Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No DiPIetro, no win against the Rangers

The power of positive thinking can only take you so far.

Up until Monday night's game against the Rangers I'd been trying to convince myself that the Islanders season won't be as bad as everyone thinks it will be. A playoff appearance may not be likely, but I thought that maybe these young players will come together in Scott Gordon's new system, and maybe some of the veterans will feed off the mojo, and we'll all be pleasantly surprised.

But, like Carl Spackler in Caddyshack telling the bishop in the midst of a torrential rainstorm, "I don't think the heavy stuff is coming down for a while," I think I've been deluding myself. Because all signs are pointing to a long season.

Start with Rick DiPietro, who really is injured. His situation was clarified somewhat by the team, which explained that the fragile goalie has a "lower body injury unrelated to his previous injuries" and is "day to day." So maybe it's his knee but not the same injury, maybe it's a groin, maybe it's a quadricep pull -- your guess is as good as anyone's.

What's clear is that DiPietro hasn't been 100 percent all season, is coming off multiple surgeries, and is now on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time. And this is the guy who was supposed to be the glue holding everything together. Yeesh.

And he's not the only one hurt. Half of the team's defensemen are out, continuing the injury bug that sunk the squad last year. Mix in the struggles of learning a new system and you're looking at another lottery pick (which is what many fans want, anyway).

That's not to say that the Islanders played poorly Monday night. In fact, they played pretty well and even outplayed the Rangers for a good portion of the contest. Kyle Okposo in particular had a standout game, scoring his first goal of the season. The kid was all over the place. Trent Hunter, Richard Park and Mark Streit also had very solid games.

Joey MacDonald also played well, undone by a couple of bad breaks. The Rangers' first goal went in off the stick of Bill Guerin, a luck bounce found Ryan Callahan, and another deflected shot went right to Scott Gomez at the side of the net. Sloppy stick control gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 and led to their fourth goal.

Otherwise, the Islanders played hard and had plenty of good scoring chances, but couldn't finish, which of course is a big problem. Along with the injured defensemen. And DiPietro, who could be back in a couple of days. Or weeks. Or months. Who knows?

Again, there was a lot to like Monday night. But the end result was another loss, the team's fourth in five games at home.

Play hard and lose. Not exactly the most effective marketing slogan.


As far as the third jersey is concerned, I wasn't sure how I felt about it at first glance. Okay, it's a throwback to the old days, and we know the Islanders are all about celebrating the past. So in a sense it's not too exciting. Then again, did we want something ridiculous? Or something with the lighthouse on the chest?

The more I looked, the more I liked. It's retro. I decided I would possibly buy one. So I guess it works.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Memo to Islanders: We can handle the truth

First of all, setting a team record for shots on goal in a loss doesn't mean a whole lot to me. A loss is a loss (the third in four games at home, by the way) and scoring only three times on 60 shots isn't much to be proud of. I'm sure Mike Bossy in his day could do better than that blindfolded.

Yes, the Islanders played well enough to win, but the last I looked there was no such column in the standings.

The real news, unfortunately and again, surrounds Rick DiPietro and his health (or lack thereof), with the added twist supplied by the NHL policy of injury nondisclosure, which the Islanders have taken to like tween girls to the Jonas Brothers.

What does it say that the team captain, Bill Guerin, wasn't aware of an injury when he gave his postgame interview? I find it hard to believe that during the first intermission, the players weren't aware of DiPietro -- the franchise goalie -- being hurt. And why no announcement during the game? When a player is hurt and comes out (like Witt the game before), an announcement is always made.

So Guerin, who is asked to stand before the media every night and tow the company line like a good soldier, is hung out to dry and looks out of the loop. Nice.

Was there an injury? Was Gordon using the injury as an excuse to punish DiPietro by yanking him without embarassing the player who supposedly is protected from on high by the owner who gave him a 15-year deal (a deal with which I have no problem, by the way)?

We don't know because of the NHL's policy allowing teams to reveal nothing about injuries, and the Islanders' strict following of said policy. Newsday's Greg Logan had a humorous take on the situation, but it isn't funny. If DiPietro was hurt, it should have been revealed immediately. Instead, we're left with clouds of suspicion.

Blame the league for sanctioning such shenangians and the Isles for following along in lockstep.

