Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wait... that's Rick DiPietro's music!

Fifteen minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance with Geico, but the most important 15 minutes for Islanders fans came Monday when Rick DiPietro -- remember him? -- practiced with the full squad for a quarter-hour.

D.P. had been getting some practice time in with the club, facing shots, but Monday was his first real run with the full squad, and the first real sign that his long rehab is nearing its end.

How important is a healthy DiPietro to the Islanders? Well, the team's been pretty awful since he left, and the lack of depth behind him was exposed last season when a couple of minor leaguers tried to fill the void. The only positive that came out of it was the No. 1 pick, John Tavares, so I guess we owe D.P. a debt of gratitude.

It will be very interesting to see how much DiPietro's presence changes the Islanders' fortunes. You would think that it would have a ripple effect -- the defense would be more aggressive and confident, which would in turn help generate more offense. That's assuming that DiPietro returns to his All-Star level, which is far from a given. But he is a hell of a lot better than what's been there the past year.

No disrespect to Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron, of course. With D.P. on the horizon, there's already talk of the Isles moving a goalie and the logical one is Biron, who has reportedly drawn interest from the Red Wings.

If the Isles were a contender, you'd like them to keep Biron and let Roloson go for whatever they could get. But Biron would bring back more in return, so figure on Roloson remaining as the backup.

And let's be clear, he is nothing more than a backup. For all of his strengths in terms of positioning and experience, his lateral movement and quickness has all but left him. How he's started three of the first six games is beyond me. He is awful on shootouts and breakaways, and you could argue that the Isles could have had 1 or 2 wins by now had someone other than Roloson been in net.

Which is to say, we're really looking forward to DiPietro's triumphant return.

Meanwhile, the OTM line is breaking up already. Not because the Okposo-Tavares-Moulson line has been unproductive, but because everyone else hasn't. Okposo will play alongside the returning Franz Neilsen, with Doug Weight taking Kyle's old spot. Scott Gordon is hoping that spreading the wealth will get the offense moving.

In other news, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the Islanders are welcome to come to Suffolk County, and I'm right there with him. As a Suffolk resident, I would love to see the Isles play in Islandia, or Yaphank, or Brentwood, or Melville, or anywhere closer than Uniondale.

It would certainly be better than Brooklyn, Queens or Kansas City.

Charles Wang has already made the Nassau-to-Suffolk move, taking Computer Associates from Garden City to Islandia years ago. So could it happen again? Selfishly, I hope so, but let's first try and get that Lighthouse built. OK?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lighthouse: Straight into darkness?

UPDATE: No surprise, Wang released an emphatic denial Thursday afternoon that the Lighthouse project had been abandoned.

What's more surprising to me is the reaction from some in the media / blogging community criticizing the team for letting its fans (and, let's face it, the media / bloggers ) twist in the wind for almost a day before denying the bogus story. Such horror that the "fans were being used" or that the Islanders -- gasp -- liked the story sitting out there.

Ya think?

Fans get used all the time. When they spend $8 for a beer. Or $6 for a bottle of water. Or when they're forced to pay PSLs.

In the case of the Lighthouse, fans were pawns from day one, pushed and pulled from both sides. We should be used to it by now. It's called hardball, and we all knew it was going to come to this.

I'd like to say that this will be my last post about the Lighthouse until a definitive announcement is made: either that the project is approved and shovels will be in the ground, or Wang himself saying that it is dead and that he's either selling the team or considering other sites.

I'll cross my fingers.

Original post:

I was going to post something about how the Islanders have somehow managed to provide some positives despite an 0-1-3 start -- one that included a blown three-goal, third-period lead -- but then the news dropped on the Long Island Press website that the Lighthouse project is dead.

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

The October 3 deadline for Charles Wang's "certainty" came and went, and the season began. But instead of writing about how John Tavares has been everything we expected and more, or how strong the penalty kill has looked, or how Rick DiPietro is making progress in practice, or how it's somewhat refreshing that one of the things the Islanders need to do is learn how to step on the other team's throat when they have it down, I'm writing about the Lighthouse. Again.

