These are not Wayne Gretzky's Coyotes. (And la-la-la, la-la, they aren't Balsillie's, either: Take your crackberry and ... Thppptt!). A team that was in a playoff spot before the All-Star break last year will likely be in a playoff spot before the Olympic break this year.
Dave Tippett, for whom I'll retain a soft spot simply because I still picture him wearing the beloved Whale, has them more organized than The Great One did. He also has the good fortune of deploying better veterans and fewer undeveloped prospects than Gretzky. Will the same be said of Scott Gordon's successor, whenever that time comes way down the line, in that inevitable cycle that dominates the least steady position in hockey? And if the Yotes, 2-2-2 in their last six, falter like last year, would we readjust our Gretzky vs. Tippett conventional wisdom?
This thread is not a DiPietro-free zone by any means, but if you want to talk The Franchise's start last night, there is a healthy discussion in comments for the recap of last night's game. (Cheers to everybody for a great game thread last night, too.) Barring unforeseen circumstances -- never something you rule out in Islanders Country -- the ball goes back to Dwayne Roloson tonight, which means we have a fighting chance.
That's not to imply defeat. It's just the Islanders are an inconsistent team -- "cantilevered," Chickendirt called their roster -- whose top half is skilled but still developing, and whose bottom half is ... not skilled but frequently hard-working. As fans, we spend a lot of time analyzing 60 minutes and fretting that our team only played to its potential for 20. As realists, we know that no team, no matter how good, gives a perfect 50-60 very often. But teams like Washington can stink for 40 minutes and then turn it on for the win. Teams like the Isles lack that luxury.
Teams like the Coyotes -- pretty skilled, well defended, and very well coached -- deliver a solid, frustrating 40 to 50 with impressive frequency.
Aucoin, Aucoin, My Pine for Aucoin
I have whined since last summer that Adrian Aucoin would have been a great stopgap addition to stabilize the Isles blueline without committing long-term. Just like his Islanders days, the 36-year-old is leading the 'Yotes in ice time at 23:21, and he's scored 6-13-19. He averages over three minutes a night on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. None of those six goals have come on the PP, but seven of his assists have. As always with free agents, the question is: But would he have signed here?
The Coyotes are not a dynamic offensive team, but they're a Tippett team: A balanced team that's strong defensively and backed up by a good (and hilarious) goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov. Shane Doan leads them with the same number of points as John Tavares, who we all know is in one humdinger of a rookie slump. (Incidentally, with last nights points Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo take over the team lead at 29 points.) Phoenix scores just a hair more than the Isles (2.49 GF/gm vs. 2.44), but they concede much less (2.31 GA/gm vs. 3.00).
Ignoring the roster decision that will come whenever Sean Bergenheim is re-introduced, we'll need a trademark Roloson night: I think he'll be up for it, with the rest last night, his familiarity with Western teams, and the opportunity to provide authoritative contrast to last night's rust in goal. It would help if Ilya had one of his rare (this year) off nights, too. And of course, there's that Quixotic hope for 60 minutes from the rest of our squad.
Make It a Happy Road Trip
Short preview today. Lots going on personally (I'm very grateful DiPietro's return was last night instead of tonight). I will schedule the game thread as per usual, but I won't be able to catch any of this game live. So have fun if you're around. Last night's was fun and the different reactions to DP in the recap were dynamite.
With a win or OTL, the Islanders make this a successful three-game trip. So Let's-go, Isl-an-ders.
Prediction: Josh Bailey's continues his hot little run, and so does the goalie who is as old as DiPietro will be when his contract expires.