new arena for years. Wang's original plan for a 60-story "Lighthouse" tower was shot down almost immediately. And while the process has dragged on, the Islanders and their fans have had to put up with the Coliseum and all its quirks and problems.

Hopefully, that is all coming to an end soon. If all goes well -- I'm not holding my breath, but we can dream, can't we? -- the new arena would open in 2010. And we fans will finally enjoy what Devils fans are enjoying now, a new arena worthy of the four Stanley Cup banners hanging in its rafters.

The alternative is too depressing to even consider. And if you need convincing, there's one sure method.

Call a Hartford Whalers fan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Game recap: Flyers 3, Islanders 2

Tough to get too upset about this loss, coming as it did on the road against a first-place team that is unbeaten at home, but this was a game that the Islanders could have -- and perhaps, SHOULD have -- won, and so it was indeed frustrating.

You hate to see the power play not only go 0-for-4 but allow a game-winning, shorthanded goal in the third period. That Mike Richards scored the winner should be not surprise as he now has three shorties already this season, but there's no way he should have been allowed to net his own rebound.

Give the Flyers credit for blocking 22 shots in the game. The Isles outshot Philly, 26-17, so the chances were there. The Isles just couldn't take advantage of them. Nice goal by Simon crashing the net, and Sillinger scored his second of the season on a backhand.

Bill Guerin missed the game after being hit in the eye with a puck against the Devils. Guerin has hyphema, or bleeding in the eye, and is listed as day-to-day. He is questionable for Thursday's game against the Penguins. Sean Bergenheim was recalled from Bridgeport to take Guerin's spot in the lineup.

The Islanders have shown they can win at home, going 5-1 on the recent homestand and 7-2 at the Coliseum overall. The Flyers game was the first of four on the road, and the Isles look to improve on their 2-3 road mark.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Game recap: Islanders 2, Devils 1

You know who must be feeling pretty good these days? Garth Snow.

I know, it's early, but let's give the guy some props. The Islanders are 9-4 with 18 points, just two points behind the first-place Flyers and one behind the Rangers (who they've beaten twice) despite playing three and four fewer games than those teams, respectively. His off-season acquisitions have pretty much all played very well - Guerin, Vasicek, Comrie and Fedotenko chief among them.

Snow took a lot of heat as he watched an exodus take place and then fill the void with players who were less than no-brainers. But you could see now that the man had a plan, one that coach Ted Nolan shares in completely. Nolan talks a lot about 'character guys' and the Isles have them in spades, and all the preseason talk about how tightly-knit the team was in training camp wasn't just smoke. This group has come together quickly and it works hard, and so far it has paid off.

It helps when you have someone like Rick DiPietro in the net, and Saturday night D.P. was outstanding, making 20 saves in the 2-1 win over the Devils. DiPietro and Martin Brodeur staged quite a duel, but in the end it was Miroslav Satan -- again -- who came up big with the game-winning goal.

It was a thing of beauty and came on a 5-on-3 power play in the third. With the crowd hollering for the Islanders to SHOOOOOOOOT (I never understood that -- these guys know what they're doing, let them work the advantage, please) Chris Campoli (2 assists) threw the puck down to Trent Hunter at the lower left circle, and Hunter fired a perfect pass through the crease to Satan at the right post. I've run that play many times in dome hockey, with similarly successful results.

It got a little hairy at the end as the Isles missed two good chances to put the game away with the net empty, and sure enough the Devils came too close for comfort in the final 20 seconds, but DiPietro held strong. The win gave the Islanders a 5-1 homestand, and that's what you like to see - a team that plays big at home. And with 15,000-plus on hand, that helps, too.

Fun fact learned on the broadcast: the Isles' Ben Walter is the son of NHL standout Ryan Walter, who played 15 seasons, mostly with the Capitals and Canadiens. He scored 38 goals and had 49 assists for the Caps in 1981-82, and yet Washington still traded him to Montreal, where he eventually won a Cup. The Caps did get Rod Langway in the deal, though.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

LIVEBLOG: Islanders 3, Rangers 2

Lots of juice for tonight's game, with both teams coming in hot; the Isles winners of four of their last five, the Rangers off a 5-1 homestand and playing stingy defense with their effective if not so entertaining trap. Also plenty of rough stuff expected on and off the ice. Fellow bloggers Tom Liodice and Mike Carey have set the over-under for fights in the stands at five. I'm taking the over.

