March 29, 2011

Montoya Re-Signs; Other Tuesday Tidbits

The Islanders have had a couple of very busy off days, despite the fact that the season is winding down and they were officially eliminated from post season contention over the weekend.

Speaking of which, I said it in our weekly podcast and I'll say it again: for a team that put itself in quite the hole back in November and December, to get eliminated with only six games remaining is something that they can hang their hats on. I have to give some credit where it's due, namely to many of the players who quickly turned their seasons around and Jack Capuano. Good job by all to have some sustained strong play for a good chunk of the season. For a young team to play as well as they have from mid-December on is a positive sign for next season and not just "playing loose and with nothing to lose."

Now on to the bigger news items that I wanted to bring up.

The Islanders announced that they have re-signed goalie Al Montoya to a one-year, one-way contract extension for the 2011-2012 season. The deal is much deserved for a goalie who his finally getting to live out his dream since being the 6th overall pick in the 2004 draft by the New York Rangers.

Al Montoya will return for 2011-2012. Photo by C. Hessel
After Kevin Poulin went down with an injury, some fans were upset that the goalie Garth Snow ended up dealing for was Montoya rather than a Michael Leighton or a Jonas Gustavsson. I'll admit I was a little disappointed, but at the end of the day was not surprised that Montoya was a guy the Isles would take a chance on given their situation and Montoya's.

The deal has turned out to be a bit of a steal thus far. As injuries up front and on defense continued to mount, the Islanders and Montoya have generally still found ways to win. More often than not, it was Montoya who was standing on his head being tested with 35+ shots a game. Considering how frequently that has happened, his 2.35 GAA and .923 SV% speaks for itself.

Over the weekend, MSG+ statistician Eric Hornick pointed out that Montoya was actually slated to become a UFA at seasons end, which was contrary to everyone's belief. Some feared that the Islanders would fumble the ball and not bring Montoya back.

In the end though, both sides did the smart thing. The Islanders gave Montoya his chance to prove he belongs in the NHL, and Montoya realized this was his best chance to stick in the league. He has looked so comfortable here, especially after Sudsie Maharaj tweaked his game a little bit. The cost was never going to be an issue for him when it came to next season.

The Islanders now have some very capable net minders in the system to spell Rick DiPietro. Montoya has been the number one since about a week after being traded for. Kevin Poulin showed us all flashes of what he can do when healthy. Mikko Koskinen was very up and down and is slated for a spot in Bridgeport next season, while Nathan Lawson will be seeking a new organization.

Snow said in one of the recent "GM Show" segments that he hopes to have five goalies in the organization next season. When we talked about this on our show, after Sean went through all of the goalies he would like to see them go after I told him not to get his hopes up. With the expected signing of Anders Nilsson, the Islanders would then have five goalies in the organization. This is of course, barring a trade of someone like Koskinen.

At the end of the day, Montoya deserved this extension and if you assume he can keep this up, gives the Islanders some more stability in net for next season. When it comes to that position, given DiPietro's constantly changing status, you don't mess with what is working when someone comes in and makes the most of whatever opportunity is provided to him.

WEIGHT DONE: The team also announced on Tuesday that Doug Weight will be out for the remainder of the season.

The expectation now is that Weight will retire and remain in the organization in some capacity. This has been widely speculated.

The series of evens that have surrounded Weight's time on the Island are really unfortunate. His first season here, he looked like someone who could help this team for a few years as his career wound down and the Islanders grew with younger players. But Weight started to suffer injuries, which cut short a pretty good 2008-2009 campaign. Since then, Weight has experienced various back issues, with the latest one posing a risk for permanent damage.

I am a little disappointed when I read some comments from Islanders fans on message boards when it comes to the captain of the team. While I understand the concerns people have about the captain not being on the ice with the team, the fact of the matter is that the players voted him in as the captain. It was pretty much unanimous. To say that he should have had the 'C' stripped is utterly ridiculous.

Doug Weight is likely headed to retirement. Photo by C. Hessel
Weight's career may not end the way many of us wanted to see it, but he can certainly keep his head high with all of the things he has accomplished in his career.
Weight was a guy I always liked and felt was always a bit underrated, so I was so happy to see him add that final Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. Weight's next stop will be the U.S. Hockey Hall of fame, with a decent shot and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

When it comes to his post-playing days, I agree with what Deb Kaufman said on NHL Home Ice on XM this afternoon. Deb said that she felt that Weight was destined for a front office job more so than a coaching position seeing as how the thinking is that Weight wants to be more involved with the creation of a team similar to the way Steve Yzerman got involved.

JURCINA, GERVAIS HURT: Along with the Isles losing Andrew MacDonald for the remainder of the season due to a torn labrum in his hip (the 3rd one for the Isles this season), Milan Jurcina has tweaked his hip flexor while Bruno Gervais remained out with a foot problem. Both Dylan Reese and Mark Katic have been called up in case one or both of them cannot go Wednesday against the Devils.

If there was ever a time for injuries to mount, I suppose this would be it. However, the scary thing is that this has been happening quite frequently, especially in the case of Jurcina and MacDonald, who have suffered multiple injuries per season for the past few years.

As we said in the show, durability on the blue line is something that may need to be looked into in the offseason. Lets hope both can return and play the string of games out and not set the team back any further in their quest for a .500 season.

NEW PRICING ANNOUNCED: The Islanders announced their new pricing structure on Monday for tickets.

There is a significant slash across the board, with many seats appearing to have a 20% reduction. The Islanders were somehow among the league leaders in average ticket prices, having similar or slightly higher prices than the world champion Chicago Blackhawks and the previous winners in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Along with the decrease, the Islanders plan to add and even bring back some of the perks for season ticket holders that have since disappeared.

The Islanders had a chance to score big with fan relations this offseason, and they have gotten the ball rolling early with these prices. I know of many folks who are rethinking their decisions on tickets, as many had previously decided not to come back.

Good stuff all around. You need to take baby steps when you have a fan base as loyal as this one that has been banged around so to speak. This is a start, and a great one at that.

LEVY QUITTING: Although it may not seem like anything Earth shattering, Steve Levy's announcement that he will not run for re-election as Suffolk County Executive is a bit noteworthy when it comes to the Isles.

