Monday, January 28, 2008

D.P. rocks All-Star weekend, mic

Did Rick DiPietro also drive the zamboni between periods Sunday night? Because he did just about everything else over All-Star weekend in Atlanta.

DiPietro provided in-game television commentary for both Sunday's All-Star game and Saturday's skills competition, did not allow a goal Saturday while scoring two of his own, and allowed only one goal as the Eastern Conference starter to help stake the East to a 5-1 win en route to an 8-7 victor over the West.

D.P. stopped all but one of the West's 16 shots on goal in the first period, and that one should have an asterisk on it. Rick Nash scored the first of his three goals just 12 seconds into the game, while DiPietro was talking to play-by-play man Mike Emrick. Otherwise, DiPietro was perfect. Read all about DiPietro's wild weekend here.

While starting in the All-Star game and participating in the skills competition are deserving honors, they don't count toward anything, so you're always wary of someone getting hurt in these exhibitions. Sure enough, DiPietro suffered an apparent hip injury stopping Marian Gaborik on Saturday, but he said afterward that he would plan Sunday, and he did. Whew!

Newsday's Greg Logan calls Richard Park the Isles' 'unsung hero,' and I've felt all season that other than DiPietro, Park is this team's MVP. He's responded in every role Ted Nolan has put him in (now playing with Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin) and is one of the team's most clutch players.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Game recap: Islanders 6, Hurricanes 3

So let me get this straight: The Islanders actually have the advantage when they're shorthanded, and they win more often when they're outshot. Make sense? Not really, but a win is a win.

Tuesday night's 6-3 win over the Hurricanes was the Isles' fourth straight road win (which dovetails fittingly with the team's four-game home losing streak) and got the two points back that they gave away the night before. Unfortunately, any good feelings generated by the win were tempered mightily by the news that Chris Campoli needs shoulder surgery and will be lost for the season.

It's a huge blow to the defense as Campoli has been a real asset so far this season, despite the occasional youthful mistake. The loss of Campoli means Freddy Meyer will continue to get a regular turn, and his solid play has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension.

Back to the game, and what more can you say about a penalty kill that scores three times? How messed up is this -- the first four goals of the game were scored with Carolina on the power play, and three of the goals were for the Islanders. Think Peter Laviolette had a few choice words for his club after the game?

Mike Sillinger had two of the shorties while Richard Park had the third on a beautiful breakaway triggered by Martinek flipping the puck high off the glass and out of the Islanders' zone. Park picked the puck up at center ice and did the rest.

Up 4-1, the Islanders let the Canes back into it; Matt Cullen somehow found some space between the left post and Wade Dubielewicz's pads to make it 4-3. But Dubie stood tall against a withering Hurricane attack in the third and finished with 44 saves. Brendan Witt scored the clincher off a nice drop pass by Blake Comeau, whose empty netter polished off the win.

The Isles visit Beantown Thursday night and get four days off for the All-Star Break (everyone but D.P., that is) before hosting the Senators on Jan. 29.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stick giveaway was a joke

One word about the stick giveaway: Travesty.

I understand you have to give sticks away after the game. I understand you have to do so outside because the Coliseum concourse is horrendously narrow. I also know there was a sellout. I get that.

But why were there so few places to get them? My son and I left the arena less then 10 minutes after the winning goal was scored. No signs or anything directing people as to where they could get their sticks. We had to look for the crowd. We found one, but within a minute or so the group dispersed because they - surprise! - ran out of sticks.

So we all went to the main entrance to find a truck parked with its gate open and a horde of people crowded around it, clamoring for sticks. No lines. No organization whatsoever. As my son and I approached the throng, a man and woman emerged from the mass of humanity, stickless. The woman looked at my son -- freezing, by the way -- and said, "Don't bring him in there. He'll be crushed."

I looked around for another way to get close to the truck but there was none. So we started to walk around the arena, looking for another source of the sticks. We walked about 100 yards when my son said he just wanted to go home. "I already have a stick, daddy." He wanted to give this one to his mom so she could play in the driveway with us.

