Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Tale Of Two Teams

Is this how the rest of the season is going to be?

If you're an Islanders fan, tonight's game was hell. First off, you're playing Atlanta, one of the teams you're "competing" with for the first overall pick. Then, before you know it, you're up 4-0 in the first period. You're happy to see the team playing so well... but at the same time, you're hoping you're not setting yourself up to miss out on the first overall pick. The third period comes around, and you let up three quick goals. You immediately think about November and the string of blown leads that led to two months of perpetual failure. You hope for a win... but you wouldn't exactly mind a loss, either. Okposo scores to make it 5-3 and you can breathe again. Kovalchuk scores the goal you knew was coming to make it 5-4. You secretly wish for overtime so that even if you win, you're only "gaining" a point on Atlanta. Finally, the game ends, and the Islanders are on top.

Do you rejoice over the end of a 14-game road losing streak? Are you thrilled at the play of your young stars? Do you piss and moan about the diminshed chance of winning the John Tavares sweepstakes?

Tough questions to answer. But here's what I'm thinking - yes, absolutely, and only a little.

I've done a lot of thinking lately about the second half of the Islanders season and what we can expect to see. And the parallel I keep coming back to is the 2005-06 Penguins. Those Penguins were full of young guys, and when Mario Lemieux called it quits, the team was ill-equipped for anything besides a lengthy stay at the bottom of the league. As the season progressed, the young guys got all the experience they needed; by season's end, they were not only a dangerous team, but they were a trendy pick to really take off the following season. And that's exactly what happened.

Now, I'm not saying the Islanders are going to be a playoff team next year and reach the Stanley Cup Final in two years. But thinking about the way this season has gone so far, it's hard to imagine them being this lousy for the whole year. Besides, the Isles' young players have had plenty of game experience and have played in many critical moments this year. And we saw tonight how all of that has paid off. This a lead they would have totally blown in November. Tonight, they won. And it was the young players - Nielsen, Gervais, Bailey, Okposo - that played the big minutes and held down the fort. Just because it was a game against the Atlanta Thrashers shouldn't devalue this victory.

Time will tell how this season will play out. But here's one I'd wager money on (if I actually had any) - the Islanders will win three straight games at one point in the second half. They'll still get their plush draft pick, don't worry about that. But I think we'll also see some real progress, the kind that will get us very excited about next year - for the right reasons.

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