Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Sort Of Homecoming: New York Islanders Preview

Part of blogging is getting to debate and share with your readers and fellow bloggers. Habs bloggers until now, but I thought it was time to reach out to those blogging Canadiens rivals.

Oft forgotten, oft dismissed. The New York Islanders have been finding ways to win with teams that look Floridesque on paper. Shows what paper tells you.

This game tonight presents the Canadiens a unique proposition for November – a team outside the Northeast. It's new for all us bloggers too, after a few weeks of analysing the fortunes of the Fab Five.

The one thing I do know is that Komisarek and Higgins (hometown Islanders) should get excited for this game and give the Habs the same thing we see from every visiting Quebecer in the league. I could pretend to know more, but the truth is I haven't seen an Islanders game in full, and I would have to rely heavily on paper – which we all know lies about this team. So, instead I choose to accept the generous help of fellow bloggers in New York.

Gary, an informed Islanders blogger and long-time fan (The View from Section 317) provided Lions in Winter a comprehensive long-term assessment for tonight's game:

Greetings from Long Island, and good luck tonight. Hope it is a good, clean game. After dealing with the Rangers, Islander fans always like to have a nice relaxing match afterwards, but unfortunately, the team always seems to have a 'hangover', following a cross-town match. Hopefully, that is not the case tonight.

Once again, with the media writing off the Islanders as a hopeless case, the team has gelled from the moment they stepped on the ice at training camp. Newcomers Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko and Captain Bill Guerin, play like they have been with each other for years. Although Comrie is leading the team with just over a point per game in 17 contests, Josef Vasicek, who spent last year with Carolina and Nashville, is leading the team with 8 goals.

And yes, there are about 13 years and 60 games left in the contract of Rick DiPietro - but it will be fun seeing it all. "DP" as he is called at the Nassau Coliseum, has shown signs of absolute brilliance in the last year and a half, and has shown why he is in the elite class of the NHL netminders. Acting more and more like a 3rd defensemen, he has really taken on the responsibility of leading this team smartly, and keeps a stable presence in between the pipes (except when Manhattan's resident dingbat, Shawn Avery gets under his skin). If he is on his game, watch out.

The unsung heroes are the defensemen. Especially, veteran Brendan Witt. With the new NHL emerging after the lockout, it seemed that the game would pass this defenseman by. However, he has not only thrived, but excelled. His shot blocking, positioning, and innate ability to agitate his opponents without going to the penalty box (ask Jaromir Jagr), have given him the opportunity to log big minutes in critical situations. In addition, the continued solid play of our young boys, Toronto native Chris Campoli, and Montreal native Bruno Gervais, have been a great story in the making. Lastly, the return of Bryan Berard, the former Calder Trophy winner to Long Island, has been a big factor in the re-emergence of the Islander power play.

This team is a extremely close knit, and great group, that will run through fire and brimstone for Head Coach Ted Nolan. As you may have seen during his days in Buffalo, he gets the best out of his players, and is so easy going and relaxed.

I think the key for the Islanders in this matchup, is to stay disciplined, and keep a close eye on these speedy Hab forwards. The Isles need to have the "Fort Neverlose" attitude (what they used to call the Coliseum during the glory years) at home, and establish the offense early. My 'sleeper' is Bill Guerin tonight. He has not scored much lately, and missed a couple of games due to an eye injury, when struck with a puck in a game against New Jersey. He scores in bunches and is due.

As you can tell from my assessment prior to this education from Gary (in my weekly review), I didn't know much about the Islanders. So thanks to Gary for enlightening me, and hopefully some of you (readers).

Despite my dearth of knowledge about all things blue and orange since the 80s, I do know a thing or two about the Canadiens. It is based on that understanding that I'll go as far as saying I think we're coming away with two points tonight. Why?

First of all, this team has made a point of not playing two poor games in a row. The Ottawa game may not have been the worst effort for the viewers, but as a player never leading and losing by two leaves a sour taste. The players who I expect to react and rebound most impressively are Cristobal Huet and Mike Komisarek.

The second factor playing in our favour is the meaning of this game to the Islanders. Coming off a win against the Rangers, they will find it harder to rise to the occasion of a Wednesday night against a team they don't really consider rivals at all (at least not since 1980). We've seen the hangover a few times, most recently against the Sabres, so we know it's real folks. Our hangover in reverse should give us the edge up front.

Thirdly, we have just played a series of games against well coached teams with good goaltending and fast forwards. The Islanders may be on the rise, but they can not claim a top line talent like Sundin, Alfredsson or even Marc Savard.

As I said, expect something from Huet, Komisarek and Higgins who have things to prove in this one. I also think Saku Koivu will be rewarded for his exceptional play tonight with some points, and Michael Ryder may well find some twine to transform his luck. As well, I expect Kovalev to continue his thing.

One thing we shouldn't see is a lot of PP time, if I have Ted Nolan sussed. So Streit , Markov and Hamrlik will have to be happy to make their mark with sound play. Expect them all to play well, but not feature heavily in our post-game reports...

As Gary says: Hope it's a good, clean game.

1 comment:

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for including me in your page. It is indeed a pleasure. Just remember, not all New Yorkers (Long Islanders) are so bad...

    Good luck and may the best team tonight win.

    Any time that you want to add some commentary like I did - please let me know.