Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can it get any worse?

If there was ever a team that needed to avoid the injury bug, it was the Islanders.

With a new coach, a new system and young players being plugged into the lineup, having the team stay healthy is all the fans really could have asked for. Expectations were low, but if the team was healthy we could have had a better idea of what the Islanders have to work with and see if they could begin building something.

Alas, life is not fair. The Isles have been hammered by injuries all season, the latest casualties being Andy Sutton (broken foot) and leading scorer Doug Weight (groin). Trent Hunter is back, but Mike Sillinger is still out, as is Rick DiPietro, who is being given plenty of time to come back from his knee surgery.

After all , what's the rush?

The Islanders saw a rally go for naught in a 4-2 loss to the awful Thrashers Tuesday night, and head into the Christmas break on a 10-game winless streak. Ten games! I feel privileged to have been there in person to see the only point gained in that stretch, the overtime loss to the Caps.

So that's a winless December for the Islanders, who are the only team in the area playing worse than the Jets, the other team I root for. Have I mentioned I'm a Mets fan, too? Bad times, people. Bad times.

We'd like to imagine what the Islanders' record would be had players like Martinek and Gervais and Comrie and Nielsen and Okposo not missed so much time, or if DiPietro had been able to start the season and stay here. But injuries are part of the game and no one has any sympathy.

Would the Isles be in first place? No. In contention for the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not. But we'd have a better read on Gordon and his system and whether it can work in the NHL or not.

We know it's an offense-first system that puts pressure on the defense, and Brendan Witt was right when pointed out the obvious. Gordon needs to figure out what works and what doesn't, and it would be a lot easier had he had a full deck to deal with. But he doesn't, and this team was talent-challenged to begin with.

Here's hoping the new year brings with it better health and at least gives this team the chance to play together for a while and make some progress.

Is that too much to ask for, Santa?

Monday, December 15, 2008

LIVEBLOG: Caps at Islanders

We're doing something a little different and a little more fun in the Blog Box -- hey, we gotta jazz things up somehow -- with a multi-blogger live blog from the Coliseum.

Check it out and chime in: (Sorry about the window size - we're working on it!)

OK, so Dee ended the live blog (by accident) early just as things got interesting - so it's 4-3 Caps, 6 1/2 minutes left, 4 on 4.

So we'll do it the old-fashioned way.

Park breaks in, tries to deke - nothing. But then Weight gets pulled down and the Isles are on the PP with 4:19 left, trailing by one.

Isles working the zone - PP runs out ... but then STREIT with the wrister from the point and it's a TIE GAME! Streit shoots it between the legs of a defender with Sim in front, and Sim deflects it into the net. Giggedy Giggedy indeed!

Last two minutes ... Nice work by Bergy keeping it in - blast by Guerin stopped by Johnson with 1:01. A frenzy!

Hilbert with a blocked shot and we're going to OVERtime!

BTW, I'm the only blogger in the Box still online. And I'll stay here til the very end, be it sweet or bitter. That's how I roll.

Pretty even so far in the OT but the Isles need to make sure someone is on Ovetchkin like a blazer.

Great shot by Hunter, snared by Johnson with 1:10 left.

OHHHHH - Alex off the POST! Walks in -- WHAT??

And 10.7 seconds left, Isles don't clear - Alex O buries it in the top left corner. Isles LOSE.

Oh, the pain. JUST CLEAR THE PUCK!!!!!!

No more words.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Islanders, like the economy and Avery's career, are sinking fast

So I was at a Christmas party Saturday night when a friend of mine asked if I was still blogging about the Islanders.


"Really?" another friend said. "Not a lot of positives there."

"Uh... No."

The party coincided with the Isles' 3-1 loss to the force of nature that is the Columbus Blue Jackets, so I was spared having to witness the team's sixth straight loss and eighth in their past nine. Good to see Richard Park score another shorthanded goal, his fifth tally of the season. And I guess Joey MacDonald played better than he did in the landslide in Pittsburgh.

But, again, not a lot of positives to speak of.

The Dallas Stars, meanwhile, said they are moving on without Sean Avery.

What a shock.

Where Avery will end up is anyone's guess. His own teammates and coaches, as well as opponents, despise him. The only ones who like him are the fans who like seeing him stir the pot, but they don't have to put up with him on the bench, in the locker room, in practice, on the team bus, or (God forbid) on a plane flight.