In the past, lost among all of the talk of where the Isles should go if Nassau doesn't work out for them, is Levy repeatedly saying he would be welcome to having the Isles move further East. He has never been contacted, but on the rare occasion he was asked he repeated these same thoughts.

This doesn't mean that if Charles Wang was really willing to relocated to Suffolk that it can't happen anymore. I don't think Suffolk was ever being seriously considered as a destination for the Isles, but at this stage in the game any time a proponent leaves the picture you can't help but do a double take.


For those who haven't listened to or watched it yet, our weekly radio show can be seen on our UStream site or downloaded through our MyPodcast site. Enjoy!

Our friend Johnny Z. of Yes! Islanders has his latest installment of "Islanders Top Shelf" out with guest Brad Kurtzberg of Inside Hockey.

March 25, 2011

Thrashers 2, Isles 1

After hearing so much about the added emotion when going up against a former teammate, the Isles started the game off very quietly.

They gave up an early goal as they did in Tampa, but for much of the first period they couldn't get anything going. The first period ended with Atlanta having a 12-3 shot advantage.

For the first couple of minutes of the second, it looked like things could possibly turn around for the Isles as they controlled some of the play. But that and a goal to tie it from John Tavares was not enough to tilt the scale the other way.
Rob Schremp now has two goals for Atlanta. Photo by C. Hessel

Naturally, Atlanta would grab the lead on a goal by Rob Schremp. Atlanta was on the power play, and Schremp was able to just take an awkward looking shot and got the puck past Al Montoya. As a matter of fact, Schremp didn't seem to know that it went in right away.

When all was said and done, the Islanders would get out-shot 34-15. They were also severely outplayed, even when they had the man advantage. The final score of 2-1 doesn't really indicate how the game went.

Matt Martin was pretty frustrated after this one, and you really can't blame him. "I think (the effort) was pretty poor. We came off a good road trip and got five or six points."

"When your at home you have to play better than that, dictate the pace of the game and we just didn't bring it at all tonight."

Late in the game, P.A. Parenteau was interfered with on what would have been a nice break in on Chris Mason with just about a minute left, but nothing was called. After the game, Parenteau was pretty upset with the lack of a call there as he should be. For much of this game, there were some questionable calls and non-calls.

Some may say that the Isles don't have to worry about a game like this in a season where the playoffs are unlikely, but try telling that to any of them. Martin pulled no punches.

"We weren't ready as a group. It's unacceptable at this time of the year. They were just better. They wanted it more."

They absolutely did. The Thrashers had a game plan - throw as many shots as you can towards the net and crash it with big bodies like Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler - and they executed it perfectly. When the Isles were on offense, the Thrashers seemed to be able to pick up on their plays with some ease. The Islanders, obviously frustrated, tried some fancy plays that didn't come close to working. Hence the low total of shots on goal against what has been a pretty poor defensive team.

Some additional thoughts:

- Matt Moulson seems to have gone a bit quiet and could use a goal in the worst way. He had a couple of good chances in this one, but was unable to put one past Mason.

- You have to feel for Montoya, who wasn't tested with anything crazy but did well when facing a lot of shots in close. To give him next to nothing in offensive support is unfortunate.

- Andrew MacDonald took a shot up high, but didn't miss any time and said he was fine after the game.

The Isles take on the Flyers next in what will be another tough match-up. If they come out with an effort similar to this one, expect the score to be worse than 2-1. A lot worse.

March 22, 2011

Islanders 5, Lightning 2

There always seems to be some extra emotions when you go up against a player that you have come to know and in many cases, love. This idea is slightly magnified when you are one of a slew of young players who may have looked up to that player.

Despite all of the glowing remarks from the current Islanders about ex-Isles goalie Dwayne Roloson, the Islanders came out very strong. Even after they gave up an early goal to Nate Thompson, they kept pressing and ultimately tied it on a power-play goal by Josh Bailey. Good job by Bailey there to go to the front of the net. That's something I feel he has been doing with more consistency lately, and something he needs to continue to do as he tries to find some consistency at the NHL level.

Speaking of Bailey, his game away from the puck was really good too. He made some nice plays to help prevent the Lightning from getting out of the zone, and also had a couple of nice shifts where he was able to keep the puck up against the boards behind the net so the Islanders could continue to maintain offensive pressure. All around good stuff from Bailey.

In the second period, the Islanders came out firing on all cylinders, adding two goals to grab a 3-1 lead. Kyle Okposo had a nice deflection on a shot by Milan Jurcina, while Matt Martin continues to take big strides in developing an offensive game. Jack Hillen made a really nice play to get the puck to Martin, who made a nice move to his back hand on a break to get the puck past Roloson.

Michael Grabner used his speed to not only create some chances, but also draw a couple of penalties. Those are just as important as his goal scoring. With the way some of the other players have clicked, particularly on the man advantage, the fact that he'll give the Isles plenty of chances on the power-play is one of the big reasons why the Isles scoring has gone up. Kyle Okposo also does a great job of drawing penalties, which has helped as well.

Grabner would get an empty net goal to ice the game for the Isles. He made a nice play to chip the puck out of the zone and essentially pass to himself.

Frans Nielsen quietly had himself another awesome game. He scored a goal that was rather odd, after losing the puck on a breakaway. He led all Isles forwards in ice-time. He wasn't as solid as he normally has been on face-offs, but all of the other things that he did were fantastic. I would have liked to see him shoot the puck on that 2-on-0 break with Grabner. I think everyone in the building expected him to pass it, so he should have tried to fake everyone out. But that's minor stuff.

Steve Stamkos has a much better offensive game than I thought he did. I saw him make a couple of nice plays, although he did have a couple of rough turnovers. Nothing that cost the Lightning anything major, however.

Al Montoya continued to do what he's done since he came here and put forth another solid effort. I can't really blame him on any of the goals. You can make the argument about the rebound on that first goal not two minutes into the game, but I feel Radek Martinek has to do a slightly better job tying up Thompson there.

The Isles got a bit sloppy late in the game and took a couple of penalties. For the most part, the calls were legit. Travis Hamonic needs to tone it down that late in the game, with the Lightning pressing and already on the power-play. Fortunately, Sean Bergenheim felt the need to try and defend Martin St. Louis after Hamonic hit him from behind and negated the 5-on-3 for the Lightning.

