October 16, 2010

Sloppy is as sloppy does

Give the Isles credit for walking away from the Consol Energy Center with a point tonight, because it certainly could've turned out quite differently if they didn't receive a friendly call from the refereeing staff on Kris Letang's shoulder to Blake Comeau's... shoulder. Granted, this is the same group of zebras that called a phantom hook on Milan Jurcina when he had the audacity to breathe in Sidney Crosby's direction, but by that point, the boys in blue and orange had already guaranteed themselves one point in the standings. There wasn't much about this game to like except for the notion that the Islanders could even exit the building with something to show for this type of effort against a premier NHL team in its own rink.

But let's try to focus on the positive, shall we?

The PK was finally on point. The right personnel were being used, everybody looked aggressive, and the Pens were frustrated throughout the game's three periods before finally breaking through in overtime after what was frankly a bad call. The Isles generated two golden shorthanded chances, both of which they couldn't convert. While the breaks of the game can unfold like that, it was encouraging to watch guys like Bailey, Comeau, and Nielsen really create something in the face of adversity.

Ricky D had a spectacular game. He gets screwed on two lucky bounces, then lets in a scorcher from Goligoski off a rebound created by the fact that an Isles defender (can't remember who right now) allowed a Pens attacker to screen DP with impunity. Other than that, he had several spectacular stops to keep the Isles in it. This was the DiPietro we know and love, the guy we remember stealing games for the team during a season in which they eventually made the playoffs. This is probably the most important takeaway of the night when you look at things in the long-term.

Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau are for real. Their all-around contributions tonight cannot be exaggerated. There was no phase of the game in which they did not have a serious impact. Bailey in particular had several unbelievable offensive moments. Comeau continues to do his thing and prove to everyone that he's officially turned the corner.

Radek Martinek has successfully re-invented himself. Not only is he positionally sound, but he's turning into more of an asshole while finding it in him to contribute offensively. I've constantly written that Martinek always had the skills to be one of the best all-around defensemen in hockey. Slowly, he's beginning to realize that for himself. Isles prospect Matt Donovan is similar: he doesn't even know his own strength, blissfully unaware of his own gifts because he's a nice guy. I hope he learns what Martinek has apparently learned: you need to get angry and you need to let that chip on your shoulder motivate yourself to achieve new heights.

But of course, how could we forget the negatives:

The horrible mental mistakes need to stop. Before the agita takes even more years off my life. I believe the team has had at least one bench minor in every regular season game thus far. That is insane any way you slice it. Nino logging six PIMs in the first period is inexcusable, even if he's 15 years old. Offensive-zone penalties are total murder on your team, and the Isles have racked up too many thus far for my liking. Mike Mottau-- who has officially converted me, by the way-- can't be making blind passes to the center of the rink in his own zone. The guys can't keep thinking 8 steps ahead and whiffing on easy clears and tape-to-tape passes. Will they sort it out? I'm confident they will, because Scott Gordon is the real thing. But I hope it happens way sooner than later.

Once more, with feeling: Andy MacDonald needs to be removed from the power play. I guess he'll be supplanted by Wisniewski upon James's return to the roster, but Andy Mac just wasn't made for this in any capacity. If Hillen's gonna play, you have to put him here. He ran one of college's most successful power plays for a very long time. This guy's completely capable of bringing that contribution to the NHL level.

If there is a God, P.A. Parenteau has played his last game in an Islander uniform. Not much more to say, really. It is what it is.

Protecting the front of the net is an area of concern. Now that Sutton is gone, the Isles don't have a guy who will flatten opposing players if they try to hang out in front of DiPietro. This was a problem on the game-winner, and it'll continue to be a problem until Travis Hamonic suits up for the Isles full-time (at least a year away) unless Snowy gets on the phone and imports a bruiser in the interim. Obviously, no one's gonna be available this early in the year. Nevertheless, I'd start giving it some real thought.

I cannot wait until the day the team learns to step on the opponent's throat. Two straight games with golden opportunities, both of them blown. In Washington, the Isles had two solid one-on-one chances with the goalie: Grabner making Carlson look like a pylon, and Moulson breaking away alone. Both didn't go their way. Tonight, the Isles went on the power play with 2:16 to go, and they couldn't hammer one home. They'll learn it eventually, but great teams always seize those moments. It's too much to ask for the time being, but the youngsters must incorporate that element to their game somewhere down the road if the Cup will ever come back to the Island. I know, I'm delusional for talking like that.

Quick thoughts on the Pens:

I understand Jordan Staal was out this game, but my goodness does that look like one shallow team. Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and a blue line that's looking awfully overhyped. Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik (favorite non-Islander defenseman in hockey) being absent from this game had no impact whatsoever on the PP units, both of which looked dreadful (continuing a theme from last season). Ray Shero might end this season with serious egg on his face if he imported two defensemen to eat up the rest of their precious cap room and they didn't have the impact he anticipated.

Right now, Shero probably doesn't look too good for failing to address the age-old problem in Pitt: Crosby has no winger. The Pens draft too low for a winger to have an immediate impact, and it's an awful lot to ask of your scouting staff to identify a mid-rounder who can ride shotgun to the Next One with spectacular results. Crosby is the greatest player in the world at the moment, but he can't carry the likes of Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi to the Promised Land. When the Pens won the Cup, Crosby's superhuman effort was good enough to elevate a guy like Billy Guerin. Now, he doesn't have a guy who comes close to even that caliber. Shero learned last season that your biggest deadline import on wing can't be Alexei Ponikarovsky.

In the meantime, the Isles gear up for the Avalanche, who already head up the Northwest Division and don't figure to relinquish that lead for the rest of the year. On the tail end of slugfests with two bigshot teams from last year, the Isles will be paid a visit by another squad that saw playoff action in '09-'10. Can they come away with an impressive victory? We'll have to tune in on Saturday night to find out.

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