This is actually the first Islanders-Rangers game I've been to in person in a couple of years and the place is rocking already as we await the puck to drop. Always depressing to see so many opposing jerseys in the crowd for a home game but that's the Isles' lot in life, so we deal with it. Still sucks, though.

Sillinger, Hilbert and Guerin out for the faceoff and here we go!

D.P. in goal to everyone's relief, and the Rangers are buzzing him early. Comrie with a chance for the Isles but can't keep the puck on his stick.

Almost five minutes in and we're still waiting for the first big hit - Hilbert almost had one on Staal but didn't get all of him. Comrie again in the middle of it, can't slide the puck across to Fedotenko, then D.P. stones Nigel Dawes - the pace is picking up. The teams at one point played six minutes without a whistle.

Just heard the first Potvin chant, in our own building. Inevitable, but it still hurts. I know we have the revised, anti-Ranger "When you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" chant, but that one isn't enough for me. And the chicken dance is too obvious (plus, there's too much to explain to my 5-year-old). We need to come up with something a little sharper. There's your homework for tonight.

By the way, the Ice Girls just cleared the slush away from Henrik Lundqvist's crease without incident. Nice to see Henrik's grown as a person.

DiPietro stops Hossa in close with under 6 minutes left. Give the Rangers the edge in period one - they've had more of a presence in the offensive end and their chances have been more dangerous. Of course, as I type that Guerin has two good chances with around 3 minutes left. Then Comrie - again, in the middle of things - passes to Hunter in the left circle, he dekes but can't get it past Lundqvist with 2:13 on the clock.

Sutton takes a run at Prucha and just misses, so of course Prucha answers by boarding Richard Park with 1:26 left, Isles on the power play. Staal flattens Campoli on the far boards, period ends scoreless. Call round one a draw, with the two teams even on points with no knockdowns.

Second period about to start - here's something fun: Guy sitting in front of me has an Avery jersey. Guy in front of him has a DiPietro sweater on, holding up a sign that says, "Avery, you suck!"

Speaking of Mr. Olsen Twin, someone needs to tell him that stickhandling is not his forte. He ragged the puck from center ice, back into his own zone, looking ... looking, before dropping a backhand pass to no one that Sillinger picked off. No goal by the Isles, though.

Good chance by Ben Walter on the backhand, high shot hits Lundqvist in the shoulder. Then Sillinger another high shot stopped ... Witt levels Dawes in the Isles end, starts a break the other way but Comrie holds onto the puck through the high slot and can't get a good shot off. Pace hasn't changed from the first.

By the way, there's a certain free agent acquisition on the visitors who hasn't made much of an impression so far. Don't want to mention him by name as that would be a sure jinx, but he played last year across the river in the land of the Sopranos. Hope that narrows it down for you.

Scramble in front, D.P. covers the puck and there's shoving. We're seeing a bit more of that as the game goes on. By the way, that's recent Bridgeport call-up Tim Jackman, not Hugh, playing on the line with Simon and Walter. He has a chance in the crease but can't push it under Lundqvist.

Fedotenko called for tripping - dubious. Sure enough, Chris Drury scores with the man advantage, going five-hole on a slap shot from the left point off a pass from Mara. 1-0 Rangers. (I was thinking that Drury hadn't done much, either - then he scores.)

Jagr left alone in the circle on a 3-on-3 and the Rangers almost take a two-goal lead. Guernin veered off him - a mistake. Have to be aware of where Jagr is at all times.

Third period, Isles down by one. The Rangers played a tough game last night so you'd think the Isles would be the fresher team. First altercation of the night finally happened up in section 338, and we have an ejection. The under is looking good right now, but there's plenty of time left. I'm sitting tight with the over.

Hunter scores to tie it, his fourth goal of the season. Nice play by Fedotenko breaking in down the left wing, then sliding the puck to Hunter in the right circle, converting at the 1:11 mark. New ballgame, people. Satan with a good chance moments later, but Staal covers the open side of the net and blocks it.

Rangers answer, Jagr dishing to Dubinski at the right post but DiPietro drags the left pad and smothers it. But the Rangers regain the lead when Avery (damn) makes a nice pass to Mara, who snuck in from the point and was alone on the doorstep to deflect it past DiPietro. Jackman called for hooking at 5:54, and the Rangers best chance to add to the lead occurs when Jagr finds Drury for another slapper - D.P. gets a piece of it, then blocks a second chance at the right post.

