New York Islanders ring in the New Year with hope
The 10-game losing streak that began December was like a cinder block lashed to the Islanders' collective foot, dragging them to the bottom of the NHL standings, and taking the fans' spirit with them.
And although Rick DiPietro continues to provide his best impression of a china vase, the Islanders have showed some spunk recently, closing out 2008 with five points in their final four games, the latest an entertaining 4-2 victory New Year's Eve against the Florida Panthers.
I've said all along that as an Islanders fan with zero expectations, all I wanted to see this season were signs of progress. But the many injuries coupled with the growing pains of learning Scott Gordon's new system have made it difficult to determine whether the team was moving in the right direction.
But things have finally started to look up. DiPietro's return in a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs turned out to be just a cameo appearance, but it made clear that his presence means the world to this team. Joey MacDonald has done an admirable job filling in for so long, but he's not at DiPietro's level.
In fact, had D.P. been healthy enough to face the Rangers, you could see the Islanders taking that game, as MacDonald's proclivity for allowing big rebounds and the annoying soft goal reared its ugly head.
And give Mike Comrie credit for coming back to the lineup and providing the offense the team has sorely lacked. Sure, he could be showcasing himself for a seemingly inevitable trade off this sorry Island, but since he's been paired with Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau, that line has looked terrific and finally gives the team a semblance of a scoring threat. And his two goals against the Sabres helped salvage a point in the road in what was the second game in as many nights, another positive sign.
It was nice to read that Doug Weight doesn't want to leave, and he has been a great addition to the team. With a one-year contract, a veteran like Weight is prime trade material, but with so many young players not ready to be leaders, having guys like Weight and Bill Guerin are necessary to show them the way and provide direction, even when the playoffs are a long shot.
Trevor Smith is the latest newbie to suit up in the blue and orange, and here's hoping his goal-scoring ability made the trip with him from Bridgeport, something that hasn't happened with Jeff Tambellini.
And wouldn't you like to see more goals like the one Sean Bergenheim scored against Florida? Highlight-reel plays like that have been extremely rare in these parts, and maybe that's the kind of play that Bergy can build on as we enter 2009.
The new year begins with a western road trip, and DiPietro was on the plane, so presumably he'll play. Maybe one of his New Year's resolutions will be to stay in the lineup.
If he does, it gives the Islanders a decent chance to make 2009 interesting, if not successful. But at least there's some hope.
Happy New Year, everybody!
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