Saturday, October 25, 2008

And What Would You Like Mr. Lion? Courage!

"Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning, but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing. That's my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat." (George Eliot).

Alas, it took me a week to post this - tough to write after a week of games like the ones the Isles played against Dallas, Carolina, NYR, Flyers, and the Habs. Let's take the disasters one at a time:

Dallas: (5-3 Loss) Horrendous penalty-kill, too many penalties (making Avery look good), and some sloppy play in their own end = a recipe for disaster. The 5-3 score makes it sound like a closer game then it was. Isles were outplayed, made mistakes, and DP looked shaky. We find out days later - his shakiness could be because he just wasn't 100%

Carolina: (4-3 Loss) The story of this game - 60 shots by Isles and Weight's missed potential game-tying penalty shot with under a second left in the game. First - 60 shots sounds like they sent an overwhelming barrage on net - when in reality, many of those shots were not high quality or high percentage shots. They did have plenty of chances - but again, their lack of scoring punch was evident - as is their lack of a sniper to take the penalty shot. Can't fault Gordon's choice of shooter - Weight knows the Canes & is a crafty veteran who likely wouldn't be impacted by the pressure of the situation. All great - except in the end, he didn't get the job done.

One ancillary observation -- DP's handling of the puck has been awful. He leads the team each night in giveaways. He needs to get better in his decision making when he goes for or has the puck. He is now pretty much a veteran - he's gotta cut down on the mistakes.

NYR: (4-2 Loss) Another example of 20 minutes of good hockey and then tailing off with defensive lapses and too much time spent with guys in the penalty box. MacDonald has at least shown that he can play at the NHL level - but they will need him to step up his game if they are going to hang with the big boys.

Flyers: (3-2 OT Loss) Well, now they upgraded to 40 minutes of good hockey. If they could just remember the game is 60 minutes long. Hilbert's goal was pure luck -- shouldn't be a reason to think he is going to do much this season. I am getting a little tired of the post-game "we are playing the system, I see improvements, we had good momentum in the 2d period, if we could just do what we did for 20 or 40 minutes for a full 60 minute, we are getting better" coach-speak. Please, save the Kool Aid for someone else. Fans are shelling out LOTS of money - not just for game tickets but for food, parking, beverages, and gear, and they DESERVE better than half efforts or excuses about adjusting to a system. This is starting to get extremely frustrating.

Habs: (5-4 UGLY Loss) I will cover this game in my next blog otherwise I'll just vomit.

Since reporting on the games is beginning to be a bit boring -- how many ways can you find something positive to say about another horrendous loss? - Next up, along with a Habs wrap-up, I will provide some insight for those of you out there who wonder what it is like to be part of the "media." Yes, as a blogger, I am considered media - sometimes, I am amazed myself. It is a nice perk. We get little badges at the game (not very sophisticated - made of flimsy cardboard & a sticker); we get the "game notes" that are provided to mainstream sports writers; and we get access to the post-game press conference with Gordon & can interview players. So.........

Next up: A window into the life of a blogger.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An Absence of Offense Can Be Offensive!

"Futility = playing a harp before a buffalo" (Author unknown).

On Saturday night that could have read: "Futility = believing the Isles will have a consistent offense." OK, against Florida they weren't dreadful - but that's like getting excited about only having to eat half a sh*t sandwich instead of a whole one. The Isles play was sloppy and they generated very little in the way of decent scoring chances. Vokoun easily brushed aside those high-percentage shots from the outside, the one's from past the circle, and the lazy floaters from the point. The Isles were definitely out skated -Florida has some speed - and they used it to neutralize the Isles' speed.

Oh well - you win some and then you lose a few more. As predicted - this season will be filled with ups & downs. Looking at the games against the Blues, then the Sabres, then Tampa, then Florida - I feel like I am riding a see-saw with this team. One night they skate well and put the puck in the net and the next night they get outplayed and barely look capable of sustaining any offensive pressure. This teams makes me think of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!!! Only I wish we saw a little more Mr. Hyde and a lot less of that pansy do-gooder Dr. Jekyll.

