Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can you smell what the Isles are cookin'?

"In my experience, there's no such thing as luck." - Obi Wan Kenobi

"Luck favors the prepared, darling." - Edna Mode

If you need me to tell you who Edna Mode is, you obviously don't have kids. And if you don't know who Obi-Wan Kenobi is ... then God help you.

Yes, the Islanders were very fortunate Monday night in Montreal. Own goals don't come around often, particularly those that tie the score with under five minutes to play in regulation. And when Ryan O'Byrne backhanded the puck into his own net on a delayed penalty call, well, you could certainly call that good luck.

But five wins in six games has less to do with luck and much more to do with how the Islanders have come together, despite missing their franchise goaltender, being saddled with various injuries and being in the midst the youth movement with a first-year coach fresh from the minor leagues establishing a new system.

We said at the start of the season that our expectations were almost nil, so anything positive this season would have been greatly appreciated. And it's not just the five wins in six games, two of them of the shootout variety. It's seeing inspired play from Andy Hilbert, leadership from Bill Guerin and pal Doug Weight, terrific performances from Mark Streit, and capable-if-not-spectacular goaltending from Joey MacDonald, who has been so good that no one remembers Dubie.

And has anyone missed Rick DiPietro lately?

Mark Herrmann of Newsday wrote how luck comes from hard work, and he is right. In a way, the Islanders are in a similar position as the New York Knicks. Not much is expected of them this season, but as long as they put in the effort and play like they give a damn, the fans can respect that and will show their support.

So far, the effort has been there and in the last two weeks it looks as if the Islanders are getting into the swing of things. And rookie Josh Bailey may certainly hang around for the duration, which would be fantastic.

It makes you wonder, when Okposo and Nielsen and Sillinger and DiPietro are all back in the lineup, how far the team can go.

To paraphrase Rick James, "Hope is a helluva drug."

One last thing -- if you're curious to know what Felix Potvin is doing these days, read Pierre LeBrun's piece on ESPN. Felix the Cat is coaching midget hockey in Quebec and enjoying retirement.

Chico the mind-reader

I had no problem watching last Friday's Islanders-Devils game on MSG Plus HD. Thanks to Cablevision's insistence on always placing the Islanders on MSG Plus 2 whenever the Rangers, Devils or Knicks are playing the same night, I had to choose between listening to Howie Rose and Billy Jaffe and watching in low-def or watching in HD with Mike Emrick and Chico Resch.

It was really no contest. Sorry, Howie and Billy, but I have a nice HD set and cannot watch hockey on low-def anymore. Plus, Emrick is one of the best play-by-play men anywhere -- and now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- and I've never had a problem with Chico. The guy was an ex-Isle and he's likeably goofy.

But did you know Chico was also a mind-reader?

Immediately after Frans Nielsen was leveled by Mike Mottau in the third period of the 5-2 Devils win, Chico came to Mottau's defense and said he knew that Mottau was not trying to go at Nielsen's head or injure him.

Really? You knew what he was thinking? Well, Chico, I think you may be wasting your time doing Devils color commentary. Mind-reading is a pretty marketable skill. You can play Vegas with an act like that, although the government would probably find a use for you as well.

Mottau clearly made a run at Nielsen, who was flying around the ice like Apolo Anto Ohno and has been one of the Isles' best players recently. Mottau went after him, and if Nielsen wasn't so quick, he would have caught him clean in the head.

As it happened, Nielsen wasn't hit as hard up top, but in the process caught an edge and is now out 8-12 weeks with a leg injury. It was an awful, awful play and a tough break for an Islanders team that has already had to deal with a ton of injuries.

That said, I have no problem with the two-game suspension handed down by Colin Campbell. Would I have given him three or four games? Probably. But had Nielsen not caught that edge, he probably would have been well enough to continue. The leg injury was collateral damage, in a way, and while I have no doubt what Mottau's intent was, you could make the argument that he didn't mean to go after his head. A weak argument, I'll grant you.

But Chico can't tell us he KNEW what Mottau intended, especially when the visual evidence implies the opposite.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three straight wins, three days off

Joey MacDonald matched Roberto Luongo save for save Monday night at the Coliseum, then clinched a shootout win for the Islanders by poking the puck off the stick of Alex Burrows on the Canucks' final shot, giving the Islanders -- well, lookee here -- a three-game winning streak.

Howie Rose and, in particular, Billy Jaffe, took great pleasure in pointing out what a shocking upset this was to the Vancouver media. But after sweeping the Senators in a home-and-home -- a team that has absolutely killed the Isles over the years -- the Islanders are looking pretty frisky.