We can only assume that DiPietro really was hurt and Guerin was in the john or something when the coach told the team, or maybe Gordon forgot to tell the team, or ... you get the idea.

But if D.P. wasn't hurt and was pulled for once again trying to clear the puck up the middle -- something my six-year-old son's dek hockey team is implored NOT to do on a weekly basis -- or for coughing the puck up one too many times, then fine. Charlie Manuel of the Phillies was praised for benching Jimmy Rollins for not running out a ground ball and Rollins basically said, "He's right. My bad."

We'd rather have seen the same from Gordon -- again, IF DiPietro wasn't really hurt, which is only speculation, which is the rule of the day around the Islanders. (You want some mystery surrounding the new uniform? Be my guest. Forgive me for the anticipatory cringe.)

No one is above the team. Just ask Mike Singletary, who benched starting QB J.T. O'Sullivan and gave a detailed explanation as to why he ordered highly-touted tight end Vernon Davis off the field during the Niners' loss to the Seahawks. A coach like that you'd follow to the gates of hell.

It's called accountability, and the great teams have it.

What also bothers me about the Islanders and their injury policy is that it's the way the Patriots do business, and I hate the Pats and Bill Belichick. Sure, they've been successful, but in a league where all injured players are not only named but categorized (for the gamblers, of course), the Patriots are the standard-bearers for subterfuge, and it stinks.

And as far as Belichick -- a so-called defensive genius whose teams have a habit of imploding in big games -- I often wonder what his record would look like without Tom Brady, or Adam Vinatieri, or without cheating, or without Ernie Adams behind the curtain.

What can I say? I'm a Jets fan.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LIVEBLOG: Stars v. Islanders

First time in the Blog Box in person this season, hoping to see Sean Avery smeared along the boards a few times as the Isles take on the Stars, and I have two words to describe my evening thus far:

Dis. Aster.

The dedication of a Blog Boxer knows no bounds. I work about 40 miles east of the Coliseum, but when I left at 5:35, with only a drive-thru stop at Mickey D's on the agenda, I should have had plenty of time to get to the game. I hit major traffic immediately (some kind of accident), took a detour and hit McDonald's early to get it out of the way. By 6 p.m. I was on Route 347, and cruised from there to the county line.

Except that those electronic traffic signs had bad news. Major delays in Nassau. Toggled from 880 to 1010 and back for the traffic reports, and as usual, nothing to indicate a problem on the Northern State. So when the traffic sign told me it would take 28 minutes to go the 7 miles to the Meadowbrook, and with Mother Nature calling like a telemarketer with a grudge, I got off at 106/107 for a pit stop and a new route via Hempstead Turnpike.

By the way, as I'm writing this, it's 3-0 Stars with two minutes left in the first. So this little story of mine is far more entertaining than this game, which was 13 minutes old by the time I got here. Back to the tale.

I pull into a Burger King; it's empty -- good sign. But there's a 7-year-old kid waiting at the locked men's room door. Five minutes later an employee comes out, having cleaned it. Did I want to ask the boy's mom if she could take him into the ladies room so my bladder wouldn't burst? Yes. Did I? No. So a two-minute break lasted 15, and there's no hope of making the opening faceoff.

I pull into the Coliseum lot at 10 after seven. Go to where I usually park, near the media entrance. Sections of the lot are closed, I can't find a spot, have to park near the back. I finally get through security at almost 20 after. An hour and 45 minutes for what should be a 45-minute trip. Awesome.

As far as this game goes, the Isles had two great chances down 2-0, one on a pass from Comrie to Guerin in front stopped by Turco, and then seconds later Okposo in the slot fires high top right. A few minutes later, Eriksson scores to make it 3-0 Stars. Boos rain down from the crowd at the horn. For this I braved Long Island traffic? The nachos tonight had better be good.

And Avery? Maybe the boos were strong when he first stepped onto the ice (again, I wouldn't know) but the rest of the period the reaction was less than expected. By the way, a few rows down there are two guys in Rangers Avery sweaters. I'd like to go down there and tell them to get the f&ck out of my building. Maybe I'll get thrown out. That would be the perfect capper to this night.

Unless the Islanders come back. Stop laughing.

