Isles Flamed Out in Calgary, Regina & A Message To Isles Fans
Even though the Islanders dropped their first two split squad preseason games to the Calgary Flames, there was a lot to to be happy about looking forward. I did watch the game that took place in Calgary as the Flames had it streaming on their website, however the one in Regina as you all know was not broadcast anywhere. When all was said and done, there were a few things worth noting that I saw both watching the game in Calgary and from reading the few recaps following the game in Regina.
-Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson did pretty well in their first game action of the year. Poulin as always looked very athletic in net and made some pretty nice saves. Overall his play showed some confidence and he looked ready to take on the job of being Evgeni Nabokov's backup this season. Like always, he did seem to lose a bit of steam when he allowed his first goal of the night, but as a whole he played pretty well and had the presence that he needs to have in order to take the next step in his young career. Poulin just needs to mindful of his athleticism, as there were times it took him almost out of the play entirely which could make for some ugly games on his part should he not be able to rein it in. Nilsson had kind of an opposite look to him then that of Poulin. Nilsson seemed to be a bit shaky when he first entered the game about midway through but settled in nicely and showed the poise and fundamentals that are special to him as a player.
(Flickr/Chris D. Dixon)
-Matt Donovan is the real deal. As much as my heart wants to see Calvin de Haan make this team because of the rough road he has had in dealing with injuries, Donovan is just the better player at this point and deserves the final spot on the Isles defense. This isn't to say that de Haan played poorly, because he didn't. The 12th overall pick in 2009 was simply out shined by a more experienced Donovan. Donovan showed competence on the power play and in addition, the goal that was scored by Riley Wetmore was directly a result of Matt Donovan. Donovan created the play in the Calgary zone, had poise with the puck and eventually fed the wide open Wetmore with a pass through the crease that had Flames goalie and former Islander Joey MacDonald completely out of position. In fact, I almost let some expletives fly when Wetmore failed to bury the goal on the first shot but thankfully he did on his second attempt.
-Speaking of Joey MacDonald, imagine if he were still on the Islanders and we had to listen to Butch differentiate between him and current Islanders Andrew MacDonald and Colin McDonald on a daily basis? It would be entertaining to say the least as the MacDonald/McDonald and Strait/Streit combinations last season put Butch's linguistic prowess to the ultimate broadcasting test.
-Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock are going to be the corner stone of the Isles defense in the near future. The young first round draft pick duo are certainly talented. They played sound defense for the most part and Reinhart even contributed with a goal on a slick wrist shot. There were times they were caught running around a bit in their own zone when the Flames got cycles going but they are still very young. All in all I was impressed at their hockey maturity. Neither was expected to make the team this year and with the depth that the Islanders now have there is no rush to get them up here just yet. Look for Reinhart to play another season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL and Pulock two more years with the Brandon Wheat Kings, also of the WHL. There is no doubt they they are going to be a force to be reckoned with when they do eventually make it to the Islanders though.
-Cal Clutterbuck was everywhere last night. Literally. Every shift that he was on the ice I noticed and that is exactly what this team needs from him. There weren't any bone jarring or highlight reel hits from Clutterbuck, but he did what every coach asks of their players each game, he finished his checks. Conversely there was a pretty big hit that Clutterbuck was on the receiving end of. Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman threw a hard, clean hip check at Clutterbuck that saw him flip head over heels. There is no shame for Cal though as Wideman was the best player on the ice for both teams. In addition to his physicality, Wideman ran the Calgary power play and contributed 2 goals. The former all star was a clear leader for the Flames which is one thing that they will need from him this year in the wake of trading their long time captain last season, Jarome Iginla. Calgary is also in a rebuild that they have finally committed to 100%. Brian Burke was added to the Calgary front office and with promising young talent like 2013 6th overall pick Sean Monahan (who scored 2 goals against the other Isles squad in Regina) the Flames will be a very good team in the near future. They are just going to have to go through their own growing pains over the next few years much like the Islanders did.
-Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner are still the top penalty killing forward pair. There wasn't anything flashy out of them last night but you could tell that they have an elevated level of comfortability with each other when a man down.
Again, I can only draw conclusions from post game write ups that I read and the actual score sheet, but here are my thoughts on this game.
-The two Islanders goals that were scored came from John Tavares and Matt Moulson. This may seem like not much of a story but I assure you, it is. Most talk of the Islanders offensive production lies within the idea that the Isles need consistent secondary scoring from one of their other lines in order to take the next step and become a more serious threat. That is true, however that point is irrelevant if the Tavares/Moulson combination doesn't stay at least consistent with how they produced last season. Often times we as Islanders fans over look this because we just assume they will continue to produce as they have, and they more than likely will. Just don't take for granted what they have given the team in terms of reliability and the fact they both put up a goal and assisted on each others goal is a very comforting fact.
