In the summer of 2005, the Gallof boys took a roadtrip to the city of brotherly love. I have been to Philly several times, almost going to college there, but neither of my siblings had ever been there. As we walked the streets on a July 4th weekend, cigars clasped on our maws, looking for a bar with Magic Hat #9 on tap, some local Philadelphian blue-collar man looked at our soft, white, flabby, sweating, bodies and exclaimed, shaking his head . . .
"Three the hard way!"
And then chuckled himself past us.
Perhaps that same man sat chuckling to himself while the Islanders played the Flyers last night. The Isles walked out of Philly with a second divisional loss from a team that is looking more and more real everyday. And Isles fans were frustrated that a team could outplay and even keep the high-flying Flyers to only 17 shots, could watch their team still lose.
When Philly made those swashbuckling moves this past summer with trade and signings, I still thought they'd be be with a season of improvement, but also of adjustment and feeling out who they really were. Instead, they flew out the gate and have shown that they are the real thing, their own "hard way" that molded that iron being last years fall from grace. Since then, every move Paul Holmgren has made has either provided depth or star power.
When you look at Philly now, as they play each game with a ravenous hunger, each of those pieces not only fit, but raised up the team around it. Marty Biron, to most, was the man Ryan Miller unseated. Beyond that, not much was known . . . Except to Philly's own scouts, perhaps. Has there been any doubt he is a high caliber starting goalie this season? Meanwhile, Scott Upshall, had two goals last night against the Isles. Their defensive pickup, Kimmo Timonen, blocked 6 Islander shots. Holmgren's pickups are not only performing, but being huge building blocks to why they are on top of the division presently.
The whole team clicks, and have faced down our clicking Isles, capitalizing on our mistakes and showing why there is no brotherly love to be found at the Wachovia Center this season for opposing teams. Last night was a measuring stick for the Islanders, who played a close game, perhaps outplaying them. A good team makes due with what they get, and when mistakes happened, Philly walked away with another win. So despite the better play, a loss is still a loss, and despite 2 wins on each the Devils and Rangers, Philly sits as a reminder that this team cannot rest or be satisfied. That a mountain makes itself over the course of a season, and those like the Flyers, the Senators, and Carolina are climbing faster and more forcefully, and it's up to teams to keep up.
Both the Islanders and Flyers still will be judged by when they fall. All teams trip up the mountain, it is how they recover from it that will be the true measure of all these hot teams. Because it is by that "hard way" that makes a true winner. Hearts and souls forged by victory and failure that meld the schematics into a complete team.
The Islanders have something to prove, to step past just shambling into a playoffs last season. Both the Flyers and Carolina are recovering from last season's embarrassments. The Senators to show they deserve to be there again, and this time to win. Montreal, finally showing clear steps forward, to once again be where they belong in the playoffs. The Rangers trying to match preseason hype with finally some in-season consistent and sharp play.
Next for the Islanders is the Penguins, and might have captain, Bill Guerin back for it. Per Newsday, Guerin is being observed due to blood filling in and swelling the eye cavity, and despite that it has gone away, the Isles are being careful since another hit there could complicate matters. Meanwhile, the Isles are in a tight grouping in the Atlantic, as all teams are neck and neck. Another win over the Penguins is paramount to keep pace.
Speaking of keeping pace, their games after Thursday are versus the Devils and Rangers. By next week, we will know who the Isles are, and if they can keep stride.