You know what's far more entertaining than this game (so far)? This. And this. I'm not a huge fan of Jimmy Kimmel, but this stuff kills me. Back to the game in a few moments...

One big positive for the Isles is tonight's return of Chris Campoli. But in the spirit of this evening's awfulness, we've just been told that Brendan Witt may not return. Another injury to the defense. Good lord.

The Stars just had a chance on the doorstep, which begs the question, will Gordon leave DiPietro in the game if it gets to 7-0, since he believes in leaving the goalies in the game? Chew on that for a bit.

Meanwhile, Bergenheim and Avery get into it on the boards, injecting some life into the crowd. Isles end up with a 5-on-3, and seconds in, Guerin hits the post, then Weight with an open net hits the right post and it skids across the goalmouth to Hunter, who slides it across the mouth again -- ALONG THE GOAL LINE -- before the net comes off. Snakebit.

Moments later, another penalty on the Stars. Turco makes a couple of stops, Stars clear, then clear again. 5-on-4, Tambellini has a shot at the left post, can't bang it in. More boos, and the power play ends with the Isles whistled for having too many men on the ice. Talk about it not being your night. If you left now to beat the traffic -- and there's 14:53 left in the second -- no one would blame you.

One at a time, baby. ISLES SCORE - Bergenheim takes a pass from Streit, and at the top of the circles flicks a backhand pass to Guerin, who snaps a low shot past Turco to make it 3-1 midway through the second. Suddenly, there's hope -- if the D can shut the Stars down the rest of the way.

Maybe not. Stars make it 4-1 with 6:53 left in the middle period, a wrister from above the left circle by Morrow deflected by Barch. So much for the momentum.

Now it's 5-1 Stars, and the only cheers for DiPietro are of the sarcastic variety. And the D.P. Pull Watch is officially on.

Intermission cuisine -- a pulled pork sandwich from the BBQ Pit. I am taking a major gastrointestinal risk here, but so far, not bad. Spicy!

Watching the second period highlights, such as they were, on the jumbotron, I wondered -- Howie Rose had to endure the drama and the pain of the Mets' failure to make the playoffs, and now he's calling Islanders games, including this mess. I'm sure the paychecks soften the blow, but you gotta feel for the guy.

Isles on the power play and some sweet tic-tac-toe passing, Weight to Hunter in the corner across to a charging Streit at the right post for the back door goal, and it's 5-2.

Particularly disturbing tonight has been the Isles' defensive play in their own zone, playing 5-on-5 but often looking like they're a man down, allowing the Stars to work the puck around and for some reason refusing to take the body. Have the Stars not showered in a week? Just awful.

Sim scores with 2.1 seconds left, the final is 5-3. On to the postgame, which should be a blast.


- Witt has a "lower body" injury. Where on the lower body is anyone's guess. Vegas should have odds on NHL players' injured body parts. My guess is the odds for the knee is 3-1, the quad 6-1, ankle 8-1, groin 2-1.

- The media's waiting a while in the press room. Bloggers wonder if Gordon is reading them the riot act or telling them everything's gonna be all right.

- Saw photos of the new locker room at Citi Field for the Mets. It is easily 10 times the size of the Islanders locker room at the Coliseum, which is not much bigger than the typical locker room at The Rinx. Seriously.

GORDON: Says the team's penalty killing was inefficient. "We had chances to score some power play goals, but we did everything but put them in the net."

He thought they did a better job on the forecheck. "We sustained pressure, forced some turnovers. To me that's an excellent sign."

On losing Witt: "We've had to go through this every single game. We're putting out guys with minutes they shouldn't be getting. Chris Campoli is in his first game back and we're asking him to play first-line defense minutes. It's not a great situation."

Gordon noted that the loss of Witt comes after losing Martinek and without Sutton, that's a lot of lost experience from the D line. He adds he hasn't spoken to the trainer yet so there is no timetable for Witt's return.

FREDDY MEYER: "It's always a tough thing when a D-man goes down. Everyone has to step up and do what they can. Knock on wood (he knocks on the locker), hopefully that doesn't happen again."

"We have to do better killing penalties and staying out of the box and not giving them chances."

Asked if there is a lack of toughness: "We're team tough. There's not a heavyweight, but everyone has everyone's back and that's the way we've got to play."