Isles kill it - then Sutton is whistled for interference while Prucha is called for holding. Four-on-four action! Not for long - Girardi (not Joe, Dan) gets the box for high-sticking - four-on-three!

Comrie -- is he involved in EVERY scoring chance? -- holds the puck, drifting through the slot, then finds a wide-open Fedotenko, who just buries it. It's 2-2, a new game again.

DiPietro with the touchdown pass to Sillinger at the opposite blue line, he doesn't score. Can't see a damn thing since everyone is standing in front of me and Fedotenko's mug is on the big screen as his goal is announced. I guess Lundqvist made the stop. Wild.

SATAN! Isles take the lead! Vasicek starts the play by stealing the puck from Girardi and moving in for a shot. Isles keep it in and Satan is open in the high slot, and he fires a wrister that finds the top left corner. Great shot by Satan, who is really heating up. (FYI - two more fights in the stands in the last few minutes. It's getting testy up there.)

More fun blog facts - when the horn sounds after a goal, it's so loud my laptop freezes up for a second or two.

DiPietro stellar - stops Drury, then Dawes in front, then deflects the puck from Strudwick in the goalmouth with just over three minutes left. Rangers fans can yell "Suck!" all they want after the D.P. chant - he just came up HUGE.

Oszival called for holding with 2:05 left and even though the Isles are at home I'm half-expecting the make-up call. Isles work most of the advantage in the Rangers zone, but then with the goalie pulled and Jagr behind the net, Hunter is called for a penalty with 18.8 seconds left. Can't call it a make-up call, though.

Final chance for Rangers - the shot from the point by Drury goes wide, and that's it - YOUR FINAL SCORE: Islanders 3, Rangers 2.

Isles improve to 8-4 on the season and are now tied for first place in the division with the Flyers, with another divisional home game Saturday against the Devils.


Tim Jackman

ON WHAT NOLAN TOLD THE TEAM BEFORE THE THIRD PERIOD: Just keep to our game plan and keep working hard. I was in the trainer's room getting stitched up, though, so I missed most of it. (Jackman had a nasty gash below his right eye)

ON PLAYING IN AN ISLANDERS-RANGERS GAME: Unbelievable atmosphere out there. The fans were into it. A great experience.

ON FORCING THE ISSUE AGAINST A TEAM THAT HAD PLAYED THE NIGHT BEFORE: The key thing was to get the puck deep in their end and make them work. It takes three periods. I thought we played well and it was a great win.

ON PLAYING THE FOURTH LINE WITH SIMON AND BEN WALTER: I thought we played well. I played with Simon a couple of exhibition games, so I think we were on the same page.

Jackman added that he was told Monday afternoon that he'd be playing on the big club.

Ted Nolan

I thought we played a real strong game going into the third period. Ricky certainly made some big, big saves for us. But this was a total team effort.

We wanted to roll four lines and see what happens. The fourth line played real well tonight. This is a really good character-type of team.

ON SATAN: The last couple of games, he's hot. And it's a good time now because we get to play a lot. We have three lines that can pop some goals in for us.

The biggest play was when Ricky shut the door with a 3-2 lead.

ON WALTER AND JACKMAN: Both of those guys deserved an opportunity and they're taking advantage of it.

ON HUNTER: He may not have a letter on his shoulder, but he's definitely one of our leaders.

ON THE TEAM'S MAKEUP: Garth did a tremendous job getting some character guys over the summer ... So far, so good.

Game preview: Rangers at Islanders

A couple of things before the Islanders go for their third straight victory and fifth in their last six a few hours from now at the Coliseum:

Rick DiPietro will start tonight, according to Greg Logan's Newsday blog post earlier today. DiPietro dodged a bullet with that high stick Saturday night, and it will be good to see him between the pipes tonight.

The Rangers are coming off a 2-0 shutout victory over the Flyers last night, giving them a 5-1 homestand that saw Henrik Lundqvist allow just two goals. He is red-hot, with four shutouts already, and the Rangers PK has killed 22 straight man-down situations.

