Monday, February 28, 2011

New York Islanders: The Optimism is Real

There are 17 games left in the regular season for the Islanders.

Are the playoffs impossible? No.

Probable? No.

Couple that with the fact that there are 5 teams to leap frog over it is safe to say that the Islanders will look to play spoiler and win as many games as possible over this last stretch of the season.

The Islanders are a changed team this season. Anyone who has watched them extensively this year can see that.

Its not just a cosmetic change or a personnel change.

The Islanders have players that WANT to be here and succeed here.

For years now the Islanders have seemed to just take whatever the league or fate dealt them and just shrug and say "always me".

Not any more.

The guys in the that dressing room are a young, talented team on the rise and you can finally see the difference in the way the play.

Its not just a talent thing.

Its an attitude. Yogi Berra once said baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

Ah Yogiisms. They all make us scratch our head and smile.

In this case I agree with the Yankee legend. Sort of.

Professional sports is very mental. Yes you have to have talent but if your team does not believe in itself then it is not going to go any where.

Look at the San Francisco Giants for an example.

Somewhere along the line this season the attitude changed and we saw it happen in the month after the Islanders got out of that awful win less streak in December.

The infamous Penguin game was an indicator that this team took pride in itself but the truth is that somewhere before that the players themselves are starting to believe that they have a chance to take the next step in this league.

The last 17 games of this season are going to go a long way into showing exactly what the Islanders have in store for us next season.

We as Islander fans always say next year will be our year. This season we really mean it.

The team is maturing before our eyes even with the injuries on the back line, the young group of forwards and defenseman are playing with the confidence necessary to build a winning nucleus.

The Islanders are never going to be that team that goes out and signs a player to a 90 million dollar contract. We were told when Garth Snow took over that the team had to build from within.

That's all fine and dandy, but luck also has to play a part.

Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. Is Garth Snow a genius? Or was he lucky?

Moulson is on his way to back to back 30 goal seasons and Grabner is turning into the kind of player that people will pay to see. Every time Grabner is on the ice he makes something happen.

A breakaway, an exciting rush up the ice the kid has turned from talented rookie to a star on the rise and should at the very least be in the top 2 or 3 for rookie of the year.

If he can put together a few more goals and somehow get to 30, he may have a shot at the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year giving the Islanders their first Calder winner since Bryan Berard.

Moulson came into this season with the intent to prove that last years success was no fluke and earn a contract in the process. Mission accomplished on both.

Frans Nielsen has turned into a major player in the future of this franchise. Sure he only has 8 goals, but 5 of them are shorthanded and he has major chemistry with Kyle Okposo and Grabner. Take a look at the Islanders team stats and you'll see something even more striking. Nielsen is a plus 9 and Grabner is a plus 11.

Zenon Konopka is not just an enforcer. Hes a defensive forward. He is excellent on the face offs. He also has an X factor that the Islanders sorely need and he says what is on his mind and on the fans mind.

Sign him Garth. Hes a great character guy and someone who wants to succeed on the Island.

Where did Al Montoya come from? Buried in the minors since being a high Rangers draft choice he has only gotten a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes. Now with the Islanders, brought in as a fill in because of all of the injuries and Evgeni Nabokov's childishness, Montoya has been a revelation in net.

8 games, 4 wine, 1 shut out, a .933 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against average?

Talk about making the most of your opportunity. I cannot wait to see what this guy will do over the last 17 games of the season.

At the very least Montoya is accomplishing two things - He has stabilized the Islanders crease and given the Islanders another option for next season.

Assuming Rick DiPietro comes back and is healthy I would love to see a DiPietro-Montoya tandem in net next season.

It allows Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen to continue to hone their game in the AHL.

Travis Hamonic is going to be a very good player in this league for many years. His growth this season as a player has been nothing short of remarkable.

This team is turning the corner right before our eyes and with the ticket prices and packages the Islanders are offering for the rest of the year there is no reason the attendance should not be higher.

Get to the games fans I am saying for what it is worth that its time to give this team a look again and win or lose you will not be disappointed.

Outside of the teams abysmal run back in December it has been a pretty good season for the Islanders especially with the amount of injuries they have sustained.

Think if this - If the Islanders had won 5 of the games they lost back during that horrid 20 game stretch they would be 4 points out of a playoff spot.

If they had won 8 of the games during that run they would be 2 points into a playoff spot.

If they had gone .500 during that stretch they would be at least 4 points into a playoff spot.

Ah the what ifs. I don't like talking about what ifs, but in this case it bears examination.

The Islanders have not been nearly as bad this season as their record would seem.

Going into next season the team would seem to be almost set in the roster for next year.

The Islanders have almost finished their own off season signings by wisely not letting Matt Moulson get to free agency and resigning defenseman Milan Jurcina and forward PA Parenteau.

One piece of business remains and that is signing Zenon Konopka to a contract extension.

Islander fans are used to feigning optimism for next season.

This time? The optimism is real.

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