BILL GUERIN: "Again, we're in the penalty box too much. I think that's the biggest thing. Our penalty kill wasn't as sharp as it needs to be."

"It could have been different if we score on our 5-on-3, we had 2 pucks on the line."

"We ask a lot of our penalty killers every night, it's very taxing. That's a problem we have to address."

On Witt: "Injuries are a part of hockey, we can't use them as a crutch. We'd like to be healthier. But when things like that happen, it's an opportunity. The seventh defenseman has an opportunity to win a job."

On Dallas: "Modano, he looked 37 out there. They had a good game on the power play and that was the difference."

On D.P., who heard some boos and mock cheers: "No one puts more pressure on himself to help the team than Ricky. When a game goes south, [fans] look at the goalie. Saturday, though [against Carolina], they'll love him again."

On Gordon saying there were positive signs: "We definitely did, we got some turnovers tonight."

RICK DiPIETRO: "They played well. They capitalized on the power play, the Ribiero line was especially good. It's just not what we wanted."

On the fans: "The fans are passionate about this team and don't want to see us lose. So you understand that."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cablevision forces Islanders into a low-def world

Was at my mom's house Saturday, and after dinner, I went to the TV to watch the Islanders play the Panthers in Florida.

Punched in 717 on the remote for MSG Plus HD, and there were the Devils. Backed up a spot to 716, MSG HD, and there were the Rangers. Where was this game? Not in HD, although I checked 701 just in case. Because I can never remember that C-SPAN2 is the carryover channel -- the cleverly named MGS Plus 2 -- I went to the iO channel guide to find that the game was on Channel 14, which is normally the channel guide channel.

We should be used to this by now. Neil Best wrote about the Islanders' second-class status here, addressing the opening-night fiasco where the Islanders opener didn't appear on CSPAN2 untio after the first period was OVER because of a "technical error." Yeah, sure.

It's certainly one of the most frustrating things about being an Islanders fan: the local cable monopoly, Cablevision, also owns the Rangers, the Isles' chief rival.

Cablevision claims it is all about ratings, but I want to see the numbers that say the Devils -- a team that still has trouble selling out a building that is the Taj Mahal of NHL arenas, a building with terrific public transportation access -- have better television ratings than the Islanders.

It's baloney. Cablevision has absolutely no incentive to help the Islanders out and will stick it to them every chance they can. Whenever the Devils and Islanders have a conflict, the Devils get the regular channel, and the HD channel, and the Isles end up on the overflow channel, and not in HD.

It's enough to make me want to switch to Verizon FiOS -- except FiOS does not carry the MSG channels in HD. Auugh! I know, having FiOS wouldn't allow me to see the Isles in HD, but at least I wouldn't be paying Cablevision for screwing us fans.

And don't hold your breath about the situation changing anytime soon. The Isles' deal with Cablevision was extended to 2031, and the team gets roughly $20 million a year from it. So unless Cablevision dedicates an HD channel for the Isles, at least for when they conflict with the Devils and Rangers, Islanders fans who enjoy their hockey in HD will have to settle for watching the Isles in awful low-def, which is very tough to go back to.

Best also mentions the radio deal and Chris Dey's detailed explanation, but I have no beef with it because I happen to get WMJC pretty well where I live and could never hear Bloomberg Radio at night anyway.

It's my lot in life. Like many others, I'm a Mets-Jets-Islanders fan, a second-class citizen all the way. That's OK. It makes it that much sweeter when they win.


Oh, and about that Panthers game? At least Rick DiPietro played and did pretty well. Otherwise, the 2-0 shutout loss wasn't much to write about. Consider it the first of many such games we'll experience this year as the offense struggles to score and the team struggles to find its identity and get in the flow of Scott Gordon's system.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Two out of four ain't bad

Wins aren't going to come easy for the Islanders this season, so when they get one like Thursday's night's 4-3 overtime victory over the Lightning, we should all be happy.

Sure, they lost a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead in the third period to a winless Tampa Bay club, but let's look at it this way: In the first four games of the season, playing without their starting goaltender, playing for a new coach in a new system with a bunch of new faces, the Islanders are 2-2.

You think Barry Melrose would take that right now? They guy's tearing his mullet out.