Everybody's pal Sean Avery is back with the Blueshirts and dropped his gloves in the first minute of the Philly game. Although the first Isles-Rangers meeting was fairly quiet, expect the presence of Avery - not to mention Hollweg and Simon - to yield some fisticuffs before the night is through.

A message to Avery: Mary-Kate Olsen? Talk about trading down. Going from Elisha Cuthbert to Olsen could give you the bends, it's that deep a drop. Meanwhile, may be at the barn tonight given the chance that Olsen and Mike Comrie's squeeze, Hillary Duff, could be in the same building. Imagine that - the Nassau Coliseum, paparazzi paradise.

Also, a word about the Jim Baumbach item in Newsday - Chris Botta is absolutely right. That was pure drivel and completely pointless. Baumbach needs to know that no one in the NHL shares his feelings, and that the Islanders and their fans see through his lame attempt at generating controversy. One wonders if he really feels that way. And if he's aspiring to be the next Wally Matthews, he should set his sights higher.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Game recap: Al Arbour Night - Islanders 3, Penguins 2

Inviting Al Arbour back behind the Islanders' bench one more time so he could reach 1,500 games as the team's head coach was certainly an honor for the Hall of Famer and must have been a wonderful experience for his family, which was on hand in impressive numbers in the post-game ceremony.

(For incredible coverage of the game and festivities, check out the reports filed by my fellow bloggers in the NYI Blog Box.)

But for the fans, this brainchild of Ted Nolan provided us the opportunity not only to see Radar - with his ever-present glasses and notebook in his hand - at the helm of the Islanders once more, but to reflect on his career and truly appreciate what a great coach, and person, he is.

When the Islanders first raised the '739' banner in 1997, emcee Clark Gillies introduced Arbour as "the greatest coach in the history of hockey," and while that could be debated, there's no question he is in the NHL pantheon. That was underscored by the presence of Scotty Bowman, who gave Arbour his first coaching job with the Blues. Bowman was a surprise guest tonight and dropped the ceremonial puck with former GM Bill Torrey, and Bowman later said that as a player, Arbour was like a coach on the ice.

Arbour won three Stanley Cups as a player, a shot-blocking defenseman despite wearing glasses, which tells you all you need to know about how tough he was. As a coach, Arbour was one of the first to use film and video to break down games and scout the opposition, and he took pride in staying calm, cool and collected on the bench. But his players will tell you that Arbour knew how to lay down the hammer, with what has been described as a "paint-peeling baritone" of a voice.

The numbers alone say it all. His 1,500 games and 740 wins as Islanders coach are NHL records for a coach with one team, and no one else comes close. Four Cups, five straight appearances in the finals and 19 consecutive playoff series victories truly define a dynasty. But another of the joys of this one-game celebration was hearing the stories about the things that set Arbour apart, and perhaps the most famous one concerned the fifth and final game of the 1982 first-round playoff series against Pittsburgh.

Down 3-1 with less than six minutes left and the chance at a third straight championship on the line, the Islanders were about to go on the power play when Arbour changed goalies, taking off Billy Smith and sending out Rollie Melanson. It was classic Arbour, using the Melanson warmup to give his top-ranked power play a bit more rest. Sure enough, Mike McEwen scored to cut the gap to one, and then John Tonelli scored the tying goal in the third period and then game-winner in overtime, keeping the dynasty alive.

And looking up at the '739' banner, and the Torrey banner, and the names SMITH, POTVIN, BOSSY, GILLIES, NYSTROM and TROTTIER hanging in the rafters, you realize, "God, what a great team." From the front office to the bench to the players, that Islanders team was one of the best the league has ever seen, and as a young fan I could not truly appreciate what I was witnessing, despite the incredible amount of joy that team gave me. It's only now, 24 years since that last Stanley Cup championship, that I look back and think how spoiled we all were.

Arbour always gave the credit to Torrey and to his great players, but anyone can tell you without Arbour, it never would have happened the way it did. Fittingly, the Islanders of 2007 came through on Arbour's night and won game No. 1,500, giving him win No. 740, and was interesting to hear Arbour say that he would really enjoy coaching this squad because it plays the game hard. Like his teams did.

It was a comeback victory. Down 2-0 after a lackluster start to the second period, the Islanders got it going when Trent Hunter - who was all over the ice - capitalized on a bad bounce suffered by Sidney Crosby, who was trying to bank the puck behind his own net. It came out to Hunter and he buried it.

