Monday, October 13, 2008


The Islanders looked pretty good in their opener, granted it was against a team on equal footing as the Isles and a team playing the second of a back-to-back. The Blues were in Nashville the night before and pulled off an improbable 5-2 win. Chris Mason was in goal after Manny Legace started against the Predators.

I don't know if there is a goaltending controversy in St. Louis, but Legace is clearly the number one after Mason let in four goals in the first period. After the fourth goal, which came with under a minute left, a shorthanded tally by Andy Hilbert, Legace was getting his equipment ready, snapping his catching glove and standing up from his stool right by the player's entrance. But, with under a minute left, the Blues decided to leave Mason in. I was surprised to see him start the second period, but the only goal the Islanders scored after the first period was an empty-netter at the end.

The team is looking more lively on the ice. It might be because my new seats are a lot closer to the ice, but the players are not taking one shot at a puck with their stick and getting caught flat-footed half the time. They are very active with their stick and, positionally, the Islanders look to be taking to the new "system" that coach Scott Gordon is implementing.

Those in the know have said that the fans will quickly see what they missed last year in not having Jon Sim on the team, and after two short games, I have to agree. Playing with two consummate professionals like Bill Guerin and Doug Weight will help anyone, but Sim will get dirty in the corners and stand in front of the net (thank you!). Not since Mark Parrish have we had a guy willing to get knocked down in front by the goalie, a defender, or a stray puck.

Joey MacDonald was excellent in net for the second straight night and he was named the First Star. His best saves came in the first and the fans who came to see Rick DiPietro in net to start the home slate were won over quickly, chanting "Jo-EEE" after a breakaway stop of Keith Tkachuk.

There were positives and negatives to take from the game. I actually like when there a few negatives after a win because the coaching staff can teach and the team can improve. Also, making mistakes against a tired Blues bunch still netted a win while the same performance against some of the better teams in the NHL would have brought a different outcome. Coach Gordon will undoubtedly go over the power play. Yes, they scored a goal with the man advantage, but it was essentially a 5-on-3 at the time because one of the Blues players lost his stick. There is still way too much passing going on and with Mark Streit and Radek Martinek playing the points, it is quite obvious that Marty does not want to shoot the puck, which just focuses the up-forwards on Streit, who cannot get a lane to shoot.

For an old barn, nothing improves the experience than a positive crowd coming to see a winning team. While we are not quite there yet, the home opener was a fantastic time. Mrs. StatMan, who goes to about one or two games a season, came out for the opener, fulfulling her 2008-09 quota.

The Coliseum has some new wrinkles this season: The concessions are similar but different. There is the "BBQ Pit", which sells barbecue pork sandwiches and chili in a bread bowl. "The Grill" and the "The Works" replaces the ice-facing stands, and the tired Coliseum wallpaper of Islanders and Dragons players is replaced with more of a food decor. When I think of a power play or a kickoff, I do not get hunger pangs. The Quizno's Sub areas are replaced by "Knuckleheads" brew pub that serves some microbrews ($7.75!), cocktails, and liquor. A nice touch, but there is not much to work with at the Coliseum.

Apart from the refreshments, the new goal song still has to find its way. A big deal was made of it, but it really is nothing special. The chorus is "Let's-Go-Is-Land-Ers" and, thankfully, the cheering of the crowd masked the song pretty well. It will take some getting used to. The floating concert stage was interesting, as it is suspended over the goal by the Zamboni entrance and lowers to ice level between periods for musical interludes. I just worry about the structure after the scoreboard debacle of a decade ago and, if I was a goaltender, I couldn't help but look up once in a while.

Instead of shooting t-shirts to the fans from the Zamboni, the game ops folks have debuted a "T-Shirt Gatling Gun", which shoots 24 t-shirts at once to the crowd. Essentially, they all land in the general vicinity and do not reach the upper level often.

TURNING POINT: Joey Mac stoning Tkachuk on the breakaway, which would have tied the game and possibly turned the tide back, giving the fans a "here-we-go-again" feeling. For one night, that feeling did not return.

NYI PLAYER OF THE GAME: MacDonald had a strong game, as did Bruno Gervais (2 assists), but Andy Hilbert gets the game puck as he got his first goal out of the way early this year.


Saturday, October 11, 2008


Doug Weight scored off a deflection for the early lead off a pass from another newcomer, Mark Streit, on (surprise!) the power play. The first period speeded up the learning curve of new coach Scott Gordon's new overspeed coaching philosophy. But, that was the end of the positive portion of the evening. The Devils tied it on the power play, went ahead as the fans were returning to their seats at the Rock, early in the second. From there, the Devils stifling defense and the best defender of them all, Martin Brodeur, held the Islanders at bay.

TURNING POINT: Kyle Okposo's failed penalty shot, trying to go glove-side on Brodeur, in the first period.

NYI PLAYER OF THE GAME: Joey MacDonald started on short notice, being notified of his start after the morning skate. He kept the Islanders in the game and made some strong saves (27 saves).


Game ONe

My perspectives on the Islanders and the direction of the franchise has changed over the last few months. When the free agency signing period began, I was hoping for a "big-ticket" item, shopping for some scoring and some defense. Once again, as in past summers, the Islanders disappointed. Yes, they brought in Mark Streit, who is coming off a very successful campaign with Montreal and who is bringing with him the power play acumen without the defensive incompetence of Marc-Andre Bergeron. But, the Islanders needed more than a booming shot from the blueline. They needed at least one scoring forward and they needed toughness.

Going through the preseason, the expectations of the Islanders by the experts this season have been very low. The Hockey News pegged the Isles for 13th in the Eastern Conference and Sports Illustrated picked them to finish dead last in the East. That has happened before and the Isles have beaten those prognostications.

Before the season, I have heard opinions ranging from "maybe we can sneak into the playoffs" to "if we play really bad, we can get the first pick and take John Tavares in the draft".

Now, I will never root for our team to play badly and earn a top draft pick. And, I am realistic enough to think we will not make a serious drive to try to make the playoffs this year. But, rarely in professional sports do you see a team whose season does NOT come down to wins and losses. This is what the 2008-09 New York Islanders will be about: limited expectations and the hope the players will learn from their losses now so they can win later.

The Islanders finished 4-3 in the preseason, but the last loss, 6-0, was the only game where franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro made an appearance. No matter what happens this season, you hope for good health. The Islanders lost Chris Campoli and Andy Sutton during the preseason to the injured list and Mike Sillinger has not been able to come back to active duty. Add to that, Rick DiPietro's singular preseason effort and no amount of solace in the learning of losses can substitute for learning on the ice.

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