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.


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