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2013 Years Old • Male
It's frustration versus disappointment tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum. Or is it disappointment versus frustration? (Disappointment versus disappointment? Frustration versus frustration?) It's difficult to tell, exactly, which franchise has more of which, though we can be certain that <i><b>both </b></i>the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning will carry with them a hefty dose of each of these feelings heading into tonight's contest.

For the Islanders, a rag-tag mix of castoff veterans, grinding youngsters and a goalie cast as the franchise who only <i><b>sometimes </b></i>plays the part, a disappointing summer that saw a mass exodus of talent from last year's squad replaced by spare parts tempered preseason expectations quite a bit. Still, behind a masterful early season coaching performance from Ted Nolan, balanced contribution throughout the roster and stellar play from said goaltender, Rick DiPietro, the team was firmly entrenched in playoff contention throughout the first half. With the moderate success came renewed hope for the Isles and their fans, only to be quickly supplanted by the dreaded duo of frustration and disappointment as the team's sudden, sharp decline has brought them all the way down to their current position of 12th in the East, 7 points out of a playoff spot, with just 12 games remaining in the schedule. For a team that is so clearly a patchwork crew, questionable effort has been far too often the culprit. Mix that up with some gaping holes in the talent department, particularly with regard to goal scoring, as well as a slew of injuries and you have the basic ingredients and all the explanation you need to figure out why the Islanders are where they are. Even so, frustration and disappointment persist ...

At the start of the 2007-08 campaign, the Lightning still somewhat resembled their Stanley Cup club from 2004 and a playoff berth, at the very least, was all but expected. With the individual offensive firepower of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vaclav Prospal, the skill of Dan Boyle on the blueline, as well as the expected emergence of young d-men Paul Ranger and Shane O'Brien, the only question that remained for the Bolts was goaltending - or so it seeed. As expected by many, the men in the crease (Marc Denis, Johan Holmqvist and Karri Ramo) all faltered. The young defense - made even more inexperienced as a group by the freak preseason injury to Boyle - was exposed. Richards was wildly inconsistent and, while the line of Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal simply <i><b>dazzled </b></i>at times, scoring depth suffered, lineup changes were necessary and things got ugly - <i><b>quick</b></i>. An <i><b>atrocious </b></i>road record, unending ownership questions and polar opposite, inconsistent play yielded to immense trade speculation prior to the deadline and, ultimately, Richards, Prospal, Holmqvist and others leaving town. While the playoffs have long been an afterthought for the Lightning, the deadline deals brought a new number one hopeful in goal to Tampa in Mike Smith, as well as dependable vet Jeff Halpern, youngsters Jussi Jokinen and Alex Picard and a couple of mid-level draft picks. Still, here too, frustration and disappointment linger ...

Lecavalier has been <i><b>far </b></i>off of his game for a while now, though signs of life have returned of late, the effects of this trying season wearing on the club's <i><b>true </b></i>leader, no doubt. Longtime coach John Tortorella has shown outward signs of extreme chagrin and his effectiveness with this group has been questioned. The ownership situation remains unsettled and, most importantly, wins have been nearly <i><b>impossible </b></i>to come by. Clearly looking to the future, the Bolts currently sit 15th in the Eastern Conference and are neck-and-neck with the Los Angeles Kings for the NHL's worst overall record. Of course, this <i><b>does </b></i>bring out the positive possibility of selecting a Steve Stamkos or a Drew Doughty in the upcoming Entry Draft but, again, that does little to subside - you guessed it - frustration and disappointment.

A few more losses and the Islanders will join the Lightning assuring themselves of early tee times come April. As incredible as Nolan's coaching job has been at times, it's been equally mediocre at others. Personally, I've started to wonder if his loyal, coddling nature is right for the makeup of the club. Some Islander youngsters <i><b>clearly </b></i>need that proverbial kick in the rear. Jeff Tambellini, a wunderkind at the AHL level, has done next to nothing in the National League and is a <i><b>prime </b></i>candidate for a fresh bootmark. On the other hand, it appears to me (and others, quite frankly) that Tortorella's firey, in-your-face approach may have finally begun to fall on deaf ears. Moreover, the coach himself seems to be ripe for a change and has hinted as much, perhaps inadvertently, in recent comments.

<i>Ah ... if only the NHL allowed teams to trade coaches ...

Tortorella would provide the Isles with the no-nonsense, pins-and-needles leader I think this group really needs while Nolan would be a welcome nurturer for a Lightning group that has been beaten down, in many ways, all season. <b>Right?</b></i>

[Dream sequence - <i><b>OVER</b></i>.]

Where the Lightning and Islanders both have fallen short, in all likelihood, is <i><b>not </b></i>behind the bench. After all, the cook can only make a meal with the ingredients he is given. Personnel decision, post-Cup, have changed the Lightning franchise drastically, while the Islanders are forever fighting the uphill battle of getting premier talent to come to Long Island (and, more importantly, to <i><b>stay </b></i>a while.)

With a playoff spot still even a remote possibility, the Islanders <i><b>should </b></i>be a desperate team tonight (though recent history has proven that to be <i><b>anything </b></i>but a certainty.) As for the Lightning, with only 1 win in their last 11 games, <i><b>anything </b></i>to turn the tides in their favor would be <i><b>huge</b></i>. Who knows? Sometimes, watching two teams that are really down on their luck tangle with each other, hoping for even the smallest of breaks to go their way, can be some of the most entertaining hockey one can find!

Of course, for someone like me, who follows these two franchises more closely than any of the others, that's all I'll hope for as I enter the Forum this evening ...

... with my own personal double dose of frustration and disappointment, those two uninvited, <i><b>bastard </b></i>guests, right by my side ...

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Filed Under:   Islanders   Lightning  
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