All in all, this was a solid effort for a team that's been playing really well of late. To have an effort like this against one of the best in the East is a good story too. Roloson will have to wait until next season - if he plays that is - to get revenge on his old team.


March 20, 2011

DiPietro Returns to Help Defeat Panthers in Shootout

The Islanders came into their game against the Florida Panthers after losing a tough one to the Carolina Hurricanes. To make matters worse, the Isles hadn't won at the BankAtlantic Center since November 2006.

But as they say, all things good and bad must come to an end at some point.

For the Islanders, that was Saturday night. The Panthers gave the Isles a good fight in what was a rather sloppy game at times, but some key goals and some key saves by Rick DiPietro helped the Isles to the shootout win.

Michael Grabner scored his 30th goal of the season against the team that let him go in the summer. This now gives the Isles two 30 goal scorers in the line-up for the first time since the 2001-2002 season (Alexei Yashin and Mark Parrish). Grabner and Moulson both have a handful of games left to get an even higher mark, while John Tavares needs only four more to join the 30 club himself.

Early on, DiPietro was tested early and often. I thought he looked strong all night, and it was good to see him get tested like that.

The few goals that he gave up could have been stopped. There was one goal where I blamed the defense more so than DiPietro (the first goal with Travis Hamonic losing his man). However, I felt that overall he didn't show too many signs of rust.

In the shootout, we got to see the best of DiPietro as he made some nice stops. He's always been really good in the skills competition, no matter what's been going on with him. Saturday night was no different.

The game was sloppy at points, sure. But I felt that the fight was there, and was proud of the way the team played. It's no easy task for this team to win in Florida, but they finally were able to get that monkey off their backs.

The Isles will have a few days to suck it all in before going to Tampa to take on Dwayne Roloson and the Lightning. The Lightning are trying to get their way back up to 2nd, ahead of Washington. They are a very strong team that has a lot of speed at wing. The Islanders need to be better than they were against the Panthers when it comes to defensive positioning. They'll have to be a bit more careful about how much space they give the forwards.


March 18, 2011

Like It or Not, DP Will Get Chance

1:45 PM - A couple of corrections.

First, I was off on thinking DiPietro would start tonight. Montoya gets the start tonight which means DiPietro is likely for tomorrow against the Panthers.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm jumping the gun on who the Isles play next. They go to Florida, not Tampa. Tampa comes next week. My apologies. Still, the point was you want to ice the strongest line-up against a stronger team, and that should mean Montoya in net for that one.

9:30 AM - There are some times where being proven wrong doesn't hurt a lot. This is one of those times.

The Islanders activated Rick DiPietro off of IR on Wednesday. Back in early February when he got hurt, I said that I expected him to be out for the entire season.

But the swelling has gone down for now, and DiPietro's comeback continues.

There comes a point in time when a comeback is no longer considered one. Believe it or not, we haven't yet reached that point. In all honesty, and I know some of you will hate to hear this, we are still in the early stages of this attempted comeback.

If you expected DiPietro to get into 40, 45 or even 50 games this year, then I'll tip my hat to you. There weren't many out there, and neither Sean nor myself were among those.

The reality of the situation is that going into this season, DiPietro felt the best he had in a number of years. He started out a bit slow, but was steadily getting better until the time of his injuries. I won't call them a setback, but rather on par for what I expected out of DiPietro this season.

I wanted to see if he could get through 25-30 games. Depending on how many starts he gets in these last 11 games, he realistically could hit that mark. But that would only be step one.

Step two would have been completing a season relatively pain free in getting to that number. Then in the offseason, evaluate where he is and give it a go again next season.

Right or wrong, this wasn't going to be a one year thing. DiPietro wasn't going to magically get his touch back and be at the top of his game after all that missed time. This is going to be a while. At this point, as cruel as it may seem the fans have to accept the fact that his contract is immovable, and his will to play the game has not wavered. As long as those two items remain constant, then there is no reason to think that his time is almost done. DiPietro will be attempting to play so long as he physically can. There is not going to be anyone who can tell him otherwise, not even a doctor.

If he heals the right way, and takes a very slow approach to all of this he can be pain free. For that reason, no doctor will tell him he can't do it anymore - they would be lying at this point in time.

So DiPietro returns and Nathan Lawson goes back to Bridgeport. If Al Montoya can keep up his play and continue the way he has, then we'll have a very capable goalie for the remaining games should anything bad happen with DiPietro.

NESS SIGNS: As I mentioned in the last post, as was speculated, Aaron Ness has decided to forego his senior season at the University of Minnesota and signed his entry level deal with the Islanders.

Ness was taken in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft. Despite his size, various scouting reports had him going anywhere from the late 1st to the middle of the 2nd round. He has loads of offensive skill, but unfortunately didn't get a chance to show that off while at the struggling program in Minnesota.

Leaving college early is something that has always plagued the NCAA, but more so now - especially at Minnesota.

Perhaps it's because of the way the NHL is going, and with many teams right at the cap ceiling looking for cheaper talent. The league is relying more and more on special teams, speed and skating, and Ness can do well with those three items. So while the size may be an issue for him right now, within the next year or so as he fills up even more, he can be passable and certainly on par for many others in the NHL.

The program at Minnesota, meanwhile continues to flounder. As of September, a grand total of 15 players left the program since the 2005-2006 season, and a total of 31 in head coach Don Lucia's tenure there (beginning in 1999-2000). Since 2007, Minnesota is 70-59-24 with one playoff appearance. As years go on here, we see why Kyle Okposo was in favor of leaving the program. He's is obviously not alone when you see the staggering amount that have left in the past four years.

Ness will report to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on a ATO for now, and his entry level deal won't kick in until next season. So he'll get to strut his stuff for the next few weeks to give the organization a taste of what they have and where they can go from there.

Ness will make his debut Friday.

ISLES IN CAROLINA: The Islanders go to Raleigh tonight to take on the Carolina Hurricanes, who don't have much room for error. They currently sit two points behind the Rangers for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. They have a very strong team that has had some inconsistency issues this season. Their offence is very good, with Eric Staal leading the way and rookie of the year candidate Jeff Skinner having the unlikely all-star season he has had. Cory Stillman has been a very good deadline pick-up for the Canes, as he has six points in 10 games.