-The power play looked to be in command. Both Isles goals were scored with the man advantage which is good because a more productive power play for the Isles this season could be the difference in close games. If opponents see the Isles power play as a serious threat it will put them on their heels and give the Isles an edge in games that they haven't had before. From what I read, aside from the goals the actual play of the Islanders when a man up was comfortable, poised and in control. I can't stress it enough but that is a very good to hear.
-Thomas Hickey was relied on in more important situations. After the year that the former 4th overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings had for the Islanders last season, it is obvious that the coaching staff has faith in the young defenseman. If Hickey can rise up to the challenges he is being given and play at even 80% of what is normally expected of a 4th overall pick, this will prove to be one of Garth Snow's best acquisitions.
In short, nobody wants to see their team lose whether it is preseason or not, but these losses aren't the end of the world (yes, in the wake of Tim Thomas returning to the NHL I had to make an apocalypse reference). The Isles did drop two games but a lot of good came as a result, which brings me to my message to Islanders fans everywhere.
As I looked at twitter during the games and after both had ended I admit I was a bit confused. There was an overwhelming amount of negativity in the fact that both games were losses. Now I understand we always want our guys to win, and losing is never acceptable but I ask for you to look at this situation for what it is and be realistic.
Long time Islander fans know that we have had it harder than most fans in this league ever have. We all remember going into each season knowing the Isles were destined to land at the bottom of the standings and no member of the hockey community thought the Isles would have a chance to compete. We remember what it was like to finish a season so poorly only to see the draft picks that resulted from that never pan out or get traded away for a short term mediocre fix. Our minds can remember a time when people would ask us our best player and we would proudly reply with "Mariusz Czerkawski". This was a time where we had no home grown talent that we could consider elite. These were the times where we should have had no hope at all but always had hope anyway. We knew deep down that those teams didn't have a shot even before the first game of the season, yet each and every one of us at one point or another thought to ourselves, "maybe this is the year we surprise everyone, this could be the year it finally turns around". There was no legitimate reasoning for us to believe this but we did anyway and did so right through to the 82nd game.
Those were the times that will always define us as Islander fans. The pain and heartbreak like what you felt when your first girlfriend left you, we experienced once a year yet we never strayed. We all hung around and looked forward to the next year because the Islanders aren't just a team to us, they're part of who we are.
With all of that being said, take a step back and look at where we are now. The Islanders finished last year with an improbable run to make it to the post season. In doing so, they gave the top seed in the conference all that they could handle through 6 games. To make it better, they displaced their number 1 goalie and left the perennial power house Pittsburgh Penguins looking internally to see if they still have what it takes to win another championship. The Islanders now have a ton of home grown top level talent lead by 2009 first overall pick and new captain John Tavares. Not only is Tavares elite but he is the first Islanders player to be a Hart Trophy finalist during my lifetime. For the first time that I can remember, I have met new Islander fans, or as some would call them, "band wagon" fans. Until recently if you were an Islanders fan that meant that you have been one for a while because no new fan to hockey in the right mind would have just chosen to like the Isles during those dark ages for lack of a better term. Other fan bases and teams across the league now recognize and respect what the Islanders bring to the table and realize it wasn't just a fluke year in 2013.
As the saying goes, don't forget where you came from Isles fans. For the first time in at least 20 years, if not longer we as fans have reason to have hope. There is a reason for us to believe that we will compete and that we could very well exceed even the new expectations the team has after their run last season. We can collectively look at this coming year and the 20 guys we are proud to have in orange and blue and think to ourselves "we're finally back". Isles fans, we have earned this and it would be a terrible disservice were any of us to look at what we now have as anything other then the feeling of pride that we deserve. Don't sweat the small things like two preseason losses and blow it out of proportion, because there was a time when that feeling was justified. We are now fortunate enough to not have to feel that way anymore. So welcome the band wagon fans with open arms, because having band wagon fans means your team is doing well. Embrace what is going on as we speak and never forget what we have went through and where we came from. If you take this for granted you risk never being able to enjoy this internal feeling of pride and happiness that we have been so patient to finally have. The joy and passion my mother has whenever she talks about the early 80's may be the same way we tell our children about the team we are currently watching grow right in front of our eyes. Something extremely special is developing and we as a fan base need to enjoy this together. This is our team and our time is finally here.
Thanks for reading,