Five minutes into the third, Miro Satan finished off a play that began with a long pass by Andy Sutton off the far boards to Josef Vasicek, who drew two defenders before sliding a perfect pass to Satan, whose quick one-timer beat Marc-Andre Fleury. Crosby fired one off the post moments later, but the Isles had the momentum. Even Wade Dubielewicz came up big, getting the win and making seven saves after replacing Rick DiPietro, who was cut by Crosby's stick late in the second.

The game-winner came with 2:41 remaining. Marc-Andre Bergeron - who had been told to get his shots off quicker to the net - one-timed a snap shot from the point, which Fleury got a pad on, but Satan was there to put the rebound home.

All that was left was the banner-raising ceremony, and once again, the Islanders did it up right (if good karma means anything, the Isles have it in bunches after tonight). Besides Arbour's extended family, Islanders alumni were on hand, a roster that included Mike Bossy, Gillies, Gerry Hart, Benoit Hogue (awesome player in Sega '94) Pat LaFontaine, Jean Potvin and Bryan Trottier. Yet with all those stars, the guy who heard his name chanted like the old days - STEVE WEBB!

Just a great night all around. You couldn't have asked for more or for a better outcome, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Al Arbour, we salute you.

An update on DiPietro: According to the Islanders web site, D.P. is day-to-day after suffering "cuts near the right eye" but no damage to the eye itself. You'd think that if it was just a cut near the eye, they'd stitch it up and send him right out there. We'll see if DiPietro is in the net Tuesday night against the Rangers, a game he'd sure hate to miss.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Game recap: Islanders 4, Lightning 0

Tonight is the first night I'm actually sitting in the Blog Box, so on the night of Mike Sillinger's 1,000th career game, I'm changing it up and will provide a running account of the game and what it's like sitting in the Box, which is literally a table just above section 201 that's set so high when you're sitting down that I feel like my five-year-old son sitting at the kitchen table. It's also a lot like a booth at Chili's, which also always seems to have tables at chest height.

Anyway, I chose not to post a bunch of live updates, figuring you're watching the game and not looking at these blogs as the game is going on. If you are and would like live posts from the game, let me know - we aims to please. So with apologies to Bill Simmons, here we go!

6:59 - Standing here in the box, and my colleague B.D. Gallof notes that the crowd looks pretty sparse. He's right - getting into the parking lot at 6:30 p.m. was shockingly easy, and there were no lines at the concession counters a few minutes ago when I bought my "Stallion" combo, which really should be an Italian hero and not roast beef, don't you think? But I'm hungry and not complaining.

Don't count on light attendance Saturday, when Al Arbour will coach the Isles one more time to reach 1,500 games as the head coach. That should be a blast, and we'll see if the Isles wear throwback unis for the game, which would be fitting. So get there early.

Meanwhile, Sillinger is being presented with a jersey with the number 1,000 on the back in honor of his milestone game. It reminds me of the worst jersey I've ever seen, this past season at Shea Stadium. A guy had a Giants jersey that had on the back - from top down: MAYS - 24 - BONDS - 25. Horrible.

By the way, we're apparently allowed to cheer in the Blog Box since we're all fans here (and We're All Islanders, of course). But I can't do it. Too many years in the press box has me conditioned otherwise. That, and I'm trying to eat and type at the same time, standing up, which is a challenge, especially for someone who never learned how to type (the right way, anyway). The Stallion, by the way - not bad. And the cheese steak booth is also right outside this section. Mmmmmmmm, we'll be hitting that later fo shizzle.

Also, a shout out to my pals Frank Pasquale and Tom Loesch, former colleagues of fellow blogger Dee Karl. The hockey world is a small one (and getting smaller if you look at the national TV ratings, but that's another story.) Dee says hi.

7:11 - The guy who sang the national anthem said "perilous night" instead of 'perilous fight." Ouch. Still, he did a much better job than Carl Lewis, and certainly not as bad as Tracy Jordan. (I knew I'd get a 30 Rock reference in somehow. That'll be recording on the DVR within the hour).

7:18 - Jan Hlavac is whistled for the game's first penalty almost four minutes into a so-far lackluster start. Campoli and Bergeron are on the points for the power play. I like that pairing - we'll see how they produce. (This time? Nada.)