On the way back to the car, an Islanders representative was handing out his business card, telling people to call customer service and "that everyone would get a stick." Here is a statement by the Islanders, promising sticks for everyone who contacts them, explaining that they just ran out.

OK, so you ordered too few sticks - it happens. But the manner in which the giveaway was handled was frankly embarrassing. Why not have 10 locations around the arena with smaller numbers of sticks so fans can find them quickly and easily and get them in a more orderly fashion -- and get out of the cold?

Or how about enforcing the one stick for each kid 14 and under rule? I saw a dozen adults and children with multiple sticks, including one woman with five sticks and no kids with her at all. I saw dozens more kids who were way older than 14 (unless the Mitchell Report is correct and there really is an HGH problem in our schools), with one or sometimes two sticks. And you wonder why you ran out? The whole thing was a joke.

And while the Islanders managed the giveaway poorly, I'm more upset with the adults who took advantage of the situation, grabbing multiple sticks (you know who you are). Looking at them rushing up to the truck, you would think they were starving villagers getting bags of rice from UNICEF. These were $10 Mylec sticks. If you could drop a couple hunge to see an NHL game, you can afford a street hockey stick. I hope you can sleep at night.

Anyway, I've sent my email to get my free stick. As, I'm sure, have many others who grabbed a few sticks already and are looking for more, knowing there's no way for the Islanders to know who got what. I guess that's just human nature. And that's sad.

Game recap: Hurricanes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)

Another day, another blown two-goal lead, this one coming apart with the Isles ahead by 2 with less than 17 minutes left in regulation.

I took my five-year-old son to the game, and he was getting antsy down the stretch, for reasons much different than mine. He wanted to get his free hockey stick (more on that in a later post) and go home. I just wanted to see the Islanders win.

OK, so there's not much you can do when a shot from the point ricochets a couple of times before finding the twine, which is what happened on Carolina's first goal. But then a shot from the point finds the five-hole (Was DiPietro screened? Tough to tell from Section 325) and suddenly the game is tied.

Just as I was explaining the concept of overtime to my son, Carolina scored. "That's a horrible loss," said my friend Jimmy Mac, seated in front of us with his wife and two young daughters. I'm sure he -- and plenty of other parents of young ones at the game -- wanted to vent a little more loudly and profanely at the turn of events, but we held our collective tongues in order to be good role models.

All this despite the return of Radek Martinek and Brendan Witt to the back line, and for two-plus periods -- particularly the second period -- all looked fine. Hilbert and Satan gave the Isles a two-goal cushion and the game seemed somewhat in hand. Another lesson for the young ones -- never let down.

Meanwhile, there was plenty to complain about regarding the officiating. Few penalties called all game, and then Martinek gets called for boarding (borderline in my eyes, but OK) -- but you're telling me Fedotenko WASN'T hammered by a cross check in front of the Carolina net in the final minutes? Where was that call? And then Sutton is called for a cross check in overtime? Horrible. Of course, the Hurricanes score to win. No home calls here, I guess.

So that's three in-conference points the Islanders have let slip through their fingers the last few days, with game two of the home-and-home at Carolina on Tuesday night.


Sweet sassy molassy, did you see the final score of the Lighthouse Cup? Suffolk County romped to an 11-0 victory over the Nassau County stars, scoring eight goals in the second period to put the game away early. Read all about it here. Congrats, Suffolk!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Looking for the rebound on MLK Day

Full house, divisional opponent, up 3-1 after one period. You cannot lose that game. But that's what happened to the Islanders against the Flyers on Saturday.

Yes, the Isles are without three starting defensemen, and a likely result is some inconsistent play. Nothing against Freddy Meyer, Aaron Johnson and Andy Sutton, but any team that loses half of its regular blueliners is going to struggle.

Besides the fact that the loss came to the Flyers (who are to the Islanders what the Islanders are to the Devils, with three wins in three games), the loss was more frustrating because the Isles looked amazing in the first period after falling behind, 1-0.

The three goals were textbook. Berard's touchdown pass to Richard Park was perfect. Satan and Vasicek executed the 2-on-1 with precision. Then Guerin absolutely roofed a rebound of a Gervais shot on the power play, giving Biron no shot at a save.