This was a game that the Isles could have easily let get away from them -- and it almost did. But credit the forechecking Frans Nielsen for being where he should have been, and send a nice big fruit basket to Olaf Kolzig for wandering behind the net and coughing up the puck to Nielsen, who found Trent Hunter for the winner.

Hunter had two goals in the game and after looking a little sluggish in the opener has picked up his game, with four tallies so far. We'll take offensive production wherever we can find it, and we know Hunter can score. If he can step it up a notch this season, that will go a long way.

Rick DiPietro looks like he could be back soon, if not Saturday against the Panthers then almost definitely for the home game against the Stars on Thursday, Oct. 23. D.P. had a solid practice this week and his return should provide a big boost.

Meanwhile, Radek Martinek is out 4-6 weeks and Blake Comeau is working on his game in Bridgeport. Martinek's injury hurts but is not surprising -- he's pretty brittle. Hopefully, Comeau will get the message that no one is given a spot in the lineup -- you have to work for it. He's a good young player with the kind of skills this team can't afford to pass up, but Gordon did the right thing by sending him down.

One last thing -- welcome aboard and good luck to the 10 new members of the Islanders Blog Box. That makes 20 of us. And who says no one cares about this team?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Welcome to Goaliegate

The conspiracy theorists are out in force surrounding Rick DiPietro, Scott Gordon and Joey MacDonald, wondering what DiPietro's true condition is, and why he wasn't inserted into the game Monday after Buffalo jumped out to a 5-0 lead in a 7-1 embarrassment at home.

(Note to the kids who were there -- that was NOT Islanders hockey, at least we hope not. Please don't try that at home.)

Newsday's Greg Logan wrote: "This was a case of chickens coming home to roost. DiPietro wasn't healthy enough to start the first three games of the season, but he was deemed healthy enough to be the backup.

Don't try to look for the logic here. There isn't any, which probably is why Gordon pulled a Sarah Palin, ignoring a question he didn't like and changing the subject when he was asked directly if DiPietro's readiness was a factor."

Gordon later said: "I'm not a strong believer in pulling goalies to change momentum. I want our goalies to not get the feeling that, if things don't go right for them, they can look to the bench and look over their shoulder, thinking, 'When am I coming out?' I want them to find a way to battle.

"Ask any of the goalies that have played for me. It's been the same thing. I've been through that, and I know what it's like when your coach has a quick hook ... We might have suffered a little bit tonight, but Joey will know when he's in this situation, it's his battle."

I have no problem keeping a goalie in when there is a rout on. If that really has been Gordon's philosophy all along, and he is a former netminder himself, I'll take him at his word.

And if DiPietro is not 100 percent, which he clearly is not, and is only on the bench in case of emergency -- and Gordon doesn't think a 5-0 lead qualifies as one -- then I can see why they would not want to put DiPietro into a losing cause and risk injury just by being on the ice, since anything can happen; better to just leave him out.

But it's hard to see what the Islanders have to gain by having DiPietro on the bench at all. If he's out, he's out. If he's on the bench, he may as well be in street clothes. What's the harm in having Yann Danis back up MacDonald for a week or so while D.P. gets in game shape? And if his injury is worse than they are letting on, then this is truly a ridiculous charade.

Based on the team's actions, you would assume DiPietro would be ready to play at a moment's notice, and if MacDonald was knocked out in the crease, DiPietro would be able to come in and play the rest of the game without risk of injuring himself any further.

You would think.

Hopefully, that is really the case and this is all much ado about nothing, and is a situation that has only been exacerbated by the NHL's policy of saying virtually nothing about injuries, which is a terrible policy to begin with. The Isles, like every other team, are behaving like a gang of Belichicks because they have been allowed to by the league, so they're just playing by the rules they've been given.

Reporters, bloggers and fans may not like it, but hey -- we just help pay the bills. Who are we to judge?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Who's worried about the offense?

Five goals? In one game? Four in the first period? That's like a week's output for the Islanders.

OK, so maybe the Blues were a step slow, playing their second road game in as many nights. But give credit to the Islanders for taking it to them right off the bat, grabbing a 4-1 first period lead en route to their home-opening win Saturday night.

Joey MacDonald started again amid a TSN report that Rick DiPietro had fluid on the knee. D.P. said any swelling that was in the post-surgery knee wasn't serious and that if it was, he wouldn't be the backup. Scott Gordon commented that even if the Isles lost their first three games without DiPietro, if the time off was good for him, it would ultimately be best for the club, which is, of course, true.

