Two story lines (on-ice, at least) have been recurring through the second half of this Islanders season, and both are still in play as we enter the final week.
With Colorado's win over an absolutely flat Canucks team last night, suddenly the Avs are five points ahead of the Islanders with four left to play. It would take one 2007 of a finish for the Islanders to jump out of 30th -- and fall out of a guarantee of a top-two pick -- now. Don't expect a "clinching" party from the team, but you can bet fans will be planning their own restrained celebrations throughout Islanders country.
Meanwhile, the other prominent on-ice storyline, the progress of the Islanders youth, had its latest featured character after the win over Tampa Bay. Jesse Joensuu has been a success at AHL Bridgeport, building excitement all season long. The big 21-year-old Finn looked promising in his four-game NHL debut in early March, and his reappearance in the lineup for the Lightning game was his most significant NHL time yet, with 14:14 of ice time.
"I was really happy with Jesse," [coach Scott] Gordon said. "I thought he used his speed. I thought he was physical. His positioning was good all night, and obviously, he's a guy we're excited about for the future."
Besides his two assists, Joensuu had three shots on goal, had two others blocked and added three hits and a takeaway. "I felt comfortable," Joensuu said. "I got a little bit lucky with the assists. The biggest thing on my mind always when I get here is that I'm living my dream. So whatever happens is positive."
Just a year into his North American career, the kid seems to be approaching things the right way.
The Promising Josh Bailey
Meanwhile, strangely the question has arisen among some fans about whether 19-year-old Josh Bailey, last summer's first-round pick, might spend some time in the AHL next season to "condition his finishing skills" for the pass-first center. Obviously Garth Snow plays things close to the vest, but it's unthinkable that the club would fall in love with him the way they did and keep him out of juniors -- including the World Junior Championship -- only to send him to Bridgeport next year.
The kid's a keeper. The breakaway goal against the Lightning was one small sign of his skills coming along. He'll be just fine with an even bigger role next season.
On that note, Islanders Outsider discussed Bailey's passing v. shooting mentality with him and got some reassuring thoughts from the youngster on growing his game.
The Prodigal Tambellini
Finally, a much longer-developing Islander, 24-year-old Jeff Tambellini, has continued to add new wrinkles to his game in order to find a role in the absence of the consistent scoring he displayed at the AHL level. Drive for Five has some thoughts on that angle.
The comparisons to Andy Hilbert's career trajectory have been made by Gordon himself dating back to early in the season, and if the Islanders do not re-sign Hilbert in the off-season, you can bet they will be touting Tambellini's evolution as one of the reasons they could afford to let him go.
Of course there are several more young assets in the Islanders' stable -- better health for whom might have prevented the club going 3-6-1 in its last 10. As the season eulogies start to flow in and anticipation of a top-two pick grows, no doubt we'll be hearing plenty more about how they all will fit into a better Islanders squad in 2009-10.