But it was all downhill from there, and now the Isles will look to get one back against the Hurricanes in a rare afternoon game. Expect another big crowd and plenty of kids -- I'll be there with my son (looking forward to the free stick) in Section 325.

And stick around for the Lighthouse Cup at 5 p.m., the Suffolk high school all-stars taking on the best from Nassau County. Hockey all day -- what could be better?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Game recap: Islanders 3, Devils 1

What more can you say about Rick DiPietro? The guy was outstanding tonight as the Islanders bounced back big-time from their lackluster performance against the Canadiens, beating the Devils at the Rock, 3-1. The Isles are now 5-0 against the first-place Devils, four wins supplied by D.P.

DiPietro made 37 saves and stood on his head in the third period, stopping 15 of 16 shots as the Devils threw everything but Chico Resch's hairpiece at him in a desperate effort to tie the score. DiPietro has allowed just five goals in his four games against New Jersey this season.

DiPietro made a terrific glove save against Zubrus but also stopped Gionta, Langenbrunner and Zajac down the stretch. Zajac scored the Devils' only goal to cut the Islanders' lead to 2-1 on a deflection of a shot by Gionta.

Bill Guerin gave the Isles a 1-0 lead on a two-man advantage in the first period, set up Satan and Comrie. Mike Sillinger made it 2-0 in the second, taking a feed from Trent Hunter and beating Martin Brodeur. Guerin's empty netter secured the win.

The Devils are now winless in 9 games against the Isles and Rangers, and the Islanders have beaten the Devils six straight. Some bad news - Chris Campoli left the game with a shoulder injury and missed the final 2 periods. He joins Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek on the list of injured blueliners.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

LIVEBLOG: Canadiens 3, Islanders 1

Finally, another liveblog from the Coliseum as the Isles take on the Canadiens, fresh off a successful road trip and a big win over the Senators.

It's pregame and you know what that means... SHOUT OUTS! A big howdy to my friends and Squids softball teammates Tom and Marty Stock in Section 218 (Mike Downey couldn't make it - home sick; get well, buddy). We Squids didn't have a great season but we had a hell of a lot of fun. Now THAT would have been an interesting blog.

I'd like to tell you more about the matchup but frankly, I'm freezing. Hands are like ice. And I'm the only one in the blog box right now, and it feels a little weird.

First of five games in 8 days for the Isles, all against contending teams. So it's an important stretch as the team heads into the All-Star break.

Is it too much to ask to respect the nationals anthems while they are being sung and refrain from being loud an obnoxious? I didn't even post during the anthems. Just putting it out there.

Dee Karl is here - it's just the two of us, so far.

Brendan Witt still out with the ankle injury, still listed as day-to-day. We'll miss the 14 blocked shots he usually racks up. Freddy Meyer's been playing well, though, and on cue, a nice steal at the Isles blue line. Then Satan with a chance blockered by Huet.

Campoli whistled for a questionable foul at the 12:45 mark. Tripping? Welcome to the NHL. Montreal with a shot in close - wide left, then Park carries in on a shorthanded break, fires wide. Good penalty kill.

1-0 Montreal. Tomas Plekanec with a blistering shot from the top of the circle, just under the crossbar, pouncing on the loose puck for the unassisted tally. Good chance converted by the Canadiens, who are in fifth place in the East entering tonight's game.

Witt, by the way, sixth in the NHL in blocked shots with 109, 18th with 103 hits. Thank you, Islanders media guide!

Nice play by DiPietro keeping his pads at the post as Koivu tries to stuff it short side. Another good opportunity for Montreal, which has had the advantage thus far. Another chance by Higgins turned aside by DP.

A bad play by the Isles - miscommunication allows Michael Ryder to grab the puck behind the net and set up a shot from the slot. Meanwhile, the Isles have ONE SHOT ON GOAL with a minute left in the first. Yikes. Montreal outshoots them 9-1, up 1-0 after one.

Feels like a hangover after the impressive road trip. We'll see if Ted wakes the team up in the dressing room. The crowd could use a wake-up call, too.

Just walked the entire concourse looking for the nacho stand - nada. Also no sushi bar if that's how you roll. THAT'S what we're missing - nachos and sushi and the Isles would be winning this game.

