Minor league roster, circus-like uniforms and a plethora of penalties (again) aside, it was nice to see the Islanders back on the ice last night in North York, Ontario taking on the Atlanta Thrashers.
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Garnet Exelby's overtime goal ended hopes for a win but the Isles should be encouraged for a handful of reasons.
Freddy Meyer scored a nifty goal, nearly going end-to-end in the first period to beat Johan Hedberg. Scoring from the defense this year will be huge for this team. On that note, AHL-bound Matthew Spiller (who is absolutely HUGE) added two goals, including the tying tally in the third. Spiller's first goal, a softy by most accounts, was set up by some strong hustle from Jeff Tambellini whose push to finally crack the permanent NHL roster has only just begun.
Sean Bergenheim was back in an Islander uniform for the first time in two years and his speed and tenacity will be a nice addition.
Kip Brennan and Olivier Labelle, longshots for the roster at best, were all over the ice, hitting anything in a white jersey. Someone from Islander camp recently compared Labelle to an Islander fan favorite of old, Steve Webb. Always a Webb fan, I'd be thrilled for the Isles to have that sort of wild card to play from time-to-time (I don't know ... maybe against, say, the Rangers???)
Goaltender Joey MacDonald, late of the Boston Bruins, looked sharp, making several key saves throughout the contest. And, preseason or not, any time you keep Ilya Kovalchuk off the scoresheet, you're doing something right. (A pair of Joey Crabb goals notwithstanding, of course.)
Chris Simon is back! (Well, for now. He still has 5 regular season games to sit.) Say what you will - the guy deserves another chance. And I, for one, can't wait until he and Ryan Hollweg (or anyone else on the Ranger roster, for that matter) meet again this year.
Along with the local North York announcers as heard on Islanders TV, I was rooting for a shootout but Exelby's shot (after eluding a sprawling, flopping Tambellini, who looked to be doing his best Eric Fichaud impersonation) ruined that hope.
Negatives? The lack of Islander star power for the upcoming season is already an issue but last night it was nonexistent. Sure, it's the first game of the preseason, but seeing a name or two would have been nice. (We'll try again today at 5:30 against Boston.)
The home blue unis are just atrocious. I have previously said I didn't think the new jerseys were all that bad but, after having seen them on the ice, I would cordially like to retract that statement completely! Bad as they are, getting rid of the orange on the arms would just about totally alleviate my pain. They look like the inflatable orange "swimmies" that kids wear to prevent drowning. Yikes! Here's hoping the road whites are a step up.
Finally, preseason or not, the Islanders and their frequent penalties looked a lot like ... well ... the Isles of last year (or, as I call it, "The Sean Hill Era".) Gotta tighten that up for sure, fellas.
Again, it was nice to see the boys back last night. Here's to continued improvement, starting with a win this afternoon against the B's.
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