You had to love the grin on Franz Neilsen's face after he schooled Roberto Luongo with a forehand-to-backhand move on the Islanders' first shootout attempt. Nodding his head emphatically as he skated past the Vancouver bench, Neilsen later said, "He's a big guy, and you don't see a lot of net," Nielsen said. "You have to try to get him down and get [the puck] up."

MacDonald is making fans forget about Rick DiPietro, and the home crowd has taken to the Jo-EY, Jo-EY chant. MacDonald, who had 31 saves, must have caught highlights of the Devils' shootout win Saturday night when he followed Scott Clemmensen's lead and poked the puck away from Burrows.

And take it for what it's worth, but Scott Gordon put Josh Bailey in his shootout lineup, and though the rookie didn't score, that's a pretty big vote of confidence for a kid who is making a strong case to stay in the bigs.

Of course, you take the good with the bad. With Radek Martinek back in the fold and Brendan Witt ready to return, Kyle Okposo suffered what is being called an "arm injury" and will miss about a week, according to the team. Mike Sillinger has agreed to a conditioning stint in Bridgeport but is also on the way back.

Three days off until the Isles visit New Jersey on Friday. So much for momentum.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Islanders 3, Sens 1: The future is now

Okposo (Bailey, Campoli).

That stat line says it all. It's why we're watching. In a season where the playoff expectations are as low as Bush's approval rating, seeing how the Islanders' young players develop is what it is all about.

So to see Kyle Okposo score a goal with assists from rookie Josh Bailey and Chris Campoli -- three players who could be the core of this team for the next decade -- was for me the high point of the Islanders' 3-1 victory at Ottawa Thursday night.

Bailey may only be up for a nine-game tryout, but there are indications, particularly with Mike Comrie hurting and being otherwise unproductive, that the Isles may let Bailey stick with the big club for the duration of the season, the way so many other NHL teams are allowing their rookies to shine.

At minimum, it gives fans another reason to buy a ticket. At best, Bailey could pay immediate dividends on the ice as well.

Bailey was praised for his poise by coach Scott Gordon and the fact that Okposo's goal came on the power play is another good sign. The Isles scored two man-up goals in the game, the other by Trent Hunter.

Bill Guerin's goal early in the third upped the lead to two goals. It's a good thing the Isles didn't score again, because we know what happens with three-goal leads around here. There was no collapse this time, though, and Joey MacDonald had a solid game in net with 29 saves.

Thomas Pock may miss Saturday's rematch at the Coliseum after getting a game miscounduct for elbowing Ryan Shannon. A multi-game suspension is a possibility.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

AC/DC, the NHL and Bucci

John Buccigross' column on is a must-read for me and anyone who loves hockey. His latest column -- or blogumn, as he likes to call it -- posits that AC/DC's "Back in Black" should be the soundtrack to the NHL.

I was moved to email John because AC/DC and the NHL have always been linked for me. I also wanted to let him know that I enjoy his weekly tributes to the late Jack Falla, hockey writer and professor at Boston University. Here's what I sent this morning:


I graduated from BU in 1989 and while I didn't take any of Jack Falla's classes (I was a Broadcasting and Film major), I saw him quite a bit at Terriers men's hockey games, which I covered for the student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Reading the heartfelt tributes from his former students makes me wish I knew him better.

Anyway, your AC/DC column struck a chord. One of my projects for Film Production I was to make a five-minute film. I chose to create an homage to "Greatest Sports Legends," an old show that I recall airing during rain delays of Mets games. My film, "Greatest Street Legends," profiled my younger brother, Joseph, billed as "the greatest roller hockey player on Penn Street." He was, in all honesty, a goal-scoring machine.

The piece opened with a straight-on shot of our garage door. As the door rolled up, you heard the tic-tic-tic-tic opening of "Back in Black." When the first quitar chord slammed home, you saw Joe decked out in his black Bruins Cam Neely jersey, ready to rock. Cut to an overhead shot of him skating down the driveway and out into the street -- taken by me sitting on the roof.

The soundtrack was all AC/DC, except for the finale and closing credits, which featured "We Are the Champions" behind shots of Joe lighting the lamp, intercut with crowd shots lifted from Islanders Stanley Cup celebrations used without the express written consent of the National Hockey League.

My professor thought it was OK -- I got a B-plus. Classmates who were more interested in making arty, indecipherable exercises in ego just didn't get it. But there was one guy in class -- a New Hampshire kid who played in a rock band -- who came up to me and said, "That was my childhood right there."

To this day, it is the finest compliment I have ever received.

AC/DC and the NHL -- perfect together.

Mike Gasparino
Proud Islanders Blog Boxer from Saint James, NY


We'll see if it makes it into the "Mother of All Mailbags" section of his next column, but I figured I'd post it here to see if anyone else feels the same way about hockey and the Thunder from Down Under.