Also saw a few Canadiens fans wearing their Montreal sweaters - but almost none of them had a number on them. C'mon, people, you're Canadiens fans - plenty of history - can SOMEONE rock a NILAN 30 or a ROBINSON 19 or a DRYDEN 29? Finally, I saw a girl with a LAFLEUR 10. You come to cheer on your team in someone else's house, you gotta represent.

Meanwhile, Isles on the power play but it's the Canadiens who score, 2-0 Montreal. Plekanec again, with an assist from Alex Kovalev on a breakaway after a big save by Huet. Isles seem a step behind on the ice and the crowd is getting quieter by the second. This is where LOUDVILLE needs to step it up - try and bring the crowd back into it and spark the team -- not yell nonsense during the anthems.

Isles starting to pick it up -- Satan leading a 2-on-1, looks to pass then fires a shot off the post, moments later Vasicek wrists one wide left. Later, Hilbert in front to Jackman, stopped. Then Comrie on a break, cuts right to left but Huet slides across to make the save.

Campoli with a nice breakup of a potential 2-on-1 -- a goal there would have been a back-breaker.

Sillinger and Fedotenko with a chance on the doorstep, nothing doing. Ten shots on goal, Isles down 2-0 after two. Three goals in the third period? It COULD happen.

Three minutes in and Comeau makes a nice feed to Jackman, who can't pull the trigger. Isles need a quick goal here to turn things around.

Instead, Comrie gets 2 for cross-checking - dumb play. Then Campoli gets his stick slashed out of his hands - no call. Isles kill it, though.

Park gets one back, putting in a rebound off a shot from the right boards by Guerin with 9:04 remaining in the third - Montreal up 2-1. FINALLY, someone is in front of the net, and sure enough, the Islanders score. THAT's how you get it done. And now the crowd gets back into it.

Hunter nice pass to the point for Bergeron, deflects high. Less than four minutes left - crunch time now.

Final minute, Isles with a scramble in front, then the puck back out to Campoli - he doesn't shoot - tries to pass to the left boards and it's picked off - Montreal scores with the empty net. Game over, big disappointment. Off to the post mortem.


On the slow start: That's what they kept telling us all day, but we tried to do our best to compensate with short shifts.

We didn't play as bad as I thought we would, but we just couldn't get back into it.

On the shorthanded goal: Just one of those things ... a nag-up play where the defense pinched in too prematurely. It was a good play [by Montreal] and a good goal.

If we win two or three and then lose one, I'll be happy with that.

Coming off two hard-fought games, we didn't have our legs early but we rebounded well in teh second and third periods.

To win hockey games, you have to play 60 minutes and we played 40.

Links of the week

If you're like me and you miss old-time hockey, enjoy this video of a long, drawn-out brawl between Russian hockey teams Aq Bars Kazan and Traktor Chelyabinsk. And you thought Islanders-Rangers was heated.

Kudos to the poster for laying down the cool jazz background. Also props to the Russian sports network that broadcasted this game for providing slow-motion replays of the best parts of the fight as it drags on. It's six minutes long. It starts after a goal, spills into the corner, then gets re-energized at center ice. Love the guy at the end raising his arms to the crowd.

Foilin' up, coach!

While we're at it, watch these guys throw down. Ouch.

Makes you pine for the days of Joey Kocur, Chris Nilan, Jay "The Killer" Miller, and of course, Clark Gillies. Wonder what Ed Hospodar is up to these days?

And for more laughs, check this out - courtesy of my man Mike D, aka Crazy Joe Davola. Is it real or fake? Who cares? I like how her 'brush with sports greatness' involved former Bengals kicker Jim Breech and a Red Lobster, and how she refuses to get into what happened when she moderated a Celine Dion message board. Some things you just don't talk about.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Game recap: Islanders 3, Senators 1

Tre-MEND-dous end to the road trip, beating the Senators on the road for the first time in more than five years.

And a successful trip it was. Six points in those five road games, and in the last 12 games, beginning with a road win in Pittsburgh on Dec. 21, the Islanders have managed at least a point in 10 of them, with seven victories. Take a look at the standings and the Islanders are only six points behind the first-place Devils and Penguins, with a game in hand on the Pens.

