The pest that we all love to hate will be making his return to Coliseum ice this Thursday when the New York Islanders host the Dallas Stars. Last night he made a more notable return to Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers. I didn't expect him to be out of line when playing against his former team, and from the little I saw my prediction was proved correct. But as usual, I'm quite curious to see how the game will go when he plays his pals Brendan Witt and Rick DiPietro.
There's no question the one team in the Atlantic Division that he probably annoys the most are the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur, but the Isles are a close second due to the history of the Isles/Rangers rivalry. But this time he'll be wearing black and green as opposed to red and blue, so the game may not be as intense or eye popping. But of course it will all be in good fun to cheer when Witt crushes him into the boards.
More importantly, the Isles are getting closer to finally having Chris Campoli back in the lineup. It's obvious that the Isles defense hasn't been as strong as it has been in the past with youngsters such as Jack Hillen or waiver pick up Thomas Pock. The physical and shot blocking presence of Andy Sutton as well as Campoli's quick passes and power play contributions have been missed.
That is in no way a knock on Pock or Hillen. It's a new system with new players and Hillen is very inexperienced at the pro-level, just beginning to get his feet wet. Once he becomes comfortable with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers I'm sure we will see a smoother and better poised defenseman emerge.
Whether he dresses this Thursday or we have to wait until next week, having Campoli back in the lineup will help more than we realize. The players mentioned above have not contributed nearly as much as Campoli can, and this is the year where Chris is set to break out. In addition, players like Nate Thompson haven't been helping out the play of Bergenheim or Okposo, despite an honest effort and hard work.
I really think Mike Sillinger can turn hose two players into scorers throughout the course of the season. Hopefully we'll start to hear some good news on his recovery as well.
Overall, five games in and the Isles are 2-3. It's not the best start but it can't come as a surprise with all these new and young faces. Hopefully with the return of our injured players we will see more contributions on the score sheet from the young guys.