He is currently in an "undisclosed location" undergoing treatment for his anger issues.

One wonders if he is getting the Alex DeLarge treatment for his problems.

Avery could go back to the minors, then if he clears waivers and someone claims him, the Stars would split his salary with that new team.

Here's hoping he just quits the game and pursues his true passion -- fashion. I hear Christian Siriano is looking for an intern, and it's rumored he has an Avery poster on his bedroom wall.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Changing the channel was never so easy

My kids dominate the television in our house. If it isn't Noggin or PBS Kids, the TV is tuned to Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon or Toon Disney, or a Scooby-Doo DVD. I've got the theme for "Arthur" burned into my hippocampus.

Thursday night my son couldn't decide what video to watch before bedtime, so I said, "Great, we can watch the Islanders," and we turned on the game in time to see the Penguins go up, 2-0. Moments later, we saw Mark Streit score on the power play and I felt a surge of optimism, and wondered if I shouldn't start recording the game on the DVR so I could watch the whole thing after the kids went to bed.

Maybe not. Two Pittsburgh goals later, we switched to "Sid the Science Kid" (not to be confused with Sid the Kid), and by the time the kids were asleep, the score was 7-1. Guess I didn't miss much.

Joey MacDonald allowed two soft goals before being pulled, but when you lose, 9-2, you can't put it all on the goalies. Blowouts like this are on everyone, coaches included, and the Isles' malaise continues. Are they really this bad?

I have a hard time saying 'no.'

But there was some good news. Rick DiPietro is almost ready to return to the ice, and is awaiting medical clearance. He says he hopes to be back before Christmas.

Will that give us some Happy Holidays? We can only hope.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reality bites

It's a good thing the holidays are upon us, because between decorating the house and going to parties and shopping and managing long lists for Santa, there's little time to spend fretting over the state of the Islanders.

Four losses in a row -- with a game Thursday night in Pittsburgh looming -- is bad enough, but the Isles have been mediocre to putrid for almost three weeks now, losing seven of their last 10.

Look closer and you notice that one of those wins was aided by an own goal, and another, the home victory over the Senators, did not feature the team's best effort and could have been a loss if not for the superhuman effort of Freddy Meyer.

So is the stark reality finally settling in? Are we in for a long winter's nap?

Tuesday's loss at Philly wasn't all bad. Andy Hilbert continues to play well, picking up his seventh goal of the season, this one on the power play. And Doug Weight moved closer to 1,000 points with his sixth goal of the year.

Leads, however, are as fragile for the Islanders as a daisy dipped in liquid nitrogen. Philly scored the next three goals to move ahead, but Blake Comeau scored early in the third -- his first of the season -- to make a game of it. That is, until Simon Gagne put the Flyers ahead for good six minutes later.

There's still reason to believe. Sillinger is back, DiPietro is at least skating again, and Okposo will return soon enough. The addition of Comeau is a welcome one, and hopefully he will find the mojo that he enjoyed for a time last season, while Jeff Tambellini goes through a "conditioning" stint in Bridgeport, where it looks like he belongs.

As far Sean Avery's six-game suspension, I am amazed at some of the reactions from the media. Anyone who thinks that Avery got six games solely for his comments in Calgary isn't paying attention.

This was a warning shot across the bow for years of negative behavior. Mike Emrick delivered an audio commentary on the Avery escapade before the suspension was handed down, and in it he pointed out that, behind the scenes, people who have worked with Avery in the past say it again and again: he never learns. He has been talked to, lectured, yelled at -- nothing gets through to him. Emrick also refers to one unnamed front office person who said that there are many incidents with Avery that will never come to light. Scary, considering all that we do know.

But what gets me are the people who think the penalty was too harsh. I saw one female analyst on SNY comment that what Avery said was no different than what guys say to each other all the time. Which is true. But a guy who says that to a buddy in the bar isn't doing so as someone getting paid millions to represent his team and his league, and he certainly isn't saying it to international television.

It's apples and oranges, or to put it in a context that Avery can understand, it's like comparing haute couture to pret-a-porter.

And then there are the media types who say the NHL is crazy to discipline a player who is actually interesting and brings attention to the sport. I could care less about the mainstream media. If they don't get hockey, fine -- the NHL should focus on its core fan base anyway. We don't need that kind of attention.