Alas - for me, the dilemma became - how do I explain the Isles' inconsistency to my boys? The answer - I don't, I just tell them the Isles, like everyone else, occasionally have an off day. Like when Daddy comes home smelling like booze and rants about the mean Mr. Prickstein he works for and then shouts at & argues with Mommy, and then Daddy cries like a little girl and takes his "medicine" and then..... ahem.... a little off course here. That of course, never happens to yours truly. I digress - like I said - I chalk it up to a "bad day" and tell my boys the Isles just need to work harder and it will take time for them to adjust to such a different system. Then I gently pat my boys on their heads, send them off to bed with a warm cup of milk, and look for the misses to help console me!!!!

Next up... I'm seeing Stars!!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Good Sign Emerges

"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did." (Newt Gingrich)

Last night's victory was a good sign for the Isles. No - not the fact that they blew a 2 goal lead in the third period, or that they appeared to play Gordon's system for 40 minutes and then started to look a little lazy & tired. The fact that they didn't quit and kept fighting back to scratch out a win. When the Rays tied it at 2-2, it looked bad. You could see a momentary & collective slumping of the shoulders of the guys on the ice. It looked like the Isles were getting tired from all the work they did in the first 40 minutes. In the past, I would have shut the TV off, gone to bed, and expected to wake up this morning and read about a loss -- and not just any loss - but a painful one, where the winning goal is scored on some defensive breakdown or scramble in front of the net with under a minute to play. We've all seen plenty of those in the past few years. But I decided to take my chances & leave the TV on and see what this team is made of - and I was able to go to bed with a smile on my face (and not just from my post-game celebration with the wifey!).

The Isles' aggressive play and fast skating put them right back in front. They kept moving the puck and pressing. I was really impressed with their aggressive attack on the PK. I used to scream from my seat in section 318 (or from my couch) for them to put pressure on the point men - skate at them and force them to make a play instead of sitting in the box defense and hope to break up a bad pass. I like Gordon's aggressive approach. Sure, they will inevitably get burned on occasion. But is seems to be working and is more exciting to watch.
I think we are starting to see some really good things. Now, like the players, the fans (including yours truly) need to have a little patience as this team gels, the young guys develop, and they get better in the system. Perseverance.
Next up - the return of DP

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Braveheart - Witt Would Eat Mel Gibson for Lunch

"Toughness is in the soul and the spirit, not in muscles." (Alex Karras)

Good news ~ the warrior Brendan Witt should not miss any time as a result of the cut to his head that occurred in the game against Buffalo. When interviewed about his injury he said, and I quote, "Brendan Witt - 1, Nassau Coliseum ice - 0." He is the definition of toughness. He guts it out night after night and plays hurt. He is not a superstar - but he is solid and steady. In previous blogs, I've mentioned that my oldest son (who is 11) proudly wears a Witt jersey - and he also tries to mimic Witt when he plays defense for his hockey team. Witt is not only a good player - he is also a good guy off the ice.

I had the privilege of meeting Witt once - away from the Coliseum. He was making an appearance at an elementary school as part of the Isles literacy program. He was there with Josef Vasicek. They were finished & had already left the building and were walking across the parking lot to their cars. I happened to also be making a visit to that school that day (I have my own business on the side wherein I present a fun, interactive educational & mock trial program to 5th graders). We were in the parking lot - they were done with their appearance - there was no reason for them to stop & talk to me. But stop he did.

I introduced myself to Witt and he shook my hand & asked me why I was there that day. I told him a little bit about my program and he stood there listening intently (OK - maybe he was feigning interest but he waited patiently until I was done). He asked me a few questions about the program and then asked if I was a fan - which of course I responded yes, and told him about my son. He offered to autograph something for me to give to my son. We are not autograph collectors in our house so I said "thanks, but I didn't have anything with me." He wished me luck, told me to say hi to my son for him, and went on his way. Immediately one word came to mind - Gentleman.

