February 12, 2011

Isles Pound Penguins

For both the Isles and their fans, I'll start off with some bad news: The next time these two teams get together is on April 8th.

When thinking about how to talk about all of this, I decided to keep it simple.

What happened on Friday night was not just a direct result of what the Penguins did to the Isles in their last meeting. It was a lot of emotions that were bottled up inside not only after that game, but the ones on Long Island against the Senators and the Maple Leafs too.

Zenon Konopka talked a lot recently about how players run guys like John Tavares and Matt Moulson all the time and not get called. He warned that they weren't going to stand for it much longer. Perhaps the game against the Leafs, where Tavares was knocked down twice on questionable hits was the straw that broke the camels back.

Chris Botta hits the nail on the head for a point I wanted to make:

This was ice hockey as it oughta be when your team has been beaten down, abandoned by a Russian goalie in semi-retirement, been called “Lowly” in the headline of every game story (win or lose) and opponents like Talbot are taking liberties with your skilled players.

The Penguins lost Evgeni Malkin for the remainder of the season, while Sidney Crosby is out until March with his concussion. While secondary players have shined as the Pens went 7-3 in their previous 10 before last night's game, Talbot was not a factor in that. He instead has decided to go after teams top players, and not just on the Islanders. I didn't realize that this was part of his game, but now after seeing him go after Blake Comeau, Radek Martinek and Mikko Koskinen that is what he is becoming. There is no sympathy from me as far as what happened to Talbot last night. He's had it coming to him for the last few weeks.

Bailey/Dupuis left, Hamonic/Rupp right. Photo by C. Hessel
The Islanders are facing suspensions for their actions, as they should. Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Zenon Konopka all have face-to-face meetings with the NHL. That could mean suspensions of six games or more, but doesn't mean it will necessarily happen. I'm expecting Martin and Gillies to get those lengthy suspensions based on early thoughts from those connected to the league. Konopka is being investigated for a shift he took in order to fight, one that will will be difficult to prove that it was against the rules.

I'm a little surprised that Micheal Haley doesn't appear to be facing suspension, and that could because of the control of the refs. More on this in a moment.

In short, the Islanders did what they had to do both on the scoreboard and in their fighting. Again, this wasn't about the Penguins. This was about a disrespected team gaining respect for things that have culminated over the last few weeks for a team that has had various bouts of adversity this year between injuries, coaching changes and losing streaks. If you read comments from fans all across the hockey world, a lot of respect has been gained.

Last night I sat in the press box and had the pleasure of sitting next to Tom Liodice, formerly of the Tiger Track Blog. I asked him some questions about Haley, from a hockey player standpoint. He told me that he can play the game and not just fight. This was shortly before his rush that lead to his beautiful goal. Liodice said that  skating was not something he had seen before but obviously worked on. We'll see if it leads so something more. More play like that, where he proved that he can do more than just fight, and he may have a spot on the 4th line of the team over a guy like Gillies.

A couple of other thoughts:

- Tavares, Moulson and Michael Grabner all hit the 20 goal mark last night for the Isles. The team had only two last season and stand a good chance to add one more this season in P.A. Parenteau. Congrats to all three.

- Penguins announcer Paul Steigerwald said that the Islanders are the "embarrassment" of the NHL, and went as far as calling players names and acting like a child on-air. I've come to expect stuff like this from him.

As far as embarrassments go, what do you call Matt Cooke then? Or a no talent guy like Talbot, who decides rather than focus on his offensive game with the two biggest sources of offense out, decides to start taking runs at top players?

This is all the attention I'll give to a guy who is an "embarrassment" to his profession and also happens to be a broadcaster for a team that was the last "embarrassment" of the NHL from 2001 to 2006 - when they practically had moving vans waiting outside Melon Arena, just like you could argue the Isles may have too.

See ya in April, Steigs.

- I mentioned earlier about Haley's incidents, and how it appears they may very well go unpunished.

We've already established that this was a culmination of events, from over the last few weeks. This kind of game, the third of it's kind in the last two weeks, is something that is coming out more and more.

Bob McKenzie of TSN said he expected the NHL to come down hard for suspensions from this game because of the "Slap Shot culture" the league has been having lately.

Over the summer, the league lost a number of respected veteran refs - yes, Kerry Frasier included. Frasier was on XM Home Ice a couple of weeks ago, talking about how refs prepare for games that pit two teams against one another with recent history.

The NHL had no choice but to turn to rookie refs this season, many of whom have had all sorts of issues making correct calls, preventing cheap hits to the head or areas around the head of players. Konopka isn't the only player to notice liberties are being taken with star players. It's happening all over the league.

I think it's pretty clear that the lack of calls and extremely poor officiating over the first half of the season has lead to what happened when the Dallas Stars came to Boston two weeks ago, when the Canadiens entered Boston on Wednesday and when the Penguins came to Long Island on Friday.

Maybe these refs were unprepared. Maybe they didn't think anything exciting would happen given how un-tough the Isles have been really since Eric Cairns left in 2004.

The reffing has been a very contentious area in the NHL this season, and seems to be on the top of the list of problems that fans, teams and players seem to have this season. I enjoyed what Haley did last night, but there is no reason why the ref should have felt the need to let him roam free and fend for himself. Sure, they had their hands full with Gillies barking from the door way to the locker room at this same time, but there are four officials on the ice for a reason.

If the NHL is serious about making a statement based on what happened, then they need to look at themselves in the mirror too. Yes, suspend players because in all honesty, some deserve to be and they will tell you as much. But come up with some sort of training program to break in new refs because obviously whatever program you set up last summer has failed miserably.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome as always. Feel free to leave them here, shoot us an e-mail or @ us with your thoughts on Twitter. Or, you can join us for our live NYI FYI broadcast on Sunday at 11 AM and make your voice heard there.



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