7:23 - This is not only my first game in the Box, but the first game in person this season, and you get a better sense of the players when you're here live. You've gotta love the size and skill Ruslan Fedotenko brings to the table. Good start to the season for the Tenk.

7:28 - Great glove save by DiPietro on Hlavac from in close. Love what D.P. brings to the table also.

7:29 - And the Ice Girls, for that matter. Make that the Sports Authority Ice Girls.

7:31 - There is a guy dressed up like a tremendous bottle of Tuscan milk to my right, with Sparky. Not sure why. I wonder if they go clubbing post-game in those costumes. They'd get plenty of free drinks.

7:34 - Another nice stop by DiPietro on Vincent Lecavalier from the door mouth. Eight goals won't be scored tonight.

7:36 - Bill Guerin scores his fifth goal of the season with a hard shot from the top of the right circle, 1-0 Islanders! Guerin beat Marc Denis low to the stick side. I was just about to type that the Isles have had few good chances so far. In fact, that was their only really good chance of the game, with Guerin on a mini-break into the Lightning zone, and he converted. Money player.

7:39 - Turns out that there's a Tuscan milk promotion and everyone in Section 201 got 50 cents off a gallon of milk. Great seats and cheap milk - can't beat that!

7:40 - Another opportunity for the Isles when Miro Satan picks up a loose puck and beats Brad Lukowich at center ice for a break-in. Denis makes the stop and Josef Vasicek just misses putting in the rebound at the right post.

7:42 - Chippiness: Sean Bergenheim boards Lukowich, then the Lightning blueliner flattens Bergenheim with a cross-check. Four-on-four action! (But no goals.)

7:48 - End of one, Isles up 1-0. Win every period - we're a third of the way there.

7:58 - Like I said, we aims to please at Still Drivin.' Here's a helpful between-periods hint. If you're sitting on the side of the arena, basically from gates 6 through 14, the side where the main entrance is - don't wait on those long rest room lines in the concourse. Go out to the entrance area, down the escalator to the convention space, and use the rest rooms down there. Much shorter lines - in fact, tonight there was no wait at all. Much better than waiting on line in the concourse, getting bumped into and mauled like Cheri Oteri between the Butabi brothers, plus the extra walk is good for your health. Maybe everyone knows this already, but I just figured it out. Then again, I have been accused of being a little slow on the uptake.

Also, there was a guy in the men's room who looked like Jon Voight circa 'Mission: Impossible.' Wonder if he drives a Chrysler LeBaron.

8:05 - Start of the second period. The Isles are up one, but they need to step it up here. This is one of those dangerous games where you sleepwalk for half the game, the other team gets a couple of breaks and you end up losing at home to a beatable team. I hope I'm wrong.

8:17 - Andy Hilbert with a great shorthanded chance, stealing the puck and taking it around the net before flipping a pass to Fedotenko in front that didn't click. Great effort, though. Isles kill another one.

8:18 - Seconds after the kill, the Islanders are on the power play when Hlavac is called for tripping. But the advantage yields nothing, again.

8:22 - I have to note that the view from the Blog Box is fantastic, particularly when the Isles are in the offensive zone on this end of the ice. I haven't thanked the Islanders on the blog yet, so let me say how much I'm enjoying the opportunity to do this.

8:24 - Al Arbour's birthday is today! He goes for win number 740 Saturday night. One of the greatest coaches ever, in any sport, hands down. All class.

8:25 - Isles make it 2-0 with some pretty passing down low with 7:34 left. Vasicek from the circle throws it behind the goal line to Richard Park, who finds Satan in the slot. His shot gets past Denis and trickles toward the goal line, and Vasicek sweeps in to tap it in for the score. You can sense a momentum change here - let's see if the Isles can keep it up.

8:31 - Hockey is certainly the best sport to attend live, but being at any sporting event in person brings with it so many additional entertainment opportunities. Like this one: drunk guys hitting on Ice Girls. Never disappoints.

8:35 - Islanders charging: Park skates in alone with 1:35 left - can't get off a shot but sends the puck to Hilbert in front, but he can't tuck it in.

8:36 - No matter - the Isles score anyway when Mike Comrie breaks in on Denis, who makes the save, but Fedotenko puts the rebound in with just 47.3 seconds left in the period. Isles lead, 3-0, and will start the third period on the power play thanks to a penalty on Tampa's Andre Roy. The momentum has DEFINITELY shifted.