So the "JO-EY" chants rang through the Coliseum as MacDonald looked sharp again, further erasing what had been one of the club's many question marks heading into the season -- would the Isles have a capable backup in net?

As far as the avalanche of goals, they came thanks to aggressive play and a shoot-first-ask-questions later approach. Kylo Okposo got it started by grabbing a turnover in the corner and flicking a pass to Richard Park, whose rebound was knocked in by Mike Comrie. Trent Hunter fired a blast on the power play that beat Chris Mason, Sean Bergenheim followed with a score, and after the Blues cut the gap to 3-1, Andy Hilbert scored a shorthanded goal thanks to a terrific pass in traffic by Mark Streit, who has looked very good in two games.

Gordon noted after the game that it was only two points, but "it was the way we played. Hopefully that's going to be our identity as a team and that's how we're going to play."

Identity. It's something the Isles have lacked for some time. Under Ted Nolan, the team's identity was, well, Nolan. Now, under Gordon's system, this batch of young players has the chance to establish themselves, not only as individuals but as a group.

And if they can play this way -- especially at home -- for the rest of the season, then at least going to the Coliseum can be something we can look forward to.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No column for moral victories

You get the feeling that Islanders fans may see a lot of games like Friday night's season opener at the Devils. The team battles in a low-scoring struggle, but ultimately loses.

We can't complain too much about the outcome. The Devils are one of the better teams in the conference and the Isles lost a close, 2-1 game on the road. And while the Devils controlled the action for much of the game, the Islanders had some good scoring opportunities. They even scored on the power play!

Kyle Okposo got the rare penalty shot, stopped by Martin Brodeur. Then there were three posts in the first 25 minutes, and a couple of other good scoring chances, including one for Jeff Tambellini after some nifty stickhandling by Radek Martinek.

I'm still not sure how Patrik Elias wasn't called for being in the crease on the Devils' second goal. He skated in without being pushed. Chico Resch called it, but somehow no one on the Islanders complained. Oh, well.

Joey MacDonald got the start in goal for the Isles and no one should have been surprised. Rick DiPietro has played only once in the preseason and his practice time has been limited. We presume he'll play in the home opener. In any case, MacDonald played very well, making 27 stops, which should ease the minds of anyone missing Wade Dubielewicz.

Jon Sim also looked good, as did Mark Streit in his Isles debut. Coach Scott Gordon said he was happy with the effort in his NHL debut.

The home opener is tonight and your truly will be there in the Blog Box with some old friends and possibly some new ones, as the box is growing in year two.

Maybe we can get two goals tonight? Hey, it's the start of the season -- optimism abounds.

P.S.: Yeah, everyone loves The Rock and think the Coliseum is a dump. But at least our place is up to code. We think.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Isles on the brink of... something

Some final thoughts as the Islanders get ready to open the season Friday night at New Jersey, a team they somehow dominated a year ago:

Good to hear that Chris Lee is OK after being boarded by Rostislav Olesz Monday night. Always scary to see that, and it's why boarding penalties need to be enforced even more strictly than they are now. The league will suspend a player a dozen games or more for swinging his stick, but slamming someone into the boards from behind -- which can do serious damage, including paralysis -- draws far less punishent. Never made sense to me.

It was a bit surprising to see Josh Bailey on the opening-night roster, but why not have him show the coaching staff and the fans what he's got? It will be fairly clear within a week or so if he's ready or not. If not, then within nine games he can go back and captain his junior team. If he lights it up, keep him around. This team can use some juice.

Michael Farber at SI.com has a column this week that calls out the NHL for thinking about expanding into Europe. It's ridiculous, he says, and I agree. What is the point? Why create more teams and water down the product in North America -- you know the top Euros would jump at the chance to play closer to home -- nevermind the obvious logistical problems of playing games across the pond.

I don't even like the idea of playing season-opening games overseas, regardless of the sport. But the NHL in particular should focus on the fans it has than worrying about picking up more fans across the globe. Forget globalization. Embrace hockey as the great niche sport that it is.