So is just about every other blogger in the Blog Box and elsewhere. And rightly so, considering the importance of the project to the team's future.

But I, for one, will hold off on the hand-wringing, the gnashing of teeth, the wailing or the pontificating.

Late Tuesday night, a Newsday blog post noted that no one from the Lighthouse was talking, but that a source close to the project said the project had not been abandoned.

You would think that after all the time and money and energy spent, Wang and the Lighthouse Development Corp. wouldn't just walk away, not this quickly. And do you really think the Oct. 3 deadline was just a way to give Wang an out, so he could say, "Hey, we tried."

I doubt it.

Maybe Wang is indeed shifting personnel to other projects. He said himself he would explore other options. Word gets out, a story is posted on the web (on the site of a free newspaper, sure, but one that's done some good work), there's no immediate comment from the team -- no denials as of 12:40 a.m. Thursday, anyway -- suddenly the stakes are raised even higher. Maybe he's serious! He can't wait on the Lighthouse forever. He's making other plans!

It's just pressure. It's Wang calling Kate Murray's bluff.

I'll show you how serious I am.

We'll see how this all pans out, but my sense is that it's just another move in the game that the Long Island Press says Wang is tired of playing.

For fans, though, it isn't a game. We wish games were all we had to worry about.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Isles make their point, one at a time

At the rate they're going, the Islanders will finish the season with 82 points -- not quite playoff-caliber, but a definite improvement over last season's last-place-overall finish.

Of course, at this rate, they'll be 0-0-82.

That's about as likely as Charles Wang and Kate Murray teaming up on "The Amazing Race," and while consecutive overtime/shootout losses isn't a trend you like to see continue, Thursday night's 3-2 loss to the Senators provided continued positives.

Like two points from Matt Moulson, who assisted on Kyle Okposo's second-period goal before scoring the equalizer for the Islanders in the third period, off a sweet pass from behind the net from Doug Weight, playing his first game of the season.

John Tavares assisted on that goal as well, giving him three points in the first two games of his career. Tavares had a terrific chance to score in the second period as well, but didn't get everything on the shot.

Okposo's goal, meanwhile, was a thing of beauty, as his displayed the kind of deft stickhandling that makes him so doubly dangerous as a power forward.

That's a fun line right now, the Okposo-Tavares-Moulson combo. What can we call it? The TOMahawk line? The TOM-tom Club? The OTM Machine? Suggestions are welcome.

Martin Biron had an uneven game, playing solid for the most part and dazzling in one sequence when he flat-out robbed Alexei Kovalev with about six minutes left. But he was sloppy on the Sens' first goal, a no-angle bank off the heel of his stick, and he should have gotten a piece of the game-winner by Mike Fisher.


OK, it's time for my annual rant against Cablevision sticking the Islanders on the non-HD MSG Plus 2. Watching this game on my high-definition set was like watching it through a rusty old screen door. Immensely frustrating.

I think I have old VHS tapes of the 1984 playoffs that look clearer than what fans endured watching on MSGP2. Awful. And yet the Devils, the team from New Jersey, gets its road game in HD.

I continue to insist that there is no way on earth that the Devils get better ratings than the Islanders. No way. And you can't tell me Cablevision can't put the Islanders broadcast onto another HD channel.

It's just the owners of the Rangers sticking it to the Islanders fans. But the Isles have a pretty sweet TV deal with Cablevision, so I guess we shouldn't complain. Especially since the team gets screwed so badly by its current lease. Which will of course change with the new lease for the Lighthouse -- if it ever happens. Sigh.


I'll never understand how people spend so much money on sports memorabilia. It's just not my thing. But the framed photo of Tavares with actual pieces of the netting from his NHL debut takes the cake. Are these really flying off the shelves?

The whole game-worn or game-used thing in memorabilia boggles the mind. Can I get a piece of Matt Moulson's socks from the Ottawa game to commemorate his first goal as an Islander? Sadly, I probably can.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tavares leading Isles out of the darkness

There were many things to take away from the Islanders' home opener against the Penguins Saturday night, but chief among them was this -- the worst is over.