Maybe the suspension will get Avery's attention, but I don't think anyone in the NHL believes it will. It allows the league to say, "Hey, we tried," for when Avery does something stupid again and they finally kick him out of the league.

And despite what may be said by the clueless media people who wouldn't know a hockey puck from a crab cake, it would be good riddance.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stay classy, Sean Avery

In Michael Connelly's novel, THE POET, a journalist helps the FBI track down a serial killer. At one point the question is asked -- how can someone be so evil? The agents say that killers like the one dubbed "The Poet" are "from the moon," because there is just no other way to explain their behavior. They are just not from this world.

Now, trying to explain why Sean Avery does and says what he does and says is a lot like trying to figure out what makes a man like Charles Manson or Ted Bundy tick. But I'll give it a shot.

By now, you've heard what Avery had to say to Canadian television before the Stars' game Tuesday against the Flames. It was calculated, deliberate, offensive and shocking. That Gary Bettman suspended him indefinitely surprised almost no one, despite the fact that this may have been the first time in league history -- or in any league's history -- that a player was suspended for an off-the-field comment.

So other than the fact that it was Avery being Avery, why would he say such a thing? I have a theory that's a little wacky, but then again, so is Avery so there's a good chance I'm right.

You know the term "suicide by cop?" It's where someone commits a crime to put himself in a position to be shot by police and, hopefully, killed.

Well, I think Sean Avery is a very troubled and conflicted individual. And saying what he said prior to the game against the Flames was an attempt at "suicide by Phaneuf." Because if Avery had played, he would have ended up a smear on the boards or a spot on the ice after Phaneuf got through with him.

Maybe Avery was simply trying to get in Phaneuf's head and get him off his game, or get him to retaliate and get tossed, which would theoretically help the Stars' cause. But there could be more going on here. Read Scott Burnside's take on the situation, which references an ugly incident with a fan in Boston. He notes that there are those who think Avery needs professional help. Add me to the list.

Sean Avery, Darcy Tucker, Dale Hunter -- all players who are nasty but have often been called players you hate, but you'd love to have on your team. You can have them.

Ask the Stars if they still want Avery.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Islanders' cure: Play the Senators

"You can't beat us!"

The chant cascading down from Section 317 Saturday night at the Coliseum was ironic but true. The Islanders were on their way to their third straight victory over the Ottawa Senators this season, a win that snapped a two-game losing streak that had knocked the Isles off their five-wins-in-six roll.

Yes, the Senators, a team that has positively owned the Islanders in recent years, have now become the Islanders' whipping boys.

The Sens are having a bad season, just a point ahead of the awful Thrashers for least in the NHL as of Tuesday night. The Islanders aren't that far ahead point-wise, but considering the talent differential between the clubs, the Senators' standing is surprising.

I was at the game, sitting in Section 218 thanks to my friends Tom and Mike, who invited me to enjoy a game from a vantage point even better than the one I enjoy in the Blog Box (thanks, guys). Midway through the Islanders' awful second period, I commented that the Isles have a bunch of good, complementary players -- just with no one to complement.

The Senators, meanwhile, have a top line of Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, and they worked their magic a couple of times in a losing effort.

That's not to say that Josh Bailey -- thankfully here for the rest of the season -- and Kyle Okposo won't become top-line players and NHL stars someday. They just aren't there yet. And nothing against Bill Guerin and Doug Weight, but their best days are behind them.

There are plenty of likable players on this team, and players who give it 100 percent every night. But the skill level on offense is a couple of notches below most other clubs. Let's put it this way: the Isles' second PP line Saturday was Jon Sim, Richard Park and Andy Hilbert. Solid players, but they probably don't strike fear in too many goalies.

And yet, the Isles have won five of their last eight games, and with Bailey up for the season and Mike Sillinger back in the fold with Okposo hopefully getting back in the next few weeks, there is reason to believe that the Isles can compete on a nightly basis. Joey MacDonald is another reason to believe, and he was just named the league's third star for the month of November. Nice work, Joey.

While we wait for Thursday's game against the Capitals, why not delve into the Blog Box? Also, feel free to vote for your favorite Islanders blog at Yes!Islanders.

And check out Dee Karl's interview with Gary Bettman. Some gals have all the luck.