The Islanders wouldn't say if DiPietro or Montoya would be starting, but coach Jack Capuano hinted that just because DiPietro is returning doesn't mean he'll play right away.

I'll say theres a good chance that DiPietro gets one of these back-to-back games. I hate making these kinds of predictions, but perhaps the Isles will want to save Montoya for Dwayne Roloson and the Lightning. They will want a strong performance for that game for obvious reasons. We'll just have to wait and see until we get reports from the Isles morning skate in Carolina.


March 15, 2011

Rangers 6, Islanders 3

Despite how much he played it down, you had to know that Al Montoya wanted nothing else in the world but to beat the New York Rangers. Human nature dictates that.

It's unfortunate that he didn't get that chance. Many Islanders didn't play well enough to give him that chance. The on-ice officiating didn't do much to help that cause either.

All I'll say about the officiating is that they made some pretty bad calls. There were a couple that were fine, like the call on Micheal Haley and the call on Travis Hamonic (despite what Butch Goring was saying). But the hooking calls on Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner had me curious. There was a whole lot of nothing to them, and certainly not enough to give the Rangers a long 5-on-3 advantage. They used some of these chances given to them to build up a 5-2 lead. They would go on to win 6-3.

Aside from that, the Isles defense was very shoddy. On their first goal, Andrew MacDonald fell down. While that didn't help matters, it was compounded by the fact that Brandon Prust was easily able to get around Kyle Okposo and that Josh Bailey stood two feet away from the play and just watched as MacDonald fell and Prust shoot a loose puck into an open net.

That would be the beginning of a rather rough night for Bailey, who had been playing really well recently up until this point. I have no doubts that he'll pick up right where he left off in the next game.

Bruno Gervais also had a rough game, as he seemed to lose the puck a number of times with one of those times costing the Isles a goal as the rangers had essentially an open net. It was a bit of a freak thing however as Montoya had his pads flat on the ice - or he appeared to, anyway. The puck got past both he and Gervais to a wide open Ryan Callahan.

The Isles let a total of 47 shots get in on Montoya and Nathan Lawson. If someone watched the first 10 minutes of the game and went away for the night, they may come home to a score that is rather surprising. In the early going, both Montoya and Henrik Lundqvist made some really solid saves. As Butch Goring had mentioned, if not for them the score could have been 3-3 instead of 1-0 Rangers at the time.

The Islanders got into a 2-0 hole, but as they did last week against Boston, they quickly battled back to tie the game at two.

Jack Hillen took a nice shot, but even better than that was the play of John Tavares on the shift. He did all he could along the boards to keep the puck in deep, bring it behind the net, get it to his stick and find Hillen at the point for a one-time slap shot. The puck actually grazed off of Matt Moulson's knee to give him his 30th goal of the season. It's his 2nd straight 30 goal season, and he finally has it under his belt now. Last game he was given a goal, but that was later changed to Tavares'.

The Isles 2nd goal came on a beautiful mid-air tip in by P.A. Parenteau, who is now closing on the 20 goal mark himself with 17.

The Rangers got some goals on some nice chances. Both of Marian Gaborik's goals were from closer in, but using the defensemen as screens. On his second goal, he used the big body of Milan Jurcina and Lawson never stood a chance.

The game had a very little chippiness to it. There were a fair amount of scuffles, but as time went on things seemed to quiet down. Sean Avery didn't go through many of his antics in the 2nd and 3rd period. Zenon Konopka had perhaps his quietest game as an Islander, and contrary to what I thought late in the 3rd, he was not hurt.

Matt Martin and Michael Sauer got into the only fight. It was a spirited scrap very late in the game.

The Islanders have a couple of days off to work on their PK and overall defensive play before taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on the road on Friday.

AARON NESS SIGNING? Multiple places have been reporting possible news that prospect Aaron Ness is leaving the University of Minnesota in order to sign his pro contract with the Isles. No one is confirming anything at this time, but it would not surprise me if Ness makes the jump now.

If he does, it's better late than never. This past summer, David Toews left the University of North Dakota to play in the WHL as he felt it would be better for his career.

Also this past summer, Minnesota lost two top players within a week of each other as Nick Leddy and Josh Birkholz left early. Of course, Isles fans remember that it was Okposo who left early a few years back. The big issue there was Garth Snow's concerns over the way Don Lucia was running the program.

So here we are, four years later and as the article mentions, 15 early exits later (31 total under Lucia). Minnesota has floundered the last three seasons and their records have been unimpressive.

I do think Ness still has some talent to him and just needs to get out of the once proud program. If he does, the biggest issue surrounding him will be his size. But with many small defensemen able to make it to the big leagues these days with the emphasis on special teams and scoring, anything is possible. He'll need to improve upon his positioning to have any kind of future in the NHL, similar to the way Mark Katic worked on his game.

We'll keep an eye on this situation. But right now, all appears quiet.


March 13, 2011

Isles Fuming After Officiating Against Devils

Jack Capuano has always been politically correct when answering some of the tough questions, but he pulled no punches when asked about the outcome of the Islanders' 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday night.

We got no respect tonight. Maybe if we start winning games, we'll get it. Maybe it's a young coaching staff and they've got an older coaching staff. Maybe it's their players -- their veteran guys versus our non-veteran guys. I have no idea. But it's tough for guys to prepare for a game and then it's taken away from you.

That is some pretty powerful stuff. However, the Islanders haven't been the only team to have games ruined by the refs. It's happened a lot in the league this season, and goes back to the point I was making in February after the game against Pittsburgh. Many teams have had it with officiating this year, and it's starting to boil over.

The Islanders could have made it tougher on everyone if they would have played much better than they did. The fact that they played poorly doesn't help their argument too much. Sure, they battled back from a 1-0 hole to grab a 2-1 lead, but for much of the first period and a good chunk of the second, they were badly outplayed. The Devils had 31 shots, while the Isles managed only 15.

Blake Comeau had a very strong game once again and scored his 20th of the season on a really nice play to make Martin Brodeur go down way too early and leave him flopping in the crease.

Brodeur made some great saves on the few times he was really tested though. Al Montoya also stood tall, and you can't really fault him for the outcome. The shot was a bit of an odd one, and Salmela got it off rather quickly and unexpectedly.

The Islanders should get some credit for taking a team to overtime twice in the same week, not to mention a team that hasn't lost much in the last 25 or so games.