Look closer at the standings and while the Isles' 122 goals allowed isn't horrible, the 108 goals for is pathetic. Worst in the league. This looks like a playoff-caliber team when you consider the effort and the overall play under Ted Nolan, but it's going nowhere if it can't figure out how to score more often and more consistently.

Two goals by Marc-Andre Bergeron, and you think back a couple of weeks when he was a healthy scratch and you wondered what his future held. Now we're seeing how productive he can be, and when a team works as hard as it does for goals as this team does, getting production from the blue line is critical.

Another great game for DiPietro, making 31 saves against one of the top-scoring teams in the league.

Up next, les Canadiens in what should be a warm welcome home at the Coliseum.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Game recap: Isles win a shootout; D.P. an All-Star after all

I generally don't like being wrong, but in this case, I don't mind.

I mentioned in my previous post that Rick DiPietro might not be selected as an All-Star, but that anyone who watched this team knew how valuable he was. Well, I guess his worth was recognized as he was selected to his first All-Star game. He and Tomas Vokoun of the Panthers will back up starting goalie Martin Brodeur.

D.P.'s value was again on display Friday night as the Isles beat the Flames, 5-4, in a shootout. DiPietro made 38 saves, including two in the shootout, and while the four goals allowed isn't terrific, this was just one of those games.

It was the Islanders' first victory of this five-game road trip, which ends tomorrow night against the Senators. Mike Sillinger scored twice in the first period - the second goal coming off a sweet feed from Ruslan Fedotenko - and Trent Hunter scored on a deflection as the Isles led 3-1 after one. Calgary - red-hot with five straight wins coming into the game - rallied to take a 4-3 lead before Tenk deflected a Bergeron shot past a shaky Kiprusoff.

I loved the difference between the first two Islanders goals in the shootout. Sillinger took it straight to Kiprusoff, beating him stick side. Then Richard Park took his time getting there, before a triple deke beat Kiprusoff with a backhander. Nice change of pace. And it's clear Ted Nolan trusts Park to do pretty much anything.

By the way, it's interesting how there's not so much hoo-hah any more about long-term deals in the NHL. There was much hand-wringing and shouting about DiPietro's deal, but now it seems like a trend after the decade-plus-long contracts signed by Brad Richards and now, Alex Ovetchkin.

Read Minnesota Wild GM Doug Riserbough's comments in John Buccigross' column and you'll see that GMs are reacting to the cap in interesting ways. Maybe Charles Wang is a genius after all.

Also, ESPN's Terry Frei takes a shot at Garth Snow. What he wanted Gary Bettman to do to Snow for his comments about the Kyle Okposo's coach at Minnesota is unclear. Fifty lashes with a wet noodle? Do his laundry for a year like Dwight Schrute?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

DiPietro stars, Lighthouse Cup update

Rick DiPieto may not make the Eastern Conference All-Star team but his value to this club was never more evident than Tuesday night's shootout loss to Vancouver. DiPietro, as he did in the OT loss against the Avalanche, was the main reason the Isles were able to salvage a point, and on this tough Western swing, those points are big.

Forty-three saves against the Canucks, including 18 in the first period alone as Vancouver looked to run the Isles out of the building the way the Oilers jumped on them in the second period a night earlier. So credit D.P for keeping his team in the game and giving it a chance to come back, and also for battling in the six-round shootout.

Great goal by Bill Guerin, not only from the low angle but just making the play happen while the Canucks let up, thinking the play was off-sides. No whistle was blown, however, and the Isles caught a break again when Luongo mishandled a puck that Blake Comeau knocked home.

I received a comment on my post about the Lighthouse Cup, which is happening Monday, Jan. 21 at 5 p.m., after the game against the Hurricanes. The high-school All-Star game matches Suffolk against Nassau.

The anonymous poster claimed that the Suffolk team was being broken up because 22 of the 25 players on the roster had a conflict between their travel hockey games and an exhibition game Saturday Jan. 12 upstate against the Hudson Valley All-Stars. The poster said that the players were told that they would be off the team if they didn't play in the exhibition game.

