Ottawa rolls onto LI, with a giant mist of doubt for Isles fans.
It rolls in like a blanket, covering Long Island from shopping mall to shopping mall. It unfurls itself right to Nassau Coliseum, laying right onto the ice. It is doubt and expectation as one of the top teams in the league comes to town.
When Ottawa fiercely dispatched Pittsburgh, eyes opened. When they manhandled New Jersey, finally breaking open a large Devil chink in armor, eyes grew wider. When they suffocated Buffalo, jaws dropped. Their failure versus Anaheim really showed their youth and inexperience for the first time, being decimated by physicality and better defensive play and scheme.
Sadly, those who held an anti-Canada stance mirrored that sometime errant and over-wrought Canadian media machine in some extremely negative and self-defeating diatribes with keyword of 'choke', 'overrated', 'lacking' and all word that were probably more apropos to their own home teams who failed to get to the Stanley Cup finals.
As I said then, and been shown this season, was that Ottawa and other team who taste defeat badly in the playoffs sometimes are better for it. That any true winner must taste the bitterness of failure as to rise when the chips are down so they don't taste it again. The Rangers did it in 93, coming back in 94. NJ tasted it in 94, coming on in 95, and you can go on and on . . . Colorado/Quebec, Detroit, etc.
If anyone has noticed who sits hellbent on top of the entire Eastern Conference, you'd know that Ottawa is a changed group. While sealing up key fixtures of Heatley and Spezza, they have come out like gangbusters this season, blowing away the nationalistic and insulting nonsense that vomited from some self-named hockey scribes mouths.
Ottawa is for real, and they come to the tri-state area to show it. And that very mist that stretches from the Isles Planinview offices, to the Coliseum, and to most fans home and workplace is some level of doubt that the Isles have enough defense and offense to skate with, much less handle this powerhouse.
Yet, any serious team for a playoff spot must not only face a team like Ottawa, they must walk into that haze and find themselves. The Islanders, despite in the middle of an offensive drought must walk onto that ice and expect 4 goals to be scored. That Isles defense, which impresses one day and makes us groan the next, must stifle Ottawas forwards. The goalie, who probably should have taken a game off versus Boston, must play his best.
The Islander need to beat Ottawa. They must show that they can ante up and face topflight teams. The NJ and NYR struggles notwithstanding, the only top team the Isles have faced is Carolina, thus far. And that, folks, was a big trouncing and wake-up call.
And lost with all the hubbub of Ottawa rolling into town is a few key elements, that despite their stellar record, this team has Martin Gerber starting, a mercurial and questionable goalie, despite a good record thus far. So some big goalie questions are abound when both goalies seem to be up for grabs via trade. They also come in on a slump, finally. Having just lost to Philly back on Saturday, and before that, losses against Pittsburgh and Buffalo. And a goalie controversy brews. So, not as high and mighty as it might seem.
However, tonight comes the return of Daniel Alfredsson, who missed last Saturday's game due to a groin injury. And in goal it will likely be Ray Emery, the man with a 4-0 record versus the Isles. So, it will be suffice to say the Isles will have their hands full tonight.
For the Isles, they have the return of Shawn Bates
, after being injured with a nasty groin problem since last January, he will be slotted onto the 4th line. Tim Jackman was returned to Bridgeport earlier this week.