I hesitate to even mention the column by Newsday's Johnette Howard because it only serves to give it the attention it doesn't deserve. But I can't help myself (I won't link to it -- if you still want to read it after this, be my guest). It's the typical, poorly researched, kick-someone-while-he's-down, easy pot shot column that Wallace Matthews has mastered.

It hasn't been that long that the Isles haven't made the playoffs (and you could argue that injuries aside the team would have had a shot last season), but you wouldn't know it by reading this drivel. Columnists like Howard and Matthews only serve to assure me that I did the right thing when I canceled my Newsday subscription. You ain't missing much, at least if you're an Islanders fan.

Speaking of the low road, it was good to see that Ryan Hollweg was suspended for the first two games of the season for picking up his third boarding and game misconduct penalties in the last 41 games. The guy is a cheap shot artist and hopefully won't be in the league much longer.

It pained me to see Hollweg labeled the victim when Chris Simon hacked him in the face (Simon was wrong, no doubt), only because Hollweg has been one of the dirtiest players in the league for some time and in that case got a taste of his own medicine. Hollweg's specialty, it seems, is boarding, and we know how I feel about that.

And so the blog comes full circle. You're welcome!

Friday, October 3, 2008

New York Islanders 2008-2009 preview

I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to the Islanders in 2008-2009. But I can tell you why.

Two words: No expectations.

Believe me, after being disappointed by the Mets for three straight years, it will be refreshing to go into a sports season without any hopes of winning a championship or making the playoffs.

Could the Islanders make the playoffs? Well, anything is possible. Many of the players are unknown quantities getting their first real shot at playing full-time in the NHL. We don't know how the players will respond to new coach Scott Gordon and his in-your-face, high-energy style of play.

So the 2008-09 season will have a significant learning curve, not just for the coach and players, but for the fans as well. And while the unknown may be a bit scary, it should be interesting.

Will Rick DiPietro finally be able to play a full season without injuring something? Will Gordon give him more rest at the risk of annoying him? Many pundits like to say that DiPietro is at the core of whether the Islanders will succeed or fail, but you know what you're getting from D.P. when he's healthy -- a very good goalie who can win games for you.

The difference between another lost season and hope for the future will be found elsewhere.

Defensively, I like what I see. Injuries torpedoed the unit last season, and already -- thanks to the intensity of Gordon's workouts -- Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli are hurting. Once they're back on the ice, a unit of Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Campoli, Bruno Gervais, Freddy Meyer and new acquisition Mark Streit looks solid and fairly balanced. Also, don't forget about Jack Hillen. I like this kid a lot, and he has made an impression on the coaching staff.

Streit will be challenged to help the offense and the power play, but it's unlikely he'll put up similar numbers as the Isles are just not as potent as the Canadiens were.

The Islanders couldn't score goals last season and have already been shut out twice in their first four preseason games. So while the team may play at 100 miles an hour, goal scoring is still a huge question mark.

Plenty of players will be given a chance to change that. Is Jeff Tambellini ready for the NHL or not? We'll find out in short order. Can Kyle Okposo make the kind of impact he's projected to make at this early stage of his career? Can Frans Nielsen play at this level? Can Sean Bergenheim take his game to the next level? Can Blake Comeau continue to develop and improve?

You get the idea. Lots of questions.

We know what we've got with Mike Comrie, Trent Hunter, Bill Guerin, Richard Park, Mike Sillinger and, to an extent, newcomer Doug Weight. How the veterans mesh with the youngsters in Gordon's system is the biggest question of all.

Rookie Josh Bailey could make the team to start the season -- he inked a new deal this week, the day before his 19th birthday -- but the player who could make the biggest impact is Jon Sim. You remember him, right? He missed all last season after blowing out his knee in the home opener, but he's back and has looked good, and has even shown some scoring instincts.

Gordon's Providence teams were tough to play, and if the Islanders can successfully implement that style and make the opposition work for everything they get, then games at the Coliseum could be significantly more entertaining. The Islanders certainly have plenty of young legs belonging to players looking to make a statement in this league, and a coach who knows what he wants from his team.

Like I said, I'm really looking forward to the season. Not because I expect a Stanley Cup run when it's over, but because the Islanders look like a team that will play an agressive style, with a number of players who have a ton of promise, and that combination could make the Coliseum fun again.

Plus, I've always liked a good mystery.