In this day & age of overpaid, Prima-Dona athletes who can't be bothered to spend 5 seconds with a fan, give a kid an autograph, or give back to the community with making sure they are seen by the press but not bothered by the fans, Witt's attitude was remarkable, refreshing, and only bolstered my respect for him as a professional and a man. Islander fans are truly lucky -- we have access to the team's players & management that is unparalleled in today's professional sports. Between all of the fan-friendly events they run (visit the locker room, bar-b-ques for ticket holders with players present, and special events over the summer with management to talk about the direction of the team) and their many community service activities (visiting hospitals, schools, and camps) the Isles are truly a team that is connected with their community.

Are they the most talented team? No. Are they the best run & managed sports franchise? Of course not. But there is NO doubt they are the franchise that makes the biggest effort to give something back to the community & the loyal fans that support the team.

Brendan -- it's good to know you won't miss any games. My son & I were happy when you agreed to a contract extension. Your toughness on the ice is not the only reason my kid looks up to you. We'll be looking for the old number 32 next game.

Next up... Isles are going to Disneyland! OK, not Disney - but Florida.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Martinek Injured Again - Along with Isles' Pride

"No, I never broke my nose playing ice hockey; but eleven other guys did." Gordie Howe.

Martinek is out for 4-6 weeks again. Is it me or does this guy seem a little fragile? Don't misunderstand me here - he plays hard, has grit, blocks shots, and battles in the corners - but that is only when he plays. He seems to be snake bitten with the injuries. Looking back over his tenure with the Isles - he has never played more than 74 games in a season - and he did that once - and he averages just 54 games per season (about 65% of the games). It's not just the loss of games played - but the injuries obviously add to the wear & tear on his 32 yr old body. On top of that - he has 10 career goals and 74 total points in 6 seasons! He averages 12 points a season! Are you kidding me? And in the past he was given some time on the PP and was expected to "move the puck" - it appears someone was snorting ice shavings when they came up with that expectation.

With the 2008-2009 Isles being a team that looks like it will struggle offensively, and they already have Witt, Sutton, Meyer, and young unproven guys like Gervais & Hillen on the backline, I think management needs to re-evaluate the roster spot taken up by Martinek. Of course having a solid puck-moving, 2-way D-man is a rarity in the NHL. Too bad they don't have a guy like Zdeno Chara, Bryan McCabe, Wayne Redden, Eric Brewer, or a Matthiew Schneider --- oh, yeah that's right, they gave those guys away. Well then... too bad they didn't have a shot at a 2-way D-man in the draft. Oops - that's right, they did have one in their sights... and passed him over too. I could go on - but I've already made myself a little sick.

I am thankful I wasn't able to attend yesterday's disaster against the Sabres. I actually sold my seats ($50 face value) for $10 a piece. At first I thought I was "giving them away" - but after the game I felt like I should call up the guy that bought them & give him his money back and apologize! Messy play, stupid penalties, mystery surrounding DP & his availability (I think the Coli is too close to the Jets facility & Gordon is doing his best Eric Mangini impression), woeful special teams, and just an all-around poor effort. Well, we all have a bad day from time-to-time. Luckily most of us don't have to have our bad day in front of 10,000+ people!

This weekend in Florida will be another test for this team in transition. First up, Tampa (with Stamkos, Lecavalier, St. Louis and company) and then on to the Panthers. I think I'd be happy if they got 1 out of the 2 games.