Capuano and company are definitely on to something with the officiating, and I'm really glad that he spoke up. The league is investigating the officiating, but I'm sure nothing will come of it, just like always.

I'll be curious to see if Capuano gets fined for his comments. Lately, coaches have been getting away with saying things like this, perhaps because the NHL is catching on to their mistakes. But i he does, then that opens up another whole can of worms.

Just keep winning. Capuano is right - that's what this will take. Be serious in your pursuit for the playoffs. Actively talk to top free agents and actively explore trades. Show you are serious about spending money, don't just talk about it. You get respect if you win. That's not how it should be, but such is the way of sports these days.

NO NYI FYI: For those of you thinking you missed us for a show on Sunday, unfortunately you did not. Due to an event that Sean had to be at, we were unable to record a show on Sunday. We are hoping to get something, perhaps during the week though. Stand by for an announcement on that. We apologize to you guys for having a last minute thing pop up.


March 12, 2011

Resiliency at it's Finest as Isles Down Bruins

They always say those late goals at the end of the period can be killers. Generally, the Isles are usually on the receiving ends of having the momentum sucked out of them. On Friday night against the Boston Bruins however, it was the Islanders getting a late goal that completely shifted the game in their favor.

The Islanders had a very pedestrian effort against the Bruins for much of the first and second periods as the Bruins built a 2-0 lead on goals by Nathan Horton and, naturally, Zdeno Chara. The Isles appeared to have trouble containing the Bruins, and you saw numerous times why people have been including them in their Stanley Cup predictions since the summer.

With two seconds left in the second though, things changed. P.A. Parenteau, John Tavares and Matt Moulson had an excellent shift to keep the puck deep in the zone. Parenteau got the puck behind the net to Tavares, who made a no-look behind the back pass to Moulson who was left alone to the left of Tim Thomas. His quick shot surprised everyone and cut the lead to 2-1.

The Islanders came out hard in the 3rd, and didn't let off at all. They would end up controlling the play for much of the period. Michael Grabner would score to tie the game after picking up a rebound after a scramble in front of Thomas. His shot looked rather harmless, but all of the pushing and shoving in front of the net allowed the puck to slowly trickle in past Thomas.

Jack Hillen scored after a puck deflected in off of a Bruin and past Thomas. He tried his hardest to make the save, but when he realized where the puck was it was too late. It had already fluttered in, and the Isles were firing on all cylinders, feeding off of the crowd of 12,119.

Parenteau would get a goal of his own in an empty net. The puck never actually went in, but he was tripped up and taken down on a breakaway which is an automatic goal.

This was resiliency at it's finest. The Islanders battling back, against one of the top teams in the East it an excellent story for this crew.

Since December 16th, the Islanders and the Bruins are tied for the most points in the Conference. I don't need to beat a dead horse, but it's a shame what the outcomes were in the previous 21 to December 16th.

Al Montoya only faced 28 shots, and stopped 26 of them. He made some nice saves and continues to get better and better as time goes on. The Islanders threw 41 shots at Thomas. It was the first time since 1986 that the Islanders won back to back games after taking 40+ shots.

Moulson moved one goal away from getting his 2nd straight 30 goal season, while Grabner moved two away from that mark.

Blake Comeau had a really strong game, and made two really nice plays on penalty killing opportunities. Both times he dove to knock pucks out of the zone. He threw hits and skated hard all night, perhaps trying to get his first career 20 goal year under his belt. He has been playing fairly well in my opinion over the last few weeks, and it's great that he has kept that play up to show some consistency.

The Islanders get no rest as they take on the New Jersey Devils again on Saturday night. This should be another fun game, and another one that's been getting some notice from hockey pundits in the area. Neither team could care less about draft picks and want to win these games. It makes for some fun late season hockey among two teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs. But hey, we've been wrong before. As Captain2Man pointed out to us on Twitter last night:
you guys haven't been too great in predicting hockey games recently. That makes me happy.
It makes us happy too. Lets hope for another win in our own quest for a late season surge, as well as deliver a blow to the Devils hopes.


March 8, 2011

Comeau Continues Strong Play, Wins it in OT

There was a point in the third period where I started to think that going to overtime on this particular night might not be a bad thing for the Islanders.

Each time the Isles got on the board, it didn't take a lot of time for the Maple Leafs to answer back.

Blake Comeau scored the winner in overtime, ensuring that the Leafs had no way of answering that one. For all their efforts though, they walked away with a point - one that may be much needed in their late season push for a playoff spot.

Zenon Konopka, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner scored the other goals for the Isles.

Josh Bailey only registered an assist, but got to wear the hard hat after the game for his effort. He was all over the ice, making some nice plays on both sides of the puck. His passing is getting better and better everyday. I said it in the last post, but it bears repeating - he has looked exponentially better since Rob Schremp has left, and that is no coincidence.

Although Andrew MacDonald has been really solid all season long, I did feel he had a bit of a rough game. Perhaps it was just the infamous Nassau Coliseum ice, but he seemed to have trouble keeping some pucks in at the blueline. It could be nothing, but just something I noticed a couple of times with him in the past few weeks. It's nothing major though, and nothing has come of it yet to be detrimental to the team, bit it's an observation worth pointing out.

Matt Martin has been a beneficiary of the Isles dumping of Schremp as he has moved up to play on a line with Bailey and Comeau. Martin was originally part of a line with Zenon Konopka and Micheal Haley, which was the line I pointed out as being the best when they went on their recent road trip to Toronto and Philadelphia.

Martin got about 17 minutes of ice time, and aside from getting a breakaway (which resulted in a failed penalty shot attempt) and some other nice chances on James Reimer, he had 14 hits. That is an insane amount, sure. But there were numerous occasions where you saw his hits be effective and didn't involve him taking himself out of the play. As a fourth line player, he was still good for about five hits a game, but at times would go out of his way to make those hits. Now, in a scoring role he is getting a chance to be a regular force in front of the net and in the slot area, and finish his checks for more of those solid, honest and hard working type of checks. His skating has improved from what it was at the beginning of the season too.

There were a number of Isles who were denied the chances to find themselves on the score sheet thanks in large part to the posts behind Reimer. The Isles hit the post five times, all within the first 30 minutes of play. That can certainly be frustrating for a team that has generally gotten the puck to bounce their way in the past month or so.

