Last night's 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was a tough pill to swallow, and it's never easy to deal with losing to our LIRR rivals the New York Rangers, but this team is working towards something a little more important than adding points in the win column: this team is working towards building an identity.
Islander-Ranger games, which are always exciting for the fans and players, seemed to have lost that spark that used to be there when guys like Cairns, Scatchard, and Webb skated against Barnaby, Simon, and Purinton. Although it's not the typical post-game interview, I loved hearing Eric Cairns call Purinton "a gutless puke" for his no-look hit to Cairns before he could even drop his gloves. I also miss Theo Fluery's little chicken dance antics on the bench or Arron Asham having to be wrestled by an official off the ice just because he was dying to get another piece of Matthew Barnaby. Islander-Ranger games like that haven't been seen in a few years (and that preseason game where DP fought Montoya doesn't count, it was just preseason non-sense).
Overall the Isles haven't had too many instances in which one player has stuck up for another, but that seems to have changed since the Ranger game Wednesday night.
Although Bergenheim had a pretty good toe-to-toe battle with Petr Prucha after getting hit with an extended knee by Erik Reitz, the first player to toss of the mits and get involved was none other than Andy Hilbert. That's right. Andy Hilbert. And after the Isles let up the sixth goal of the game to the Canes last night, Tim Jackman came roaring off the bench to deliver a flurry of upper-cuts and hay-makers to Tim Conboy. If one fight wasn't enough, just a few minutes after that Mike Comrie ripped off his visor and took on Chad Larose. These two fights resulted in the Islanders gaining some momentum which developed into Jon Sim's 7th goal of the year, a goal you know he was happy to have had after whiffing on that breakaway chance he had earlier in the game.
Fighting is not the only element that defines a team's identity, but it's a strong component that helps build a team's character. Having these instances occur from our veterans in Hilbert, Jackman (although not the most savvy NHL vet, he's been around a while), and Comrie can hopefully spread to these young players on the team in Okposo, Bailey, Comeau, Bergenheim, Tambellini, Campoli, and so on. With all these younger guys growing through the Isles youth movement, it is important for them to start learning not only how to play along side of each other, but as a team playing for each other. They are the ones who will be here in the future, not Comrie, Hilbert, Jackman, and so on. This concept is of great importance and should be looked for by the coaching staff and fans because it shows who is committed to being the best player for this team and who isn't.
It may sound corny and cliche' but anyone that has played hockey will tell you it's true. When you play for your teammates it reflects on the ice and leads to better results and even more exciting games.
Although the team is losing, there are still plenty of positive signs of growth and will hopefully develop into an exciting finish to the 2008-09 season.