Next up: ...where have you gone Blake Comeau...?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Games 1 & 2 - A New Hope

"In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first." Harry S. Truman

In the first 2 games we've seen a very disciplined and energetic hockey team. Despite the 2-1 loss to the Devils, I thought the Isles played well. The Guerin, Weight, Sim line appears to have good chemistry. The kids were flying around the rink and the play was fast - just as Scott Gordon promised. There were a few defensive miscues and some sloppy passing - that will improve as the lines flesh out and they gain some confidence & familiarity playing with each other. But they appeared to play well in the new system. Who knows what the outcome would have been if the game went to OT - after all, the goal by Elias was obviously a blown call by the refs. Last time I checked the rules, you can't be in the crease (actually, he was almost in the net) when you score. Replays also showed he wasn't pushed into the crease or MacDonald -- he got there all on his own. Should have been 1-1 at the end of regulation. Before I move on to Game 2 - I have to mention Okposo & the penalty shot. That old fox Brodeur gave Okposo the bait of the open window in the upper corner - and Okposo bit - and bit hard. Brodeur has a great glove as veterans all know. Chalk one up for age & experience over youth & skill. Okposo is going to have to bury those opportunities in the future if he is going to become one of the offensive leaders on this team. The Devils don't give away too many chances - and if you are lucky enough to get one - capitalize, because he who hesitates, is lost.

On to Game 2 - the Home Opener. Just a few side words about the game experience. The band that played before, during & after was awfully loud, and just so-so (maybe I'm getting old); the new t-shirt Gatling gun was kinda neat; but, the elimination of the Gary Glitter song after a goal was sad. My kids liked pumping their fists in the air and shouting "Hey" (followed by the less formal "you suck") after a goal. We all know it has literally nothing to do with hockey - but the crowd seemed a little lost on what to do after a goal. Look - I know Glitter has some creepy legal issues - but I don't think playing the song after a goal is an endorsement of his activities. Bring back the "Hey" song! While we are on the subject of music - if you ask me (and my boys) we used to love when the Isles played the music with the video of the pirate ship & skeletons shooting pucks - right before the start of a game. The music was pretty cool - and besides, mixing hockey with pirates & skeletons - it's a 10-yr old boys dream!!

Back to the game. The Bergenheim, Hilbert & Thompson line was quick & aggressive. FYI - kudos to Andy Hilbert on his 2-pt night. In BOTH of the last 2 seasons it has taken Hilbert more than 20 games to get his first POINT - that's right, I said POINT, not goal. Imagine going 1/4 of the season without a single point! Let's hope this is the new & improved Hilbert and not the one who for the last 2 seasons couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

The Guerin, Weight, Sim line produced some good chances - and it seemed like everytime Sim was on the ice there was a scrum in front of the net or on the boards - good old-fashioned hockey. The line of Park, Comrie & Okposo skated well, and their aggressive forecheck, nice passing & crashing the net led to the first goal. While I don't think anyone is going to be afraid of any one of the Isles 4 lines, they all seem to be somewhat balanced. Balanced with average or slightly above average talent - but balanced nonetheless. I think the fact that the 5 goals came from 5 different guys is a good sign; getting one goal from 3 different lines - plus one shorty and one PP. That's balance.

On defense - the guys took the body and kept the front of the net clear. I can't say enough about the old warrior - Witt. He is an animal. My son (also a defensemen) proudly wears his Witt jersey to every game. Martinek left the game in the first period - so the D-men did a geat job picking up the slack and gobbling up the ice time.

One of my initial concerns with the Isles has been - can we score enough to win? You obviously can't answer that question after a mere 2 games. I think it's fair to say the team is capable - and if they stay disciplined in Gordon's ludicrous-speed system - and they drive to the net, we might just see more exciting games like we did Saturday night.

Leave you with a little hockey trivia - who said, "Jesus, what did the old man trade for these a**holes, a used puck bag?"?
Until next time......

Going to a Party at a Trailer Park

"You can check out any time you like... but you can never leave." (Henley & Frey)

Last night was a night of firsts. First win of the season for the team, first win for MacDonald, and first NHL win for Coach Gordon. Great job guys! Before I lay out my blow-by-blow analysis OF the game - let me talk about my experience AT the game. Let me preface this by saying I am a season ticket holder who also pays for an additional 21 game plan to bring my 3 sons to games. So I am invested here - I am a dedicated fan who "antes up" and supports the franchise - and in light of the recent implosion of the stock market, we all know how hard it is to back up the Brinks truck and dump a load of cash for hockey tickets. Alright - I made that decision - so I ain't looking for sympathy (cause I ain't getting any) and I am not suffering from buyer's remorse. But, I literally feel like I am paying to go to a party at a trailer park! The Coliseum is a complete and utter dump.