Al Montoya made some nice saves, and as far as making saves with the glove, I felt this was one of his better performances. The rebounds still need some work, and the Leafs were able to capitalize on a couple of chances thanks to fat rebounds Montoya left around the net. That is the one area of his game that is still a work in progress, but everything else is night and day from what we saw in his first two appearances in relief prior to working extensively with goaltending consultant Sudsie Maharaj.

The Isles now have a couple of days to soak this one up before the Bruins come into town on Friday night. The Bruins, who are a very hot team and perhaps the best in the Eastern Conference, will be the focus of many discussions and not because of their outcome in their loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday but because of a nasty hit suffered by Max Pacioretty from Zdeno Chara.

Chara hit Pacioretty rather awkwardly after the puck was already moved up ice. The follow through brought both players up along the boards, where Pacioretty's head hit the stanchion between the two benches. There were 16 seconds left in the period, and the refs had the teams leave the ice and just added the time on for the 3rd. It took that long to stabilize Pacioretty and put him on a stretcher. He was later taken to a hospital, where it was reported that he was awake, alert and moving his extremities. That's all excellent news.

For Chara however, there seem to be differing view points. While I do not think there was any malice in his hit, I also think it's going to be pretty hard to make an argument that a player with that size should be able to ease up and stop just short of finishing a check. Like I said, it seemed to me that the intentions where harmless, but as they went along the boards it was just the wrong place at the wrong time. I see some analysts on Twitter saying they expect a suspension for Chara.

At this time, I'm doubting that he gets one, but if he does it makes the Isles job slightly easier. The Bruins have lost only twice (their last two, actually) since acquiring Tomas Kaberle from the Leafs on February 18. We'll see what news hits the wire tomorrow though as we get closer to game night.


Click here to download the latest NYI FYI podcast, or here to see the show in video format

March 6, 2011

Brodeur Solid, Halts Isles Streak

For anyone paying attention to what has been going on around the NHL lately, they would have told you that Sunday afternoon's match-up between the Islanders and Devils was actually a game many were looking forward to. While both are fighting for their playoff lives and dreaming of miracle runs, they have actually been two of the hottest teams in the league the past few weeks.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Isles looking for their 3rd straight win. Martin Brodeur got in the way.

"We know he's a good goalie," Frans Nielsen told me. "You can't think about it too much. You just have to keep shooting and get pucks at him and maybe they'll go in."

Nielsen had several good opportunities on Brodeur, each of which were denied. Nielsen's best chance came not one minute after he took a hard hit into the boards and was slow to get up. Nielsen, who favored his head as he came to his feet, told me after the game he felt fine and was showing no effects of anything wrong.

P.A. Parenteau also had some good chances on Broduer but was stopped as well.

"It's frustrating. Both goalies were awesome tonight, but with Marty he made some saves that made you say 'that's why he's a Hall of Famer' and he's something else to watch. I grew up watching him and he does things that no one else can do."

Parenteau, who was also stopped by Brodeur in the shootout, made some nice plays. His line was the best one for the Isles and they generated some really good chances. Offensively, the Isles wished they could have gotten more going and Parenteau accredited that to the Devils style of play.

"It's Jersey and they play a trap. It's just what they do, what they have been doing for years. You just have to approach it a little differently, and you can't take as many chances. You have to play the same game as them and be patient cause their looking for you to make mistakes."

"For a young group of guys, I thought we played really well and didn't give them much."

I would have to agree there. While the Devils out-shot the Isles by a fairly large margin, many of the shots were handled with ease by Al Montoya. It was the third period where a lot of the better chances came in.

Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau scored the goals for the Isles.

Bailey has been playing well the last couple of weeks, even when not finding his way onto the score sheet. It's no coincidence that once Rob Schremp left for Atlanta that Bailey's play picked up. He no longer has to be moved to different positions, and no longer has that threat of feeling like someone is over his shoulder. When it came to Bailey's struggles, we've talked a countless number of times both in this space and on the radio show about how one of the issues was constantly having his position swapped and playing with different line mates. One thing that you need to get is some consistency with the surroundings, and now that Bailey is getting that, his play has been getting better.

Comeau had been playing well too, and only continued that on Sunday afternoon. As fellow blogger Tony Stabile mentioned to me, "Comeau is playing like a man possessed today."

This was the effort we were hoping to get out of Blake more often than not. The goal was his 18th of the year. Two more gives the Isles four 20 goal scorers, which is certainly something to hang your hat on. Comeau's goal may have been gift wrapped for him, but there were a couple of pucks left out in the slot area by the Devils that the Isles just couldn't get to, but Comeau was great on the fore check here and once the defensemen over skated the puck, he was right there to pick up the puck and fire a wrist shot past Brodeur.

After seeing the game open up as much as it did in the third, it was a shame that this one had to be decided in the skills competition. The shootout ran a bit longer than others we have seen this season, as both Brodeur and Montoya made some nice stops. This was our first look at Montoya in the shootout, and I'd have to say he fared pretty well. Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston scored for the Devils while Nielsen had the lone goal for the Isles. Ironically, it was both Kovalchuk and Rolston who provided the regulation goals for the Devils. But Montoya did make some nice stops on the likes of Mattias Tedenby and Patrick Elias.

In the end, the Devils got their offense from two of the only guys who seem to be providing any these days, and the same two who have really carried the team over the last couple of weeks. The Isles were killed in the face-off circle thanks to the work of Travis Zajac and trade deadline acquisition Dave Steckel. This played a large part in Brodeur only being tested with 13 shots through 45 minutes of play.

The Isles stay home for the next few days, with their next match on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs still have hopes for making the playoffs, and are really close. They are no doubt upset with the outcome of this one, and now have their work cut out for them. With a chance to make a statement on Saturday, the Leafs were killed by the suddenly hot Chicago Blackhawks. They will be looking to come out in their next few games with guns-a-blazing.

NEW NYI FYI POSTED: For those who missed it live, we recorded our weekly Sunday show. We discussed a variety of topics, the main one being the lack of activity at the deadline, and what has to happen in the offseason for this team to become successful. We also talked a bit about the Trevor Gillies situation, bringing up some of the fans thoughts and providing our own thoughts on them, for what it's worth (not much, probably). We hope you guys enjoy it!

