Islanders Gameday: Blackhawks questions with SCH/Committed Indian

Note: Have some site/network issues at the moment, so consider this the game thread if you can get in.

I mentioned this last week when they rolled into (and beat) Detroit, but the Islanders have one of those funny records with the Western Conference's last two champs: They haven't lost to either in over two years. As it relates to the Blackhawks, part of that was the game of Peter Mannino's life, and part of that was what-else-is-new Dwayne Roloson and a hat trick from Blake Comeau. Is there another hero-in-waiting wearing blue and orange tonight?

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Islanders (13-20-6) @ Blackhawks (22-18-3)
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That drought couldn't touch "1940":
Second City Hockey

Re-reading the previews for that Detroit game on New Year's Eve and for yesterday's win in Colorado, I was clearly fearing the worst from this five-game Western trip and the continuing injury parade, which has now taken Frans Nielsen out for the last two games and possibly tonight's as well. And yet here the Islanders are, with a chance to make it a 4-1 trip -- with the only loss against the Oilers.

Sorry to be trite about it, but that's why I always find myself muttering, "This is why we watch." You just never know with this crazy game. I mean seriously, Jeremy Colliton.

 

And that gratuitous use of italics isn't to rip Colliton's game. It's just that after he left for Europe, I never expected to see him back in the fold. And now he's potting two big goals in an OT win. He wasn't even on an AHL contract at the beginning of the year.

Colliton's been solid in Bridgeport since returning this season, converting his AHL PTO into an NHL contract. His 16 points in 32 games down on the farm was more like what you might have expected after seeing him a few years ago while pulling a two-way role. Maybe a season in the SEL was what he needed, or maybe Nielsen will be back in a flash and that's the last we'll see of him. But with the Islanders facing another spate of season-spiking injuries, it's nice to have so many contributions come up from the AHL. Steadily, this organization appears to be building depth.

 

Four Questions with Hawks Blogger and Programmeister Sam Fels

You know what the price of depth is though? Money problems. Decisions. Dale Tallon definitely played a big role in why the Blackhawks had to cut some of their depth last summer, but even without his fumbling his creation the Hawks would've had some tough decisions after winning the Cup.

To learn more about how all that's going, I got some Q&A's out of Sam Fels, a Hawks blogger (at Second City Hockey) and editor of their fantastic underground gameday program, Committed Indian.

1. The offseason cap sell-off. How has the recovery gone? I know the Hawks' core was kept intact, but do they have a case to try and repeat as champs? What are the biggest depth problem areas?

Well, it's not been as bad as one might think, or that hasn't been the problem this season. What the Hawks lost was a measure of snarl, or jam, or whatever term Canadians are using these days. Especially in Andrew Ladd, who's hockey IQ was through the roof and could be counted on to get to the net constantly and be a stellar defensive forward. But the Hawks depth hasn't been eroded to the point where some would like to believe.  Bryan Bickell has 10 goals, Viktor Stalberg has had his flashes, so has Jack Skille (though neither have any finish), and Jake Dowell is a massive improvement on Colin Fraser

Still, it's hard to match what we lost, and the Hawks are lacking a couple bodies to just take up space in the crease.  But the real problem this season has been the Hawks best players not caring most nights, not the replacements for the Alumni.

2. The Isles have a lot of hope invested in young players who are growing up at the NHL level on a budget roster. At what point (how far into their careers) did you know Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were for real?

Toews pretty much from the moment he stepped on the ice. You could just tell that kid was as determined as they come. Kane was a little different. You could see the hands and vision even during his World Junior appearance before he went #1, and certainly during his rookie year. he question was would he improve where he needed to. When he came back his second year after winning the Calder and was even stronger and hard to get off the puck and had improved his shot, then I knew he would be a special talent. Sadly, he hasn't been sober since.

As for Keith, that was a little harder test case.  It's so easy to notice players who are fast, and stand-out fast like Keith so it might look like they're doing more than they are.  You'd see a flash here and there in his rookie year and second year, but the learning curve for a d-man is so steep that he spent most of those two years getting his head kicked in.  His third year though, when the stupid passes went away, when he'd jump in the rush like he was Paul Coffey, and when he was consistently just skating his way out of trouble, that's when the light went off.

Editor's note: See any parallels, or are we just dreaming?

3. I remember the never-ending Niemi-Huet debate last year, but how have their replacements done? Has Turco been a disappointment, or did you always know it'd be weird seeing the Indian Head on his chest?

Turco has gotten more grief here than he deserved. He was a low risk signing, especially because this organization has been waiting on Corey Crawford for years. For some reason, Turco's teammates go into panic whenever he's in net, and he's been left out to dry multiple games. Maybe they aren't used to such an aggressive, puck-handling goalie, but he's clearly [f#+%ing] with their heads. When Crawford is in there, the Hawks more often are controlled and stable in their zone, clearing whatever rebounds are there and blocking way more shots. I don't get it, but as long as one of them is playing well I'm good, and they're actually both playing well at the moment.

4. What's your biggest compliment, and your biggest complaint, about Coach Q?

It's hard with this one, as Q has not had a good season. He consistently dressed John Scott, who doesn't serve a purpose -- especially as an enforcer/deterrent because teams are still running at Kane and Toews. He kept Nick Boynton in the lineup even though he's been a total sped this season. He's jerked around Stalberg and Skille even though these very well may be players we need to develop going forward.  He's appeared at odds with the GM.  So those are the complaints.

Compliment? Well, he did get us a ring, so there's that. It's hard to describe what a mess this team was under Denis Savard, at least tactically on the ice. And Q instilled a system that this wealth of talent so badly needed, and he made them all do it for two seasons and it was beautiful to watch. But this season he can't keep this team motivated, interested, or sticking to the plan consistently. I'm not sure he has another button than the whip. They'll eventually get there I have to believe, I just don't know if Q will have that much to do with it.

Thanks to Sam for doing this, and apologies for #$%ing a word. Since this is the main and distributed post, I had to think of the children. The Danish children, mostly.

*  *  *

I'm assuming Nathan Lawson takes his turn, and if so he has an act to follow after Kevin Poulin's 34-save, first NHL win.

Edit: As JPinVA has been tracking, Blake Comeau's next point will be his 100th. Several home-grown Islanders are close to getting their 100th point all in an Islanders uniform -- something not done since Ziggy and Lachance -- but at 99 points Comeau is closest and, as luck would have it, healthiest. (Kyle Okposo's at 96, Frans at 95, and Radek Martinek is at 92.)

The Hawks are wavering a bit in a very tough division and really need to convert points this weekend (they let the Senators in it too long on Friday, but cashed in the bonus point in the shootout). They've been waiting at home while the Isles have traveled through the West and into Chicago after yesterday's afternoon game.

Still, the Isles powerplay is suddenly 7 of 15 the last four games, up over 18% on the year for the first time since the opening weeks. Plus, I mean: Jeremy Colliton. You just never know.

P.S. Au revoir, Miro. Still can't believe the Devils couldn't have signed him for just one measly game or so. Think of the jersey sales, Lou.

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