The Islanders lost a rough one to the Flyers yesterday for their matinee game on a Sunday afternoon. It was a tough loss to swallow, especially for Marty Biron, a goaltender looking for just his third win of the season. Although the Isles played hard, it was frustrating to watch them make a pass that should have been a shot or struggle to carry the puck out of their own zone. When things aren't going well, they are easily evident on the ice.
You could see it on all of the players' faces in the locker room after the game. The feel was tense. Sure, after every loss you have to go searching for a smile, but this was the fifth loss on home ice in a stretch where six of the last eight games played have been at the Coliseum. This home stand was supposed to help them propel up the standings, not sit where they were or go lower.
The problems that have existed since the start of the season have improved drastically, but at the same time, they still exist: Moulson's scoring touch is on pause; Tavares isn't as noticeable as he used to be (it's okay though, he's 19, he can't do it all); secondary scoring is still missing on a nightly basis; DiPietro is still hoping to play an NHL game in orange and blue; and Dough Weight won't see the ice until some time into the New Year.
With all of that being said, the Isles are still close to the 8th spot and are holding their own. When they play, they don't lack the energy and fire that they used to last season. Regardless of their standing they are still an improved team. They just need to break things down, go back to basics, and play simple hockey. The frustrations need to be forgotten and the game just needs to be played their way.
One player who continues to stand out despite his goal scoring troubles is Kyle Okposo. With every shift he takes you are watching a future leader emerge. He will one day be the clutch performer that every captain should be. Yes, I expect him to be captain of this team in the next year or two. He is out there as the extra player when a man goes down or the team needs a goal or a play. The work he did on Comeau's shorthanded goal is attributed to his desire to win and that desire led him to the OT game-winning goal against the Rangers on Saturday night at the Garden.
Speaking of which, I happened to run into Josh Bailey, Nate Thompson and Mark Streit in Penn Station that night. Tomorrow night is my birthday, and to celebrate a little prematurely, a few friends and I went into the city to head to a few bars. As I'm waiting to meet up with a few buddies I see Bailey just standing by the overhead schedule at the LIRR. I went over, said hello, and formerly introduced myself since I didn't remember meeting Bailey via Blog Box before. He shook my hand and chatted with me until he had to go. He explained that not all players take the train home from the Garden, but since it was the holiday, a few players stick around for a bit with family and friends to show them what NYC is all about.
Thompson walked by and seemed to be in a rush, but I shouted a "Hey Nate!" He nodded, said hello, but had to keep moving.
As I was drinking a LIT at Friday's in Penn, Frans Nielsen peeped his head in apparently looking for someone so I didn't bother him. A few minutes later I saw Mark Streit right next to me so I shook his hand and said hello as well. He was with his parents so I didn't want to bother him for long, but we talked about Kyle's goal, the potential of the playoffs, and spending time in NYC.
All of these guys could have ignored me or brushed me aside as soon as I came over. But they didn't. They chatted with me as friendly people and made small talk even if they were in a rush to catch a train. That's the type of athletes that NHL players are. Humble, respectful and simply put good guys.
Tomorrow night I will not be at the Blog Box. I will be going out to dinner with a few friends and then having a Danglers Winter Classic. My friends and I have a hockey team we put together every summer to compete in a "Home-From-School" league, and we decided to rent out an outdoor rink in Syosset to play our own little winter classic since we're all back together for winter break. Can I ask for a better birthday or what?
But on the ice that matters, the Islanders will be facing the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game is a must-win. The home stand was a disappointment, but there is plenty of hockey left as the half-way mark of the season approaches. It's up to them if they are going to continue to play frustrated hockey or bring it back to basics and play the game the way the know how to play it.
I'm hoping Gordon toys with the Moulson-Tavares-Comeau line too. Blake has played well as an effective checking winger, but Tavares and Moulson haven't found the net like they did the first twenty games or so. Maybe Moulson can be moved for someone or Tambellini can have a chance to add his speed to that line. At this point, anything is worth a shot.
A few days rest is something this team could use too. After their home game on January 2nd against the Thrashers, they don't play again until Wednesday the 6th. I'm sure they are all looking forward to nursing a few injuries.
But until then, it's time to get back to playing simple Islanders hockey.