You can dowload the podcast here, or find the recording of the show on UStream.


Isles Dent Playoff Hopes for Blues

If the St. Louis Blues want to truly make up the 10 point hole they have put themselves into after a hot beginning of the season, then the task just got a lot harder.

The Blues road in their attempt at a miraculous comeback passed through Uniondale on Saturday afternoon, and it turned out to be a nightmare for them.

Generally, these afternoon games on the weekends give the Isles hard times. But Saturday afternoon felt different. It felt like it was being played by a team that knows what they have to do to win now, and was in line with many of the games they have played over the past month.

Who knows. Maybe the Isles slept better than they had been and were ultra prepared for the Blues for this one.

There were a number of instances where the Isles made the Blues defensemen just look plain silly. Despite their recent woes, that's not an easy task to do. The likes of Barrett Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Pietrangelo are very good at their trade. But on a couple of plays, the Isles made them look like turn styles.

The scoring was started by John Tavares, after he made a beautiful move around two Blues players. That goal might be one of the top five I have seen all season. It was something really cool to see. It was off of a nice pass by P.A. Parenteau, who had a bit of a rough start to the game but settled down nicely after missing an open net.

Parenteau would end his own little slump later when he got a nice pass from Michael Grabner to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. That goal was started by Tavares, who made a nice play and pass at center to find Grabner, who used his speed to streak up the left side. Parenteau went to the net hard from the right, and was in the perfect spot to tap in the pass.

Andrew MacDonald scored two goals in this one, his 2nd on a breakaway after stripping Andy McDonald of the puck on the blue-line.

Grabner got one of hi own to end a drought, and he blew past Pietrangelo to score on a breakaway of his own.

I really liked the Isles effort, but Jack Capuano didn't seem enthralled with it. He warned in the post game that they can't play the way they did and expect to win like that. I thought that while there were a couple of defensive lapses here and there, that they were few and far between.

But perhaps that's more of a statement towards how much Capuano has grown as a coach. We have seen the good, bad and ugly with him, and now we are obviously seeing more of the good. Perhaps it was his subtle way of telling the team it's never enough, a friendly way of saying "I'm not pleased" so they keep up what they have been doing. He needs them to for next season when he's here, anyway.

The test gets a bit harder for the Isles as they face the New Jersey Devils in a Sunday afternoon matinee. The Devils are one of the few teams hotter than the Isles right now, and seem to be trying desperately to do anything in their power to march to a playoff spot. It's still improbable, but anything can happen.

Martin Brodeur has been announced as the starter for the Devils. Capuano wouldn't announce his, but I'm going to guess Nathan Lawson. Al Montoya wasn't bad against the Blues, but he wasn't as "on" as he has been in recent games, so the Isles may look to give him the day off and go with Lawson off of his stellar performance in Washington.

Ilya Kovalchuk is playing like himself again, which is good for the Devils and bad for everyone else right now. He's firing on all cylinders. After a really miserable start to the season, Henrik Tallinder really settled in and is playing like the defensive defenseman he can be when healthy. This is a team you must be very careful with.

The last time the Isles saw them, it was also an afternoon matinee. It didn't go too well for the Isles as they lost 5-2. Times were a bit different then though. Can this rejuvenated Isles team take out the Devils that no one else seems to be able to stop? Would make for a great story. I'm looking forward to being in the press box for this one.

REMINDER: We'll be on live at 11 AM for NYI FYI. Make sure to join us on UStream and come with questions or comments!


March 5, 2011

Gillies Suspended 10 Games; Blues at Isles

The NHL came down hard on Trevor Gillies on Friday when they announced that they suspended him for 10 games for his hit on Cal Clutterbuck of the Minnesota Wild.

I was very adamant about how I felt about what happened in the post game write-up. I still stand by those and have no problem with this suspension.

Gillies didn't hit Clutterbuck hard. Thankfully, DiBenedetto wasn't hurt from Clutterbuck's hit, either. But the fact of the matter is that it was a pretty senseless thing for Gillies to do coming fresh off of that nine game suspension. Again, the proper way to handle this situation is challenge Clutterbuck to a fight. When he declines (which generally does happen) then you let Matt Martin and Zenon Konopka take care of hitting anything that moves. A few hits to the likes of Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard takes care of everything and forces the entire Wild team to have to answer the bell for Clutterbuck's hit.

I know people point to the NHL's inconsistency in handing out these suspensions, and that is still the case here. We can argue all day if either of Gillies suspensions fit the crimes. While I support a lot of what happened in that Pittsburgh game, what Gillies did to Tangradi wasn't cool, hit or no hit on Jack Hillen. Continuing to pummel an injured player is terrible no matter how you slice it. That's why they came down as hard as they did on him, or so they thought.
For Gillies to come out after that suspension, and hit Clutterbuck up high - it doesn't matter from the side, from the rear, whatever - is mindless. I'm not sure what was going on in his head. But the reason this suspension is so lengthy is due to what he was just coming off of, not two minutes (of ice time) into that first game back.

The suspension most likely gives Gilles seven (potential) games left of his NHL career.

ISLES TAKE ON BLUES: The Islanders take on my favorite team from the West as the St. Louis Blues come to town. The Blues are a team that has had a rather up and down season, and they made their feelings known on the teams collapse after their hot start with their trade of Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to the Colorado Avalanche for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart.

Stewart has been on fire for the Blues, and is the type of player we can hope Kyle Okposo turns in to. While they were drafted far apart in the first round from each other, both were first round picks in the 2006 draft. Stewart hasn't been held back by injuries though and has put together two straight solid seasons as a power forward. He is the guy the Isles have to key in on.

The Blues have some other solid players who are having good season's, like Andy McDonald. He's the guy setting up the likes of Stewart or David Backes.

Ben Bishop starts in goal for the Blues. Bishop has been up and down between the NHL and the AHL's Peoria Blues, but has had some solid games recently when Jaroslav Halak was hurt. Bishop's play led to the waiving of Ty Conklin.
Micheal Haley gets back into the line-up after missing time with a knee injury. He takes Gillies spot in the line-up. Al Montoya gets another start coming off that stellar performance against the Wild. If he puts in another one like that, it's going to be really hard to not start him Sunday against the Devils, no matter what Nathan Lawson did in Washington.
All in all, a pretty good match-up for a Saturday afternoon. Two teams that play similar styles that actually match up quite well with each other. It should be a fun one.

