Don't let anyone ever tell you that hockey is just a physical game. It might be a game of snap decisions on the fly in such a fast-paced flow, but any professional player who has found success has mastered or at least, faced, the mental aspects of competition.
None could tell you a better tale of this process than Andy Hilbert who hit so many posts, despite his two-way play, leading to many fan jokes if he could hit water, a side of a barn, and I could go on and on.
But let me backtrack just a wee bit . . .
I was supposed to be at Saturdays game, but not in the Blog Box, for once. Despite my inbox glaringly empty by those crafty men from the Isles organization, I was supposed to join my wife and friends instead, anyway. However, I spent Saturday afternoon slowly getting ill, and stayed home as everyone else went.
But, as a viewer, I was treated to the Isles own panic to their own little rut. You would have thought this team lost 10 games in a row with the coverage. Now, yes, their Powerplay had failed to do much in the last ten games. And yes, they didn't play particularly well in Boston. But Billy Jaffe and Howie Rose stroked their microphones to make it seem like all hung in the balance this very game. That doom MIGHT be around the corner.
Such drama. Wow. It surprised me. I almost bought it . . .
It's nice to have pressure to succeed. It's wonderful to have a winning team on the ice. But it really wouldn't have killed anyone that they had lost, no matter the stroking of those fears by those whose job it is to get fans up for a game.
Also of curiosity was Newsday's report that the game versus Boston was a sellout crowd. Curious because my wife's text me that there were many empty seats next to her and around her. And we were in a large season ticket area dead-center up top. So, it could be simply that many just were busy with family, couldn't make it, but there were lots of empty seats on bottom as well. I really want each Isles game to be teeming with fans, don't get me wrong. This fan showing this season has been terrific, and fans need to continue it. Just not sure of Newsday was correct on the sellout crowd report, or need clarification of what a sell-out crowd really is. OR my wife was simply not realizing they were having a run on the hotdogs and beer.
Did some digging on that, and just had a reader confirm to me via email that tons of people were stuck on line at the Will Call booths due to SMG only have only two ticket windows open despite a large amount of people. Some people were not able to get into their seats until the end of the 1st, and even into the 2nd period. So, sell-out seems true, but SMG being as sharp as a bowling bowl hurting fans from seeing the game.
So, despite not buying into Jaffe and Rose mist of concern and panic, I did like that the team held a meeting that day to get everyone back on the same page. The Isles coaching and management has taken great care, despite all those around who said nay, that this team is a playoff team and will conduct itself accordingly. And that meeting might have gotten them to walk that walk once again.
When the game started, the Isles were everywhere, pressing their game on Boston. They didn't get a score in that first period, and instead, due to a defensive lapse, gave Boston a goal on their lone one shot. But that aside, the Isles played a strong game allowing for depth players to come up for air . . . and Andy Hilbert, who was choking on himself, took a huge breath by finally getting that goal.
The place erupted. The team erupted. Fans erupted. Hilbert looked like the happiest guy on the ice. And it was good to see what was a punchline finally get some respect and break through that mental suffocation. Hilbert's bane has been himself. Each time I see him play, he's making a difference. But not in the goal scoring. Also not much on the assists. Now, with the pressure off, we will see if he can build on it, or is he truly a 4th liner? Albeit a good 4th liner. Especially with another depth player who has good two way skills returning, in <b>Shawn Bates</b>.
Hockey is a mental game, and that part Hilbert has fallen victim to not just this season, but last one as well.
OVERALL, however, lets get onto the important part of all this. The Isles got a big win last night at an important time. Dallas, Ottawa, and others are all coming. But that powerplay that was clicking so early and we were singing Gary Gallant's praises has fallen silent. How did that first 10 game consistency fall off so fast? It's something that needs to be answered for this team to compete for a playoff spot. Also their Goals For, is rather low. This team nicely played this past game, but need to get more goals, something most fans were concerned about before this season ever started.
Make no mistake about it, this team is ok. There is no doom, gloom or panic here. But merely concern. Richard Park (his 2nd of the year) and Andy Hilbert had last night's goals, on a game that was supposed to wake up an offense. Boston's system is not like a Jacques Lemaire-like scheme (NJ's mastermind, and now Minny's). Yet, they looked like a Rubik's Cube versus our offense.
You see, hockey is a mental game. And somehow it's just not Hilbert who is snakebitten. There was a swagger and moxy by this offense that was present in camp, preseason and for the first 10 games. Have teams adjusted? Are the Isles being better scouted by opposing teams? All might be possible. Montreal, last week, showed plainly how the Isles could be taken out of their own game and stuck playing theirs. Something that even NJ and the Rangers could not do. Did Montreal show cracks within the Islander veneer? Or show that those assistants and Nolan must work with the team to adjust now?
Lots of questions to be answered in the next week or two.