The Isles shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks Monday night lifted them to 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Sure, that's right around where this team finished last year, but keep in mind just a few days ago we were sitting at the bottom of the standings with thoughts of Tavares and Hedman swirling around our brains.
It's still a possibility (and a very good one) that we may end up seeing the Isles logo representing the first overall pick at this year's draft lottery, but the guys in orange and blue have been giving their fans reason to believe that they may end up better than expected.
Don't worry, I'm not suddenly saying this team is a playoff contender after only winning three games in a row - two of them against a below .500 team - but they have begun to imrpove their overall play in several ways. Even when the Isles were blowing two or three goal leads in the third period, there were still reasons for optimism. Now those hints and glimpses of success have led to positive results on the ice...and believe it or not, the Isles are only two points out of the playoffs behind the eighth seeded Devils (who are also tied with Philidelphia and Toronto).
It's still early and anything can happen, but this three game winning streak and resiliency to battle back is a sign that Gordon's system is becoming natural to them as opposed to being over-thought.
In addition, their success has been greatly contributed to by Joey MacDonald. Game in and game out there is not enough you can say about this guy's ability to keep his team in the game. Roloson, Khabibulin, whoever is next to be mentioned...they can all be traded somewhere else because MacDonald is one of the reasons why we've been winning. Although Frans Nielsen buried the lone goal in the shootout with a nifty backhand (which he stated he had planned from the beginning during the press conference after the game), MacDonald's three saves secured the victory. And I have to ask, did any of you think of the Easter Classic two years ago when Mac made that poke-check on the Canucks' final shooter? Sure did for me.
The fact that Brendan Witt will finally be returning to the defensive core is perfect for a team that has been progressing as of late. It's almost unnecessary to explain what Brendan Witt means to this team. His grit and ability to keep opponents' top forwards to a quiet game will assist this team's development as well as give a bit of relief to MacDonald when games go into those tight, one-goal situations.
Another player who has caught alot of attention lately is Tim Jackman. During the second period I said to a fellow blogger that he has been looking like a much improved player when compared to last year. I know when you think of the team's youth movement you do not think of Tim Jackman, but he has definitely picked up his play this year. He was tied with Guerin at the end of the game with total shots on net, drew penalties, and even had a short-handed breakaway after a nice steal at the Vancouver blue line. Jackman is showing that he is the fourth line checking forward you want on your team. He plays with tenacious hustle and energy and is willing to throw his fists in defense of his teammates as he's done now in two consecutive games.
Jackman also may be of some assistance with the players' development as well. He's seen what these kids can do in Bridgeport and has played along side with a handful of them. Keeping him around may be beneficial in more ways than one.
Bailey continued to look pretty impressive making some quick dekes in tight spots and getting a few shots on net. He had a golden opportunity to bury a loose puck for the first goal of his young career right in front but shanked it high and wide. You can tell it's going to come soon; he has to be making this a tough decision for Gordon after every game because he sure is getting fans like me on his side to stay.
In other news, Mike Sillinger has been assigned to a conditioning stint in Bridgeport for three games to help get him back into game shape. Bridgeport, by the way, are now the best team in the AHL with a 13-3-0 record. Considering the Isles have some of the Tigers' former top players in Okposo, Nielsen, and especially Tambellini playing up at the big show, that's quite an impressive stat. You have to wonder if Gordon has any plans to give Blake Comeau another shot.
The Isles have to call up a player anyway since Okposo is out approximately a week after hurting his hand Monday night. Maybe this will be Blake's chance. After seeing what the kid was capable of last year I sure hope the Isles give him another look this Friday night at The Rock when they take on that 8th seeded New Jersey Devil team.
What are your thoughts on Blake Comeau getting another shot and Josh Bailey's future with this team?