An extremely reliable source tells me that, after 'an enormous amount of complaints,' a compromise was reached. Suffolk will play Hudson Valley in the first game of the home-and-home all-star games Friday Jan. 11 at 8:20 p.m. at the Rinx. A second all-star team will play the game at Hudson Valley Saturday, allowing players on the original all-star team to play in their travel games. The original team will also play against Nassau on Jan. 21.

So if you want a sneak preview of the Suffolk team that will take the ice in the Lighthouse Cup, and if you want to see two outstanding young teams, be at the Rinx tomorrow night at 8:20 p.m., and we'll see you at the Lighthouse Cup as well.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Catching up on west coast time

People are wondering where the posts have been lately, and while I'd love to say I was scouting in Saskatoon or covering the World Juniors in the Czech Republic, the truth is I'm still recovering from the holidays -- so some quick thoughts before the Isles take on Edmonton tonight.

Great to see that common sense prevailed in "PadGate." It was clear from the outset that DiPietro and the Islanders weren't trying to gain any advantage or pull a fast one on anybody. The snow-white pads all but screamed "ATTENTION: THIS IS NEW EQUIPMENT" and when asked, D.P, simply switched to the old pads. Problem solved, crisis averted, angry blog posts avoided.

Two OT losses in a row were very different. The Isles probably should have won the game outright against the Panthers with a strong effort but could have easily lost the game against Colorado Saturday. So you split the difference, get two points anyway and move on.

Horton's first goal for Florida was one D.P. should have had (maybe if he'd had those new pads on, he would have) and then Booth's goal came after multiple deflections, so that was fluky. DiPietro flat-out saved the Isles against the Avalanche, making 38 saves. The only Colorado goal in regulation was - maddeningly - another deflection that of course came with 31 seconds left in the second.

Bergeron's play has been a welcome sight, and production from the defense may have been just what the doctor ordered to cure the scoring drought. Blake Comeau has also looked good, as has Mike Comrie. By the way, Cosmo cover girl Hillary Duff has a "secret reason" why she's so happy. Could it be number 89? Head to your local checkout counter and find out!

I'm also seriously considering a trip to Bridgeport to see Kyle Okposo make his debut for the Sound Tigers, and you know something - we all should. He had a solid tournament at the World Juniors and by all accounts could be a mainstay on the right wing. Why not get a sneak preview?

One last thing - I have to agree with Chris Botta in his Point Blank blog about the 'HEY!' chant after goals. I'm sure it's because I'm a father of a young Islanders fan who discourages the use of words like SUCK, but New Yorkers and Long Islanders in general get a bad rap, and I know there is a perception of Islanders fans as being somewhat crass, even though the majority of us have class.

The chant appeals to the lowest common denominator, and while it may get the building fired up, there are other ways to do that. And while I love it when the barn gets loud, can we get a little more creative?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Game recap: Islanders 4, Hurricanes 1

What a way to ring out the old.

The power play was the one thing that still hadn't looked good in the Isles' recent resurgence, but that changed in a big way Monday night as the Islanders scored on three straight man-up opportunities to beat the Hurricanes on the road, 4-1, for their fifth win in six games to close out 2007.

There's plenty to look forward to in the new year. Rick DiPietro should be returning to the lineup shortly, the goal-scoring drought seems to be becoming a memory, the team is getting nice offensive production from the d-line, and young players like Blake Comeau and Freddy Meyer are playing well with the prospect of Kyle Okposo joining the team in the second half of the season.

And while the Isles may be fifth in their own division, they're right in the thick of the playoff battle, just three points from the fourth seed in the conference standings.

Monday's win saw three goals in less than four minutes in the second period to give the Isles a 3-0 lead. Marc-Andre Bergeron and Bill Guerin scored on the power play, followed by a gate-crashing goal by Ruslan Fedotenko. Bergeron scored again on the power play late in the period, his third goal in two games.

Wade Dubielewicz made 28 saves in another solid start in relief of DiPietro. The Isles host the Panthers Thursday night before hitting the road for five straight, the first four against western conference foes.