It seems a little odd to cover these games as though they were normal. They are anything but normal. Of the twenty players who dressed for Saturday night's game against the Flyers, only nine of them were what I consider to be established NHLers. That includes Sean Bergenheim, who didn't play in the NHL last year, and Wade Dubielewicz, who is in his first season as a full-time NHLer.
Here are my criteria: If you spent time in the minor leagues this season, and you weren't there on a conditioning stint, then you are not an established NHLer. If you spent time as a healthy scratch this season, and have not played at least three full seasons in the league, then you are not an established NHLer. Take a look at this lineup:
Have you ever seen anything like that? Then throw in the fact that Spiller, Regier, and Jackman have been pulling double duty, and it's amazing this team isn't getting its doors blown off. It's a testament to the players, to Ted Nolan and his coaching staff, and to Jack Capuano and his staff. With nothing to play for but the play itself, most of these guys are putting their best forward. That doesn't mean it wasn't a weird night. And, unfortunately, their best foot probably won't be enough most of the time. Here are some notes (not all of them are weird):
Before the game started, two young teenagers stood next to the Blog Box glancing repeatedly toward us. Finally, they moved closer and announced that one of them was a Kyle Okposo lookalike and they were going to go around claiming that he was Kyle's little brother. I regret not taking a picture. He actually did look like him.
Mike Mole is wearing #60 with the Isles. It looked like there was a spring training castoff on the bench. Or Scott Schoeneweis. Mole wore #30 with the Grizzlies where, incidentally, Kevin Colley is an assistant coach.
The Islanders got a break in that Vinnie Prospal was scratched with an illness, and Marty Biron was rested after playing in the 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils the night before. That's Marty Biron, he of the 6-0 record, 1.50 GAA, and .952 save percentage against the Isles this year. So much for breaks.
Trent Hunter's 28 assists this season are a career high. So maybe we shouldn't put a cap on his offensive potential just yet. Of course, 25 goals and 30 assists would look a lot better.
Despite the fourth line being made up of weary commuters, Nolan rolled them right out there early in the first--within the first three minutes. Ice time was fairly evenly distributed in the first, as only one penalty was called. The fourth line would be used much more sparingly the remainder of the game.
Okposo ends up in places with shots on the power play where I'm not used to seeing this team end up with shots from. If that makes sense.
The Flyers' shots-on-goal total seemed to rise as if each shot were being counted as two. I had intended to ask Dubie whether he really felt under seige or if most of the shots were actually quite harmless. He confirmed the latter in response to a Greg Logan question while acknowledging that the Flyers did really take over the game after the Isles controlled the first period and mounted a 2-0 lead in the second.
Frans Nielsen's goal to regain the lead at 3-2 was a beauty of a wrister, placed perfectly over Antero Nittymaki's glove.
I really wanted to claim that Briere's shootout winner was illegal because he stopped his forward momentum, but I don't think the evidence holds up. I wonder if he purposely used that move to counteract Dubie's famed poke check.
The post-game scene included young players hustling to get dressed and packed for the trip back to Bridgeport, where they would play their fifth game in five nights on Sunday. One of them (name withheld to protect his identity) sat in his stall all ready to go in his overcoat and ski cap while wolfing down a piece of pizza. You gotta eat when you can. Another went over this week's schedule of Islanders games, because it's hard to know where you are and where you have to be when you're playing for two teams simultaneously. And for the first time all year, I had to work to figure out which faces went with which names. The names are all very familiar, of course. But it's a little jarring when you suddenly see several faces in the locker room that you've never seen up close before. I never imagined I'd be in that situation. I'm sure the situation is a little weird for them too.