March 3, 2011

Isles 4, Wild 1; Gillies to Have In-person Hearing

The Minnesota Wild are battling for their playoff lives, and their road trip got off to a start that they needed to avoid.

The Islanders had an excellent effort against a fairly good team, especially goaltender Niklas Backstrom who has had the Isles number since he came into the league. Backstrom was chased after giving up three unanswered goals, two to Blake Comeau.

Speaking of Comeau, there must be something with him when playing teams from the West. He now has 10 points in just 16 games when playing teams from the other conference this season. It was a year to the day after Comeau got his hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks right after the Olympic break last season. He appears to be well on his way to notch 20 goals this year (currently at 17) which would give the Isles their 4th 20 goal scorer on the year.

I thought Frans Nielsen made some really nice plays out there, but he would tell you otherwise. Despite his three assist performance, he didn't seem too happy with his play in the postgame. I thought his play was pretty good, and can't really point to anything specific that would be considered poor. Perhaps Nielsen, one of the better defensive players in the game, has very high standards for himself and is still upset about the game against the Caps, when he was spun around multiple times by quick passing plays and Alex Ovechkin.

Al Montoya, starting after Nathan Lawson got the nod in Washington and played really well, didn't seem to miss a beat. There was no hitch in his play that would lead one to believe he was worried that his job could be on the line. Obviously, the Isles have both goaltenders battling it out for a spot in the NHL, be it here or elsewhere next season. But Montoya had taken over that starting job, and with a 1.93 GAA through his time as an Islander, the job should be his for now. Lawson hasn't been too great more often than not, and doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt just yet. For now, I see Tuesday's game in Washington as the outlier.

One of the biggest story lines in this game was Trevor Gillies returning to the line-up after missing nine games due to a suspension from the hit against Eric Tangradi in the infamous February 11th game against the Penguins. Tangradi has been sidelined with a concussion since Gillies elbowed him in the head in response to running and hurting Jack Hillen. Tangradi immediately felt the pain, and Gillies still threw some punches as Tangradi fell to the ice.

It took almost two minutes of ice time for Gillies to get in trouble again. Cal Clutterbuck boarded Justin DiBenedetto, and Gillies came in and hit Clutterbuck, causing him to fall and hurt himself in the process.

I have no doubt that Clutterbuck embellished his injury a bit. But regardless of what Clutterbuck, who appeared destined for a five minute major and a game misconduct, had done there was no need for the equally as childish actions from Gillies.

While Clutterbuck never would have accepted a challenge from Gillies, that's what you do in this situation. When he declines, everyone rides him for not fighting his own fights, and then you have guys like Matt Martin and Zenon Konopka let the hits fly fast and furiously on guys like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat. In that scenario, Clutterbuck gets frowned upon for angering the Isles once again and for not accepting the fight.

Instead, Gillies comes in and takes the "eye for an eye" approach with a cheap-shot. I don't care if it's from the front, back, side - whatever you want it to be - it was still a cheap shot and the wrong way to respond in that situation.

For Gillies, this is the exact same situation as Chris Simon in the sense that their on-ice decision making, when it comes to how to properly enforce a game is way off. Gillies has the right idea, but goes about it in the completely wrong way, especially at a time when the NHL is all of a sudden deciding to take a stand for plays like these.

Gillies has a hearing in Toronto scheduled for Friday, and will undoubtedly be suspended for quite some time. Coming off a lengthy suspension and making a decision as poor as this one won't help him at all. Over the past couple of weeks, Martin has improved his play and guys like Konopka and Haley have enforced the game in good ways, and contributed as passable hockey players on the ice. In the meantime, and I know this may not be too popular with some of you, Gillies is proving to be nothing other than what many have said about him the past few weeks - a goon.

We'll see how hard the NHL comes down on Gillies, and if Clutterbuck gets anything. He was destined to in my opinion, perhaps until his injury. He may actually be concussed, but should still get something for his action too.


March 1, 2011

Tough One in Washington

For just over 59 minutes, the Islanders battled and held on for dear life. Nothing was getting past Nathan Lawson, and after a while you got the feeling that he was going to go all the way with the 1-0 lead Matt Moulson had given him.

With 47 seconds remaining, however it all came crashing down.

It figures that the Capitals can't score on a power-play, but they pull their goalie for a six on five advantage on cash in.

It was Brooks Laich once again. On Saturday I spoke highly of him here in this space, and how he's the type of guy many team's fans would LOVE to have. He was in the right spot at the right time, and got a nice pass that he was able to corral perfectly.

Alex Ovechkin has struggled this year, but every time he goes on a rush you still get that sick feeling in your stomach. Ovechkin's ability to pick the puck up in the defensive zone and gain as much speed as he does for a big body is simply amazing. But in that rush in OT, he made some of the Isles, like Frans Nielsen look completely silly. It's goals like this one that shows you why Ovechkin sill is one of the top players in the game, despite the "low" goal total.

I thought the Isles played well, but obviously the defense was very lose. Given what we've seen from Lawson so far, it's always safe to assume toe worst when any team gets as many shots in as the Caps did. But he stood tall, and made some really good saves. He was very alert and didn't leave too many pucks in the danger zones. The Caps did have a couple of nice chances, but either couldn't hit the spot or shanked the shots.

Michael Neuvirth, meanwhile, was great only when he needed to be. The Isles didn't test the Caps very much at all. He seems to do really well with the glove saves. we've seen it now for two games in a row. So the scouting report on him is to go anywhere but glove side.

The Caps finished the season series in a unique way, defeating a different Isles goalie for the fourth time (Dwayne Roloson, Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya the others).

The Islanders come right home and face a team battling for their playoff lives in the Minnesota Wild. They lost a tough one to the Chicago Blakhawks their last time out, so will come on their East trip looking to keep themselves right in the thick of things. Nicklas Backstrom has been outstanding in net for them for the last little while, so expect a solid performance in that department. After struggling to score at the beginning of the year, Martin Havlat has really picked things up. He's a guy to watch as far as the offense is concerned.

I always like seeing teams come in that we don't see very often, and I was high earlier this year when many folks weren't. This is a very underrated team that can't be taken lightly.