Islanders Six-Game Starts: A 2000's retrospective

We know starting off the season without a win is frustrating, but we also know that first win will fall out of the sky at some random moment: It could be a week from now, eeked out in OT; it could be tomorrow, in an uncharacteristic 60-minute effort past a team that took the Isles lightly. Whenever it comes, one monkey will be off the Isles' collective back, leaving room to focus on the rest of that barrel of monkeys that challenges this rebuilding roster.

But while the Isles' "0" in the "W" column is still a relevant topic, let's get this out of the way: The much-referred to only other winless start like this was in 1973-74, when the Islanders didn't win until their eighth game (at home to the Rangers, I gleefully note). That year was also an 0-3-3 start -- the Isles tied the North Stars in the season's seventh game.

Meanwhile, how does this start compare to other starts of this rather forgettable decade? Let's take a look:

1999-2000: The Isles begin 2-4-0. Four of the first six games finish with a final score of 4-2.

How Butch Goring got any wins out of this team was and remains a mystery. Tim Connolly and Olli Jokinen, Eric Brewer and Zdeno Chara were on that team in infant form -- but so were Tony Hrkac, Dallas Eakins, the "other" Biron, Scott Pearson and five different goalies at various points in the season. The team finished with 58 points, including just one OT loss.

Inside the Milbury Subconscious: They made me trade Palffy. This team needs a buyer who's naiive enough to keep me employed.

 

2000-2001: Thought 58 points was bad? Try 52. The Islanders open under Goring 1-3-2.

They then reel off four wins in a row -- a quarter of the season's total -- before the bottom falls out, as they close out October on an 8-game losing streak. Tim Connolly again plays a full season, netting 41 points. Mark Parrish has a team-worst minus-27. Goring is replaced by Lorne Henning with 17 games left, after being routed 6-0 by the last-place Lightning.

Inside the Milbury Subconscious: Butch is a good guy, but he couldn't turn the crap I gave him into gold.

 

2001-02: Revival! The infamous 11 games before a regulation loss. First six: 5-0-1 (or 5-0-0-1, given OTL accounting at the time).

In Laviolette, in Yashin, Peca and Osgood. A 96-point season, good for 2nd place in the Atlantic -- 16 more than the Rangers -- and an epic seven-game series with the Leafs. Darcy Tucker's dirty submarine of Peca's knee didn't just help ruin that series, it set back the entire Islanders revival. Amid adversity, we all learned, Mike Milbury did not have much patience. So he soon undid what little short-term gain he produced on the Island.

Inside Milbury Subconscious: I did some wild shit during the summer, and it actually worked.

 

2002-03: First six: 2-3-1. 83 points, five more than the Rangers

83 points was good for a first-round date with the Senators that ended quickly. Peca got in 66 games but was not the same coming off the knee injury. Chris Osgood goes to the Blues at the trade deadline as Garth Snow and Rick DiPietro take over, while Janne Niinimaa is brought in for Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres. A young Trent Hunter gets in 8 games, netting 4 assists. Just as quickly as things brightened, they dimmed again.

Inside Milbury Subconscious: Planning is not my strong suit, but shakeups sure are. I think I'll fire the coach.

 

2003-04: First six: 3-2-1. 91 points, good enough for another quick first-round exit and 22 points more than the Rangers

Peca is back in better two-way form, but injuries limit Yashin to 47 games. The leading scorer is Trent Hunter with his 25 goals for 51 points, leading Islanders fans (including myself) on a five-year saga to wonder just what it is we should expect out of the quiet, hard-hitting winger.

Inside Milbury Subconscious: See? The problem totally was the coach! I'm a genius.

 

2004-05: Somehow, my memory of this season is pretty foggy. As I recall, I watched a lot of English Premier League and I played a lot of NHL 04 and FIFA 05 to pass the time. In that context, I do know the Islanders won the Stanley Cup several times that year, though sometimes they lost out to the St. Louis Blues. My faith in all things is tested.

Inside Milbury Subconscious: I hope I still have a job whenever this is over.

 

2005-06: First six: 3-3-0, including the club's first-ever bonus point practice drill gimmick shootout win.

78 points equals 4th in the Atlantic (above the tanking Penguins) and no playoffs. Lockout free agent Miro Satan has his best, and first, season as an Islander. Trent Hunter regresses to 16 goals. The Steve Stirling Era ends, the Brad Shaw Era begins. Panic much?

Inside Milbury Subconscious: Charles requested a meeting to discuss my role. You don't think someone told him about the last 10 years ... do you?

2006-07: First six: 2-3-1. 92 points, good for another quick playoff exit and two fewer points than the Rangers (must've been an officiating error)

At last, Milbury is gone. But like everything in the last 20 years, even things that go right must first go wrong. So you have the 40 Days of Neil Smith, the awkward "committee" with hand-picked Ted Nolan, and the pissing away of Pat LaFontaine's presence with the team.

Meanwhile, Mike Sillinger scores 26 goals. Ryan Smyth comes over, shedding tears, briefly winning a fanbase over. Jason Blake scores 40, permanently providing evidence to himself that he is as good as everyone thinks he believes he is. John Ferguson Jr. on line 1...

Inside Milbury Subconscious: Why aren't I part of this committee? I'm not sure this new job is real. I should be on TV.

 

2007-08: First six: 3-3-0. 79 points and a late-season implosion. We'll always have Al Arbour Night.

Garth Snow wrests control of the committee. He brings in some summer free agents for Nolan (sadly, Jon Sim shines in the preseason before a knee injury derails his career). But the Smyth experience teaches Snow he's got to do what Mike Milbury never had the patience to do. This loss of power and focus on the long-term doesn't sit well with Nolan. Rick DiPietro's All-Star Skills Competition injury sinks what had been a playoff team on Jan. 1. Snow's secrecy and reluctance to tell the media anything feeds an environment of intrigue with Nolan behind the scenes. That summer, Nolan is in but out; finally Snow is able to pull the trigger and bring in his own guy -- shockingly, a Massachusetts former goalie. John Tavares's name suddenly slips into the conversation...

Inside Milbury Subconscious: I like to be on the tee-vee...

 

2008-09: First six: 2-4-0. 61 points = 1 John Tavares

Scott Gordon brings "Overspeed" to practice, and all of us apply this lovely moniker to the New Wave system he tries to implement during games. The veterans, most who signed on pre-rebuild, are not big fans. A few don't think it fits the undertalented personnel -- which includes ... themselves! -- so they'd rather struggle through another mid-20s finish and lose out on one of the draft's top prizes. Gordon, with Snow backing him, sticks to his guns. The least happy vets walk the plank. The future is uncertain, but the approach that dominated this decade has not sufficed, so the Isles give rebuilding with a focus on the widespread New NHL style a try.

Snow even stands pat over the summer, clearly gearing for 2009-10 rather than the now. Which leads to a shaky start for this young team, which is the excuse for this post.

Inside Milbury Subconscious: Tim Connolly is a self-centered dink. Wait, did I say that out loud?

 

2009-10: First six: 0-3-3. The ride continues, with two young stars painting a stunning contrast with much of the rest of the roster. It's funny, but I don't even wish I could quit you...

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