Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yanni to the Rescue

Rick DiPietro: Out for the season
Joey MacDonald: Out 2-4 weeks
Wade Dubielewicz: Claimed off waivers by Columbus

If you think these three headlines would have knocked out the weren't alone.

Misfortune has a major theme of this season, with the injury bug pretty much living in Uniondale this year. Having pretty much your entire defensive squad missing action at one time or another is not acceptable, but it's something fans could live with. Having Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielson, Sean Bergenheim, and Trent Hunter (the nucleus of Garth Snow's "rebuild") all miss time on the disabled list isn't exctly what Garth had in mind for the first year of the rebuild, but what are you going to do?

However, when you're franchise goalie and his backup go down, plus the backup plan for that go down the drain via waivers...that's just plain unlucky.

That is the exact situation the Islanders found themselves in this past week, when backup to the backup Yann Danis was thrown in net against five straight tough opponents: the Rangers, Bruins, Devils, Capitals, and the Ducks. How did he respond? With solid play in each game, but no win, until last night...

In by far his best game of the season, a 2-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks, Danis weathered 40 shots and only allowed 1 goal all night, a B.S. shot by young Bobby Ryan which Danis clearly could have had. Danis stood on his head in goal against a offensively superior Anaheim team which threw onto the ice offensive juggernaut Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan, who is making a strong bid for the Calder Trophy, the NHL's rookie of the year award.

However, Danis' play last night was only half the story. When word came out that the Islanders had passed up picking up both Curtis Sanford from Vancouver and Dany Sabourin from Edmonton on waivers, Danis knew that the team was his for now.

Coach Scott Gordon had a one-on-one with him before the Anaheim game last night, and as Gordon put it, "I told him that he needs to make the most out of his situation...he may never have a chance like this again". With the faith Gordon has shown in Danis by giving him this opportunity, it shows that this organization believes in him, and that for now, Yann Danis will be the last line of defense for the New York Islanders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who Didn't See That Coming?

"After extensive consultation we feel this decision is in the best interest for Rick and the team. This will allow Rick ample time to make a full recovery for next year". -Garth Snow

While many fans and insiders felt that this was coming, it still felt like being punched in the gut. With all the injury issues the Isles have faced this year, this one has to be the most devastating. The New York Islanders' franchise goaltender, Rick DiPietro is out for the year.

Injuries are nothing new for DiPietro. Every Islander fan remembers on March 13, 2007, when Ricky went out to play the puck and collided with Montreal Canadien Steve Begin. Dipietro was diagnosed with a concussion, but played four games later. It wasn't until a game against the New York Rangers, where he recieved a second concussion and was set down for the rest of the regular season. This was not the end of DiPietro's injury issues, however. During the 2007 offseason, he had surgury to fox a torn labrum in his hip.

After the surgury, it appeared as if he was good to go. However, during the 2008 All-Star game skills competition, which he took place in, he was heard saying during the game "ow, my (expletive) hip". This injury would not keep him out though. It wasn't until the Isles were eliminated from playoff contention that DiPietro announced that he was to have surgury to repair his damaged hip.

And now there's the most recent injury. DiPietro had surgury to repair his left meniscus during the summer fo 2008, a surgury which has led him to play only five games during the year before being officially shut down yesterday.

What does this mean for the organization? DiPietro, having signed a 15 year, $67.5 million contract in 2006, has the longest contract in NHL history. Already showing that he may have serious injury problems for the rest of his career, what do the Islanders do? Should they show good faith and stick with DiPietro, or should they play it safe, and via the draft or free agency pick up a backup plan? I think it's clear that current DiPietro backup Joey MacDonald isn't the answer, as he has looked shaky at many points as DiPietro's replacement.