As for my favorite AC/DC songs (glad you asked!), I'd have to include:

It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N Roll)
Ride On
The Jack
Inject the Venom
Back in Black
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Islanders say: Yes, we can

Now THIS is change we can believe in.

Just 24 hours after winning in overtime at home and avoiding another blown three-goal lead, facing the division- and conference-leading Rangers at the Garden, the New York Islanders proved Tuesday night that they can weather a hell of a storm without Rick DiPietro, and came away with a 2-1 victory that gave them a small winning streak and a ton of hope that, maybe, things are actually looking up.

Credit Joey MacDonald for coming up huge while the Rangers swarmed him like he was Marisa Miller at a frat party. MacDonald was so busy in the first two periods that Scott Gordon called a timeout with seven minutes left in the second just to "give him a blow," with the Rangers at that point holding a 25-9 advantage in shots on goal.

Credit also the penalty kill, which incredibly scored both Islanders goals. Nate Thompson converted a 2-on-1 with Franz Nielsen, breaking a scoreless tie early in the third period, and after a classic "let's give the home team a chance to get even" penalty on Brett Skinner, Richard Park stole a weak cross-ice pass by Michal Rozsival and scored on a breakaway, beating a rusty Henrik Lundquist.

MacDonald missed getting his shutout in the final two minutes, but no matter. With DiPietro out for a month or so, MacDonald is proving to be more than capable in the pipes.

And maybe his performance is helping fuel the growing confidence that the Islanders have shown in the last week. Sure, they lost in overtime in Philly and blew a three-goal, third-period lead at home to the Canadiens, but players and Gordon insisted that progress was being made. Against the Bluejackets and Rangers, they've provided tangible evidence instead of just hopeful quotes.

The victory over the Rangers also proved that the Islanders don't have to play their system to perfection to win, even against a top team like the Rangers. They have a goaltender they can be confident in, one that can keep them in games where the system isn't working. And they have players like Park who make things happen with smarts and hard work.

America saw a new day dawn with Obama's victory Tuesday. Is it morning for the Islanders as well?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Islanders are down, DiPietro is out

Well, at least the third jersey is a hit.

Scott Gordon's first 10 games as head coach are among the worst in team history, down there with Earl Ingarfield and Phil Goyette, who posted their stanky stretches in the inaugural and historically bad 1972-73 season. But you can't completely blame Gordon for what's gone on so far.

Yes, the team has had its troubles adapting to a completely new system after a tough training camp, and those growing pains were expected. But injuries -- to defensemen Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek and Freddy Meyer, and goalie Rick DiPietro, who will be out 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair an unidentified damaged meniscus -- combined with an inability to capitalize on scoring chances when they present themselves have conspired to sink the Islanders to the bottom of the standings and dampen whatever enthuiasm the fans had at the start of the new campaign.

Regarding DiPietro, whether the meniscus in question is in his right knee or his left, it really doesn't matter. Let's say the injury he suffered was unrelated to his previous injuries, as the team has stated. It doesn't change the fact that DiPietro has had three surgeries in the last seven months and is looking as stable as a one-legged stool.

We're willing to give DiPietro a chance -- he played 62, 62 and 63 games the previous three years -- to get healthy and be the team's horse. But there may not be much of a race left to run by the time he gets back.

Getting a point on the road in Philly is something, but the overtime loss is still a loss. What happened Saturday night, in the third jersey's debut, was just awful and sort of typified the Islanders' young season.

You just cannot blow a 4-1 lead at home. I understand the Canadiens are a popular choice to win the conference, but after playing so well for 40 minutes, to allow four unanswered goals -- regardless of who was or was not in the net or on the ice -- is unacceptable. That third-period collapse is the kind of thing that can rip the heart out of a team, and here's hoping the Islanders learn from it and not let it drag them down any further.

What made it worse was the sound of so many Canadiens fans cheering the outcome. Watching the game on televison, it sounded like the game was being played in Quebec. Fellow Blog Boxer Frank Trovato has an excellent point -- many Islanders home games are almost like road games with so many fans of opposing teams buying available tickets at the Coliseum.

It's disheartening and it sucks and I can imagine what it's like as a player to hear that in your own arena. But I cannot condemn Islanders fans for not filling those seats, considering how much tickets cost, especially in this economy, and considering the team's recent lack of success and amount of turmoil the franchise has experienced.

Put a winner on the ice, and fans will come.

As for the third jersey, I was unsure about it at first glance, but having watched the Montreal game and seeing the jersey "in action," I am sold. Getting one with 27 TONELLI on the back is a given at this point. I've added it to my Christmas list.

That, and a couple of victories. Please, Santa?