Tough loss last night, but a chance to rebound 24 hours later. For reasons explained at the end of this road trip post, I know more about tonight's opponent than I do about any other team the Islanders face this year. Yet I have no idea which team will welcome the Isles to the house that Brett Hull built.
Thursday, the Blues beat the Coyotes in OT on a beautiful end-to-end rush by Erik Johnson. Good for them, right? Maybe. The Blues played a weak game and were bailed out by Chris Mason, who repeatedly made the kind of acrobatic and clutch saves that I haven't seen by Islanders goalies all year. That's not a knock on Biron or Roloson -- I simply haven't seen them hung out to dry to the degree Mason was.
As you can imagine, this inconsistency is a source of frustration for Blues fans. With a torrid second half last year, the team had appeared to finally turn the corner on a rebuild that netted #1 overall pick Johnson. A rebuild begun back in 2006, after failed NBA suitor Bill Laurie
destroyed the team with extreme prejudice stripped the team down for parts (because, you know, dumping a Hall of Fame defenseman makes a team "more attractive" to purchasers), alienating a pretty blue-collar fanbase in the process.
You might dislike John Davidson thanks to his long Rangers ties, but he's doing good things for the Blues, the team that originally drafted him and employed him as an NHL goalie. So while right now the team is having some awkward growing pains (we know a bit about that, no?), the long view is still bright for the Blues. Tonight, though? I have no idea.
Guys to Watch
No one outside of Andy McDonald has played up to form for the whole first quarter. (Incidentally, McDonald was acquired in the Ducks' salary dump that got them Doug Weight's expiring contract, enabling them to bring back Scott Niedermayer, leading to Weight's move to Long Island.) David Perron has been close, and he plays the game like a less physical but equally driven and talented Kyle Okposo. Johnson looks like a stud, period. It's a good bet Alex Pietrangelo will one day join him. Fellow emerging younger players like T.J. Oshie and David Backes have not matched what they did last year. Talented Swedish center Patrik Berglund is really exciting, but this year he's been a shell of his potential, lost in withered confidence.
With the veterans: Keith Tkachuk started off hot, then cooled. Same with Paul Kariya, who isn't even on the powerplay anymore. Coach Andy Murray has tried Tkachuk at wing, where he's happier, and at center where he's of greater impact. Conversely, McDonald has seen time at wing where he's less happy, and at center where he's more productive. On the blueline, old Islanders friend Eric Brewer has only just recovered from multiple back issues that wiped out his second half, and many fans can't stand him (some because he did not equal his trade counterpart Chris Pronger, which is absurd; others because management's faith in this team captain has been greater than his play justified).
Any one of the Blues mentioned in the previous two paragraphs could change the game by himself. But will they?
On-Site in Blue ... and Orange: My Existential Crisis
So yeah, the Blues should be better, but who knows what game they'll bring to the road-busy Islanders tonight. I simply have no idea.
But I'll be there in person to find out. I've got a (mostly) unapologetic allegiance to both of these teams, so I never miss their meetings. My dad was a huge Al Arbour fan, which is what led me to follow the team Arbour led to Stanley Cups in addition to the team he captained as a player -- the team my father lived and died with.
These nights where "my" two teams meet (they used to happen three times a year, then once, now once or twice) are always as awkward for me as they are rare. I'm in both heaven and hell. A win is a loss. A tie is
good but bad no longer possible. Great goals are also disappointing breakdowns. I stand and cheer for everything ... and feel like an idiot for everything, too. When my wife is there with me, she's with stupid, and she affords me a little more space than normal, lest I embarrass her.
It breaks the general hockey fan's code to do this, I know. But there is a greater golden rule at work: Love hockey with all thy sporting heart. Pardon me, but I've got that rule down pat.
Note: There usually aren't many Isles jerseys in the crowd at what should be called the Kiel Center, so if you see one on TV, and if it's worn by a handsome man surrounded by fawning women, then of course it's me. Duh.