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.

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