Let's start by talking about the parking situation. Since I bought season tickets - I get to park in the special pre-paid parking lot. One might think this is a nice added bonus - but parking at the Coliseum is just miserable - special lot or not. First - as I approach from the east on Hempstead Tpk I see a big electric sign telling me that the pre-paid lots are closed and everyone must use the general admission lot. Of course, once I weave my way through this sea of jackasses behind the wheel of various vehicles the size of ocean-liners, I notice a wave of cars rolling through the pre-paid parking entrance! What the...? So, I've barely entered the Coliseum grounds and I've already been lied to. So I park, put on my jogging sneakers, pack an overnight bag, and make the long trek across the windswept tundra known as "the Coliseum parking lot." After using my sextant, refilling the canteens a few times, and navigating through an army of scalpers, I finally reach the tomb... I mean the Coliseum. Then, lines you wait on just to get into that miserable heap of concrete!! Everyone frantically sucking on their cigarettes trying to squeeze the last drop of nicotine out before going inside while my kids stand there in a cloud of cancer while their clothes absorb the stench of Marlboro. How pleasant.

Finally, you pass through the turnstile and you can almost feel the transformation -- and I am not referring to some cheesy sports experience here, or some lame magical transformation where some fairy godmother (or hockey mom) dressed in orange & blue smacks you with her hockey stick and makes you an Isles fan. No! I am referring the transformation from man to beast. I can immediately relate to and sympathize with the millions of cattle, horse, chicken, or other livestock that spends time standing closer to its fellow species than it desires. I won't even mention the menagerie of odors you get to sample in this cross-section of humanity. The choice of direction is not mine - I am quickly absorbed into the crowd and it feels like 5:00 pm on the LIE. We move en-mass, elbow-to-elbow, shoulder-to-shoulder, and I just shuffle along with a line of people that resembles a giant anaconda slowly weaving its way through the jungles of the Amazon. All the while I'm praying that the tug I feel on the bottom of my Isles jersey is my kid's hand and not some pervert's pathetic attempt to cop a feel. Next, comes the dismount. "There is the entrance to our section," I proudly announce to my kids - who thankfully are still in tow; however, the look on their faces tells me they've clearly had a more aromatically offensive journey than I since their little heads are parallel to the gastro-propulsion section of the adults.

Alas, our journey is complete - we finally make it to our seats. We climb over the 2 elderly gents, trying not to kick over their beer or brush against their pretzels drenched in mustard. We collapse into our seats and are only moments from the opening ceremonies when one of my boys announces that he has to go to the bathroom. He might as well have kicked me in the groin! My head starts to throb just thinking about going back down the soda & beer slicked steps to the one of the most disgusting rooms on the face of the earth -- a men's bathroom at a sports arena. Of course, I can't take one kid and leave the other 2 at their seats in this era where kid-touchers seem to be hiding everywhere, wearing disguises like priest collars, scoutmaster uniforms, and nice older guys in plaid. We gingerly tip-toe down the steps and re-enter the madding shuffle of people wandering around the perimeter of the Coliseum. We find the men's room fairly easily - it's the only place where the circulating wave of humans has come to a stop - then creeps forward like an assembly-line, step-by-step. But good luck finding where this line ends. After trying to decipher which line I need to get on - it seems like the line for beer, the Premio sausage stand, and the bathroom all blend together. Strangely, it seems logical to me that these lines all should intersect. I must say though - I've seen shorter lines at Disney World.

