A.M. Panic: Okposo's concussion casts deja vu on Isles season

Note: Thanks everybody for the discussion and links last night. If you want to discuss the Okposo-Phaneuf hit, best to do it in the previous post. This post is focused more on the game and its repercussions.

The expectation of modest improvement in the standings for the Islanders this year is based on a few pillars: 1) Better goaltending. 2. Better health. 3. Reasonable progress by the young forwards.

Well ... at least the goalies ain't hurt. Yet.

Preseason groin injuries to Doug Weight and Sean Bergenheim and the concussion suffered by Kyle Okposo last night kind of mess with pillars (2) and (3). That's potentially half of the Islanders top six forwards. Weight and Bergenheim could be mild ("day to day," in fact), but since both suffered groin injuries last year, that doesn't bode well for a full season of health. Meanwhile, as this season is ultimately another rebuild write-off anyway, one can only hope the Islanders are extra, double-secret careful with the return of young Okposo's cranium to on-ice action.

Which gives me deja vu. Last year, the third in the row when the Islanders were at or near the top in man-games lost to injury, first-round pick Josh Bailey's start was delayed by preseason hand and hip injuries, Rick DiPietro's season was sabotaged from the launch pad, and the first weeks of the season saw a blueliner drop seemingly every night. Please, hockey gods: Please don't take us there again.

As for the game, well cheers to Theo Fleury for his sobriety and his victorious return to his NHL home. That shootout move was absolutely sick, and I'm really glad he did it in preseason so I could appreciate it without being bitter about a loss.

As for the Islanders, some much better signs from the young ones against a very NHL-caliber Flames lineup:

The Offense

Trevor Smith's tip of a wicked Josh Bailey shot. Blake Comeau's goal, plus a self-created breakaway where he hit the post. And maybe? could be? something here? Matt Moulson, the off-season pro pickup who had two power play goals on shots that confirm his offensive skills. Sure, three of the four goals were against a rusty and possibly declining Miikka Kiprusoff, but I also watched this game on a sketchy Web feed, so you catch whatever you can observe.

The Toughness

The fact no one outside of Trent Hunter attacked Mike Mottau after his high clothesline of Frans Nielsen last year irked many Islanders fans -- and even Howie Rose -- all season long. I'm not sure when enough is enough in hockey's "Code," and I'm not sure every enforcer agrees either. (Does it end after the initial reaction fight? Or is the aggressor obligated to go toe-to-toe later on, when there's better opportunity for a better fight? Can you tell I'm a believer in The Code but also bemused by its vague machinations? I probably took too many philosophy classes. "Like, what is 'reality,' man? Cue me some Berkeley.")

Anyway, combine the Mottau semi-response with Scott Gordon's preference for an AHL enforcer shuttle, and you have a nervous fanbase that's wondering who will protect John Tavares. So the fact the Islanders were hopping mind -- Pascal Morency probably earned himself a big suspension for coming off a line change the bench to get to Phaneuf, but Matt Martin (oh, we're gonna love him), Micheal Haley and even Martin Biron(!) each took their turn trying to exact revenge. It's preseason, so fighting is the easiest way to get noticed anyway; but it still was a comforting sign.

Shame about Phaneuf having a bodyguard in Mark Giordano though. (I forget, it's been a while: Who was Scott Stevens' bodyguard again?)

Think they'll get another chance when these teams meet again Saturday? Yeah, me neither. This was interesting (though personally I didn't think Phaneuf left his feet -- just led with his elbow and nailed a guy already covered by two teammates):

Talking to players after the game it was clear they thought Phaneuf left his feet on the hit, and went after Okposo while he was in a vulnerable position. They were also ticked that Phaneuf would do something like that and then not respond when challenged throughout the rest of the game. Essentially, if you are gonna play that way, you better be willing to back it up.

The Goaltending

Well, the goalies were okay from what I saw. But honestly, after The Hit I was pretty distracted by bloodlust. Martin Biron and Kevin Poulin each had a shooting gallery period: Shots in the 1st were 11-4 against Biron, while the third was 17-4 against Poulin.

From what I saw, the Islanders had gotten their act together in the second before the Okposo hit. After that, well things predictably fell apart and the Flames erased the Islanders' 3-1 lead. Meh, preseason.

Theo Fleury

I can admit this now: It was cool to see Fleury's return, cool to see the crowd welcome him back, and cool to see him end it. I didn't notice him too much, but he doesn't need to be a star at this age; just a responsible forward with the bonus of hands. The shootout move hints that the hands are still there.

I never liked Fleury, but he was an exciting player. If you know anyone fighting addictions, you know that's no pleasant battle. (And if you appreciate a good drink, you know it's a doubly cruel battle.) So I wish Fleury luck as far as this unlikely comeback takes him ... as long as it doesn't take him to scoring the winner over the Isles when it matters.

Comments on the game/season here. Debate on the hit in the other thread.

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