The Islanders have a lot on their plate. Add up being dead last in points in the NHL, regular low attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, and the threat of a potenial move off of Long Island, the last thing they needed to worry about was Rick DiPietro's health over the next 13 years.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Close, But No Cigar

Positives to take out of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at the Coliseum:
  1. The Isles finally scored on the powerplay, something which has haunted them all season long.
  2. Solid defensive play against a high powered Washington Capitals team.
  3. Good play by emergency call-ups Kurtis McLean (in for Trent Hunter) and Jack Hillen (in for Chris Campoli).
  4. Three out of the Islanders last four games have been great efforts against playoff caliber teams.
  5. Blake Comeau has set himself apart from the pack as someone who will deliver the big hit along the boards at any point in the game.
Negatives to take out of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at the Coliseum:
  1. The Islanders need to stop taking bad penalties. Even though it was a questionable call (at best) on Brendan Witt for slashing Alex Ovechkin during the overtime period, it's still a bad penalty to take.
  2. More quality shots need to be taken. Even though the shot totals for the Islanders have been averaging around 25 per game, many of them have been taken from poor angles or low percentage areas of the ice.
  3. With the exception of Okposo's power-play goal late in the third period, the Isles couldn't finish on an offensive play if their lives depended on it. Missed nets, hit posts, and poor passing has led to only one goal per game for four straight home games.
If the Islanders have any interest in securing two points this month, they need to start finishing plays and getting on the scoreboard. Their defense, despite being depleted with injury, has played very well. Over the last four games, they have given up three or less goals each game to the Rangers, Bruins, Devils, ad Capitals, four explosive offensive teams. If the Islanders can simply start putting the puck in the net and the defense plays as well as it has around backup goaltender Yann Danis, the wins will come.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Sloppy Second" Costs Isles Game

What a change 48 hours makes. On thursday nights loss to Boston, the Islanders looked like a team who utilized speed, knew how to minimize mistakes, and for lack of better words, play hockey.

"We came out and didn't play three periods" was the mantra coming from coach Gordon after the game. Not only did the Isles not play a full game, but the second period where the Devils scored two goals to make it 3-0 may have been the sloppiest period of pro hockey I have ever seen. The period started out with the Nate Thompson taking a boarding penalty which soon led to the Devils showing everyone in the Coliseum how to work the puck on the power play. Withing 40 seconds of being on the power play, Zach Parise wristed one right past a sprawled out Yann Danis to put the Devs up for good.

It wasn't just the goals that made this period painful on a level that I can't describe, it was the small things. Whiffed passes into the middle of the ice, being outskated by New Jersey, lackof pressure in both the offensive and defensive zone, and taking shots from bad shooting lanes. Do they realize that you don't get points for shooting the puck into the goalies chest? Hmmm.

Overall, a much better effort is needed to win. Skating is the most important aspect in Scottt Gordons system, and if the Islanders don't want to go 0-for-January, things have to change very soon.

***ATTN. Gary Bettman: This is not Sean Avery writing this blog, please don't suspend me from NHL activity for saying "sloppy seconds" during the title.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Luke Schenn

Being an Islander fan, it seems almost inevitable that you should expect to see a long list of players at season's end who spent time on the IR. a little more than halfway through the 2008-09 season, we have seen key defensive players such as Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Chris Campoli, Andy Sutton, Freddy Meyer and of course, Rick Dipietro (can anybody say 2021???) spend time away from the team due to injury. That being said, I think a look back at the 2008 NHL entry draft is in order.

I was at work on the night of June 20, 2008. I had no access to the coverage on VS. and believe me, I was not too happy about this. I had a friend who was home watching text message me the results as they happened, and with the first four picks, there were no surprises: Stamkos to Tampa, Doughty to L.A., Bogosian to Atlanta, and Pietrangelo to St. Louis. I can remember the ten minutes the Islanders had to make their pick seemed like hours. Finally, I get a text which made me scratch my head and wonder if I was dreaming: "Isles trade down". It turns out that they had traded draft picks with Toronto. The next text I got felt like I had been kicked right in the gut: "Leafs take Schenn".

I can honestly say that right after seeing this I didn't want to even think about hockey until training camp in September. All I kept saying to myself was "How do you pass on Schenn? How do you pass on Schenn?" It had seemed like a perfect fit.