I don't think I need to go into the nuances & gymnastics that need to be employed to keep your kids from using their hands to touch ANYTHING in the men's room. They become chimp-like, using their feet to flush, push doors, etc. No matter how careful you are, you always leave feeling like millions of toxic germs, bacteria, and splashes of bodily fluids have stowed away on your kids' sneakers and other parts of their anatomy.

Then back out to the sea of humanity, pushing, shoving, and shuffling along - just trying to get back to their seats or to fill their guts with a $5 hot dog. If the above trip were to take place during the period - you can be certain to miss out on at least 5-6 minutes of action and sometimes, half a period. And that's if you only go to the loo. If you have to drain the pipes AND buy something for the ole pie-hole... well, you can kiss half a period goodbye. So yes, you can get up from your seat any time you want... but can you truly leave and not have it seriously & negatively impact your game experience? Of course not. You go anywhere else in the NHL and you do not get nearly the same miserable experience. This is not the fault of the Isles, Charles Wang, or even Mad Mike Milbury (although we can blame him for so many other debacles, why not this one too). It is the sad reality that the Coliseum is just not a suitable building for a professional sports team. I am not speaking out of school here - Isles management acknowledges that the facility blows.

The current Isles management places a lot of emphasis on making the games a fan-friendly experience, and they do a great job with the things they can control - but the building, that is another story. To quote Elizabeth Taylor - "What a dump." Even so, YES, I will continue to drag my rear end into that concrete tomb we affectionately call the Coli. And YES, it does have some great sight lines. And YES, I hope the Isles continue to play well. But NO, I will not "enjoy" the various & many shortcomings while I am there.

The only thing that makes me feel better is...... "up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light." That light is the beam of salvation that shines from a Lighthouse. I just hope its not a mirage... and that I can afford to get in.

Next up... analysis of Games 1 & 2.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Beginnings

"From small beginnings come great things."

Tomorrow night is a new beginning for the Isles. But will it be the start of great things? Hopefully, yes... realistically, probably not. I think it's obvious this team is some distance from truly great things. I think Isles fans need to look for and be satisfied with some "good things" this season, and maybe look for those signs that say - 2-3 seasons down the road we will see some great things.

We will see a significantly different look this season from the product that was on the ice during the 2007-2008 season. Yeah, some of the same bodies are in the ole orange & blue - Guerin, Okposo, Tambellini, Comeau, Gervais, Campoli, Bergenhiem, etc. But now, some of those bodies will be spending a lot more time on the ice and less time sitting on their keister on the bench. The arrival of Scott Gordon not only infuses youth and a new vision into the coaching ranks - but it also propels youth out onto the ice. Don't get me wrong, I was a Ted Nolan fan. I shook his hand at several fan functions and I respected his leadership & coaching style. That is, until I started seeing guys like Hilbert and Park on the powerplay while Bergenheim, Okposo, Comeau, and a list of other more offensively skilled players watched from the bench. I understand the philosophy behind rewarding hustle - but these decisions just didn't seem to make sense when you consider that the Islanders had a harder time scoring than a porn star in a convent.

So now we wind these young guys up & turn em loose & see what they've got. Yes, there will be some bumps in the road. Hell - bumps! - there will probably be craters filled with defensive lapses and games with goose eggs next to the name "Isles" on the scoreboard. But, alas, for us fans to stear clear of the island of despair it will probably require us to have the mental fortitude of a navy seal.

Some serious questions will get answered over the next 6 months. Does the captain have another decent year left in him? Can he reinvigorate Weight? Will Campoli remain healthy enough to blossom into the solid 2-way D-man he's shown flashes of being? And of course, what will Okposo, Comeau, Bergie and Tambs bring to the table? Will DP accept an occaisonal night off & stay healthly to avoid another end of the season stint in the trainer's room? Tomorrow night starts the journey toward finding the answers to these questions.

We may not know where this trip will take us - and it's going to be bumpy - but let's try to enjoy the ride!

See you at the Coli - section 318
Mr. LawyerDude