It couldn't get much worse last season. The Isles finished with the fewest points in the NHL, and had so many injuries it was almost impossible to gauge the development of their young players or the success of first-year coach Scott Gordon's system.

That failure, however, yielded the No. 1 overall draft pick, and the Islanders selected John Tavares. And while the rookie center scored a goal and an assist in his debut, the points were almost secondary to the other thing he delivered in spades -- hope.

The full house at Nassau Coliseum came to see a savior, and they were not disappointed. But they got much more. The Islanders outplayed the defending Stanley Cup champions for much of the game, and if victories were awarded solely on effort, the Isles would have notched one in the win column.

Mark Streit scored on a 5-on-3 power play, rifling the puck in off a feed down low from Trent Hunter, with Tavares getting the secondary assist. Then Tavares scored the first of his career with a quick backhander on the power play. Hunter scored the Isles' third goal, creating some space for himself before converting a sweet backhand pass from Josh Bailey.

The Penguins, however, are champs for a reason, and the great teams often enjoy the good bounce. Two of the Pittsburgh goals went in off the stick shaft or skate of an Islander. Otherwise, Dwayne Roloson made those of us born in the 60s proud by turning in a strong effort.

Tavares was paired with training camp feel-good story Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo, and that line looked downright dangerous -- a welcome sight for fans desperate for some offensive firepower.

Brendan Witt leveled Ruslan Fedotenko, leading to the 5-on-3 power play, which almost made up for the fact that he forgot that it was Sidney Effing Crosby streaking down the right wing for Pittsburgh's first goal.

You'd think that after such a dismal season, to earn a point against the champs in the opener would be satisfying, and to some degree it was. But the effort was so strong, you couldn't help but be disappointed.

Islanders fans can only hope the team felt the same way and has no regard for moral victories.

I have to admit, when the Islanders didn't go out and get any free agent help this past offseason beyond the two goalies, I was disappointed. After Saturday's game, I'm glad they didn't. I want to see how this group develops. I want to see them struggle and learn how to win. I want to go along for that ride.

Of course, the Isles could get blown out in game two and all the optimism of the opener could get swept away, but I can't shake the feeling that this is going to be a very interesting -- and dare I say, enjoyable -- season.

The dark days are behind us.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Islanders opening night: On with the show!

Overture, curtain, lights!
This is it. We'll hit the heights!
And oh, what heights we'll hit!
On with the show, this is it!

You know what that's from, don't you? Answer at the end of the post (and if you're over 40 and you don't know, you didn't watch enough television as a child).

A few quick thoughts as we get ready for the Islanders' season opener Saturday night against the visiting Stanley Cup champs, the Penguins.

Doug Weight was named team captain, and it is the absolute right call. A team with so much youth needs a respected veteran as captain, and the players clearly hold Weight in high regard. Good call with Streit, Witt, Park and Okposo getting the 'A.' They all deserve it.

Charles Wang and Tom Suozzi announced the new lease, which will finally allow the Islanders to retain most if not all of the income from games, including ticket sales and concessions. Now they just have to get approval and build the Lighthouse. Piece of cake, right?

It will be refreshing to actually focus on hockey and not meetings and press conferences and politics, and hopefully the Coliseum will have a full house to greet the Pens with ire. And, of course, we'll get to see the NHL debut of John Tavares, who has some expectations to fulfill.

Kyle Okposo should be ready to play in the opener after suffering a mild concussion after being freight-trained by Dion Phaneuf. Here's the thing -- I watched the hit over and over, almost hoping to see something dirty. I didn't.

To anyone who thinks Phaneuf left his feet, his skates left the ice after the hit was made, and that was lucky for Okposo. It means some of the impact was felt by Phaneuf. It's simple physics, people.

Anyway, here's hoping Okposo can play his normal game and get back on the horse. Scoring a goal will help quite a bit in that regard.

In fact, let's see a few goals. Last season, if the opposition scored twice you knew the game was over. When Scott Gordon was hired there was a promise of fast-paced, high-scoring hockey. The pace was there but not the production.

One year later, maybe this mix of young forwards can start making things happen. Or at least make things exciting again.

Answer: It's a verse from the opening theme of The Bugs Bunny Show. You're welcome.