15) Road Warriors
Chicago/Detroit - March 15/March 27, 2009
The 2008-09 season was largely forgettable for the Islanders. They had a decent start, but injuries - and the fact that they weren't very good - had the Islanders in their customary spot of last place by Christmas. The injury bug that ravaged the Islanders was absolutely insane, with the Islanders resorting to playing as many as a dozen Bridgeport Sound Tigers on the big club, then sending them down to play in Bridgeport.
It was under these conditions that the Islanders pulled off their two biggest wins of the season. The first came during a Sunday matinee in Chicago, a game in which goalie Peter Mannino earned his first NHL win. Two weeks later, the Isles played the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings on a Friday night, and to say Islanders fans weren't expecting much would be an understatement. However, these Islanders were up to the task, in particularly Joey MacDonald, who stole the show with 42 saves. In fact, it was MacDonald's save on Tomas Holmstrom that was named by NHL fans as the best save of the season.
These two games meant very little in the standings to either team, but they did a world of good for Islanders fans. Those who stayed loyal to the last-place Islanders were treated to two tremendous efforts against the eventual Western Conference finalists. They also got a glimpse of the team's future, as well as a reminder that the New York Islanders do not quit against any team.
14) Fight Night At Nassau Coliseum
Nassau Coliseum - September 24, 2007
Preseason games are often filled with fights. Islanders-Rangers games are often filled with fights. Put the two together, and there is serious potential for disarray.
There were a number of fights on this night, but there are two that stand out. The first involved Chris Simon and Ryan Hollweg. This game actually occurred during Simon's suspension for mauling Hollweg during a March 2007 game, but since it was a preseason game, Simon was able to play. Given the history these two players had with one another, it was no surprise that they went at it on this night.
The fight nobody expected to see, though, was between the goalies. As Rick DiPietro became involved in a scrum in front of the Islanders' net, Rangers goalie Al Montoya came down to defend his teammates. The tussle between DiPietro and Montoya wasn't all that special, but that they squared off at all was a pretty awesome moment. It was a great cap to yet another brutal moment in the Islanders-Rangers rivalry.
13) Opening Night
Nassau Coliseum - October 3, 2009
For months prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, Islanders fans saw October 3 as something more than Opening Night. Instead, it was Charles Wang's well-publicized date of "certainty". Wang stated numerous times that, if the Lighthouse Project had not been approved, the Islanders would listen to offers from potential suitors of the Islanders in other cities. As the date neared, the political games intensified, leaving fans worried about their team's future.
As it turned out, there was no deal by Wang's "certainty" deadline. However, that didn't stop the fans from filling the Coliseum, forgetting all the political nonsense, and simply enjoying the great game of hockey. They got to see a great game, highlighted by the NHL debut of John Tavares. Tavares didn't disappoint, recording an assist and a goal on the Islanders' first two goals. Tavares also made an appearance in the shootout later that night. While the Islanders couldn't knock off the defending Cup champs, they gave Islanders fans a tremendous memory - as well as a reminder that while it's easy to get swept up in the politics of the Lighthouse, hockey is what makes Islander Country a special place.
12) The Purge of 2009
February 20/March 4, 2009
As the Islanders made their bid for the first overall draft pick towards the end of the 2008-09 season, most people suspected that the Islanders would sell off at least some of their significant surplus of players at the end of their contracts. The Islanders did end up trading three veteran players around the deadline, but it wasn't merely to save payroll.
On February 20, the Islanders shipped Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie to Ottawa in exchange for Dean McAmmond and a first-round pick. Campoli wasn't going to be a free agent, but had something in common with Comrie - neither were happy with Scott Gordon's system. Nor was Guerin, who was pulled from the Islanders lineup on February 28 in anticipation of a trade, which did not materialize until just before the deadline on March 4. Guerin's haul was less than anticipated, but he did end up yielding a third-round pick when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
The message in these trades were clear. Veterans who didn't want to mentor the young guys and play within Scott Gordon's system were expendable and would be moved out in favor of younger players. The trades were proof that the Islanders were committed to rebuilding with Gordon and that fans could finally embrace a coach without worrying about him getting fired anytime soon.
11) Islanders Hire Ted Nolan And Neil Smith
June 8, 2006
After the Islanders fired Steve Stirling in January 2006, fans were waiting to see who would be named the next Islanders coach. Interim coach Brad Shaw did a decent job to close out 2005-06, but most people were looking for the Isles to name a coach from outside the organization. Fans were also waiting for the team to name Mike Milbury's successor as general manager. On June 8, 2006, they would be pleasantly surprised to find that both the coach and general manager vacancies were filled.
For the general manager position, the Islanders brought in Neil Smith. While some Islanders fans weren't thrilled about the prospect of a former Rangers GM running their team, Smith also had a background with the Islanders, serving as a scout on their 80s Cup teams. In addition, it was hard to ignore Smith's work in bringing the Rangers the 1994 Stanley Cup. For coach, the Islanders hired Ted Nolan, the former Sabres coach who hadn't coached in the NHL since being fired by the Sabres and subsuquently blackballed from the league as a whole.
The additions of these two respected leaders with proven track records of success helped give the Islanders a sense of credibility they hadn't had for years. The additions of Pat LaFontaine and Bryan Trottier as executives only helped to enhance the good vibes of the day. Then, unfortunately, Charles Wang announced his "management model" whereby everyone would have an equal say and all would report directly to Wang. Smith was unable to exist within this "model" and was fired just 40 days later, with LaFontaine resigning his post on the same day.
Ultimately, Wang's "model" was quietly dropped two years later, but by then, the damage was done. Smith was out and Garth Snow was in; a decision, as we will see later in the countdown, that was not exactly warmly embraced at first. However, Smith's tenure did have some long-lasting impact, as his first draft pick as Islanders GM was Kyle Okposo. As for Nolan, he brought the Islanders to the playoffs in his first season, but was fired after the next season, his "GM-killer" reputation still intact.