8:43 - Best between-periods on-ice event other than mites playing a 2-minute game -- the human puck shoot. Dad pushes junior on a plastic sled, starting at the red line and pushing off at the blue, a la curling. Kid has to slide into the net. It's a good thing my son didn't see this -- he'd be crawling over the glass to be out there.

9:00 - No goals on that power play, still 3-0. Instead, another helpful hint: Cheese steaks and keyboards don't mix. And the cheese steak - nothing to write home about.

9:03 - Another nice stop by D.P. in front, this time stoning Michel Ouellet. He's got star of the game written all over him at this point.

9:04 - Trent Hunter makes it four-zip six minutes into the third, putting a rebound past Denis after a slapper from the point by Andy Sutton, with a second assist to Comrie. Game over, man.

9:08 - Best Doors song ever on the P.A. right now - 'Peace Frog.' Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven...

9:10 - Three-on-one for the Isles but Satan fakes a dozen times before trying to get the puck to Brendan Witt in the slot, too late. Moments later, Witt is jawing with Shane O'Brien. Exchanging pleasantries.

9:13 - Something else that never gets old: highlight reel of big hits set to heavy-metal music. That's hockey. Reminds me of the first film I made in college - an homage to 'Greatest Sports Legends,' where the subject was my brother Joe, the best roller hockey player on Penn Street. The soundtrack was AC/DC and Queen. The professor gave me a 'B,' but one of my classmates - who played in a metal band - said the film took him back to his childhood. I've always played to the fans, and not the critics.

9:14 - Boyle hits the post on a Tampa power play, then Denis ends the advantage with a delay-of-game penalty. Not Tampa's night at all.

9:18 - FYI - the cheese steak is not sitting well. I feel like Ron Burgundy. "Milk was a bad choice."

9:19 - Paul Ranger rings one off the post. I just picked him up on my fantasy hockey team. I'm honestly torn between being disappointed that he didn't score (goals by defensemen count more than goals by forwards) and wanting D.P. to get the shutout. That's fantasy for you.

9:26 - Your final score: Islanders 4, Lightning 0. Stars of the game:

3 - Fedotenko
2 - Sillinger
1- D.P.! D.P.!

9:37 - The gathered media just interviewed Ted Nolan and the bloggers got the chance to interview Vasicek. Towards the end, my cell phone starts to ring. My wife wants me to pick up milk on the way home. Ah, married life.

All in all, a nice win by the Isles, putting the hammer down on a team that is winless on the road, including 0-for-3 in the New York metropolitan area.


Ted Nolan

ON THE RECENT SCHEDULE: It was a real tough week, the last 2 weeks, for us to have one game in 8 days and all of a sudden you have another five-day break. I give the guys a lot of credit. These guys worked hard in practice this week and they stayed focused.

ON DIPIETRO: You know, those superstars have a great way of coming back and having a super performance. The last game was one of those things where, I think it had a lot to do with no action. If there's any one position that's toughest on, it's goaltending.

ON PLAYING TAMPA BAY COMING OFF A LOPSIDED LOSS: I think we're both two teams coming off embarrassing losses and tonight we were just fortunate to come out ahead.

Josef Vasicek

ON THE STRONG SECOND PERIOD: We got a little more into the game. It's really hard to play after not playing, we just sat out for 10 days, really. So it's hard to get your timing and everything back. Ricky played great in the first period, he held us in the game. We got our legs under us in the second period, and got the win.

ON HIS GOAL: It was a big goal for us. Parky made a great play, I was wide open as well, the puck just laid there and I swatted it. It's a game of bounces, but it counts and it was a big goal to make it 2-0.

ON THE LAYOFF: It's tough, you just practice over and over, it's just hard to stay focused. But it's over now and we've got a lot of games coming up. It's something to look forward to.

ON PLAYING FOR AL ARBOUR SATURDAY: It's going to be a great game, and it's sold out already so that's great. We're going to have a lot of people supporting us, and it's a much better feeling playing in front of a sellout.

ON DEFENDING AGAINST CROSBY: He's a tremendous player ... We try to focus on our team and play our style game and when he's on the ice, he can make the plays so you've got to be more wary when he's on the ice and he has the puck.