They clearly weren't going to land one of the big three defensemen (Doughty, Bogosian, Pietrangelo), and it seemed a kid like Schenn would be a great fit. He's a hard hitting, shut down defenseman who has the potential to be compared to the likes of Deion Phanuef. In his first year on the Island, he could have learned from Brendan Witt, a veteran, shut down defenseman as well. Myself, being a huge believer in building your team with defense, saw this as a home run, but sadly it was not to be.

Flash forward four months later. Five of the Islanders defensemen, including the top pair of Witt and Martinek, have spent time injured. Who is to say that someone like Luke Schenn (who by the way, has been an absolute rock on defense for Toronto, and who leads all rookies with an average of oer 28 shifts per game) could definately step up and get some decent (cough) ice time, perhaps even as a second line defenseman. Instead, they have mixed and matched their top pair depending on the opponent and situation.

The Isles traded down once more, this time exchanging picks with the Nashville Predators, and with the ninth overall pick, they select Josh Bailey...wait, Josh Bailey??? "Who is Josh Bailey?", I thought to myself, still shocked at the turn of events which left me with a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the night and into early morning the next day. I was all ready to set up my own defensive lines with Schenn included, and instead, I was left feeling cheated.

Schenn may not put up the flashy offesnsive numbers that stat lovers look at, but he is definately a force to reckon with in the NHL. It's the small things he does which is quickly making him a fan favorite in Toronto, such as smart defensive play and timely hits in the corners which the fans up there can't get enough of. With all of the injuries the Isles have suffered thus far, there is no question that Schenn would have made a name for himself here on the island.

Now don't get me wrong, this is not ment to say anything bad about first round pick Josh Bailey. In fact, I am a strong believer that he may be the steal of the draft, and he has already made his impact this year.. And the thought of Kirill Petrov, a pick which was a result of one of the mentioned trades, playing in the NHL is an exciting one. In fact, with some of the picks the Isles made in the second and third round, including Aaron Ness and Corey Trevino, I feel that they may have had one of the better drafts this year. I am simply saying that given the situation the Islanders are in with their defense being as injury prone as they are, picking a potential stud shut down defenseman could have been a wise choice. But then again, hindsight is 50/50.

Moral Victory?

There was never really any doubt going into Thursday nights game that it would be an uphill battle for the Islanders. With the Isles going 0-for-2009 thus far, goaltender Joey MacDonald going down with a groin injury two days prior, plus the mighty Boston Bruins coming to town, things did not look very promising. The Bruins have been tops in the East for quite some time, and their explosive offense, plus rock steady defense led by Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tim Thomas gave everyone the impression that it would be a bad day to don the blue and orange. Well, everyone was wrong...

What came about was 60 minutes of hockey which resembled nothing of the 7-2 debacle in Boston on Black Friday, the last time these two teams met. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The Islanders skated with the Bruins for a full 60 minutes, established a forecheck early on in the game, and more surprisingly, threw their bodies around all over the ice. While it helped that three of Boston's best forwards (Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, and Patrice Bergeron) did not play, the Isles minimized mistakes, moved the puck well in the zone, applied offensive and defensive pressure for a full 60 minutes, which is essential to Gordan's overspeed philosophy.

All of that aside though, the most encouraging sight of the night was the play of Kyle Okposo. Late in the first period, he took a nasty puck to the face. However, during the second period, he returned wearing a full visor and sporting a nasty bump on his right lower jaw. That didn't stop him though, as he bowled over Bruins for the rest of the game. After the game, when asked by Stan Fischler why he didn't take the rest of the game off, he simply shrugged, smiled and said "it's a hockey game".

There's no such thing as a "moral victory" in professional sports. "Win-win situations" do not apply to pro atheletes. However, 2-1 loss to Boston is as close as you get. With Yann Danis coming up huge for the Islanders several times during the game, plus a well skated game, the Islanders can take a few positive away from this game.