Islanders vs. Flames Gameday: Return of Blake Comeau

As part of a 2011-ending Alberta double, the Islanders welcome the Flames and then the Oilers (on Ken Morrow Night, which is actually New Year's Eve afternoon) to finish out the year.

Among the first visitors is Blake Comeau, one of the last remnant pieces of the Mike Milbury regime, who was curiously yet almost understandably cast off in a fit of ... something by the Islanders last month.

Cal-atlslim_medium Nyi-yslim_medium
Calgary Flames (18-15-4, 8th/W) @ New York Islanders (11-17-6, 15th/E)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ | Audio: NHL - WRHU
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
The Limbo of Darryl Sutter's Shadow: Matchsticks & Gasoline

It was said then and should be remembered now: Anyone who watched Comeau play even during his 24-goal season but especially this season knew why a team would sour on him. He has frustrating elements to his game, and he sometimes looks like a square peg playing with round holes, a symptom of which was Jack Capuano trying to get the right-shooting left wing to get "comfortable" on the right side already.

That said, the other part mentioned at his parting: how equally frustrating that the Islanders chose not to use him like they did last year: As a penalty killer with some bonus even-strength scoring punch. (As you'll see below, Flames fans are finding him useful in precisely that role.) Whereas last season he logged 2:15 per game on the PK, this season that was a flickering 0:26. Instead: Jay Pandolfo.

For the record yesterday Garth Snow said that move was made in part because of the emergence of David Ullstrom. But no way it happens if the Isles don't identify Pandolfo as a go-to PK guy coming out of a training camp tryout. In my book Ullstrom's promising but unproven progress is not justification enough to let a rights-controlled (though admittedly getting expensive and arbitration-eligible) useful forward go, so I bet there was more to the story (of frustration) and I suspect it was reflected in Capuano's usage and Josh Bailey's progress without him.

Certainly Comeau says he never did get a clue as to what [theScore] he could do to please the Isles, though one wonders if the very reasonable contract approach the Isles took with Comeau over the summer already set his mind running in paranoid circles.

It's cliche and both parties share part of the blame, but it's possible Comeau is one of those guys -- we've certainly seen a degree of flake there before -- who needed a change of scenery to rediscover (or be guided to) what makes him useful in the NHL. While acknowledging that unknown, you wish Capuano would've found and used that map first.

Things Flames Fans Have Said about Blake Comeau

Blake Comeau is an excellent player. He brings speed, energy, hits and solid two-way play night in and night out. The Flames are lucky to have him.

>> Scott Lepp, Dec. 11

This is a familiar description of Comeau at his best.

Blake Comeau has been looking good since acquired by the Flames. With the Islanders Comeau played 16 games and scored 0 pts and was -11. With the Flames he has played 4 games and already has 1G 1A and is +1.

Interesting fact - In 4 games in the Flaming C Comeau has 11 hits alone and been outhit by the entire Flames defense by only 14 hits.

>> Mitch Smith, Dec. 4

This was to be expected no matter how Comeau played: He was due to put an end to those goose eggs he carried with him from the Island.

Blake Comeau is becoming one of my favorite acquisitions and the Islanders were morons to let him go on waivers. 4-2 scoring chances at EV with 3:43 PK TOI.

>>ArikJames, Dec. 28

Of course it sounded like there were no decent offers for Comeau that didn't include someone else's contract baggage, but yes, his PK work would be attribute the Islanders no longer used, for whatever reason.

On the flip side it was another solid week for Calgary’s penalty kill, which is rapidly approaching what we’d call reasonable. Even in the absence of Mark Giordano practically everyone is heading in the right direction thanks to the addition of Blake Comeau and the usage of veterans Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen for the past month.

>> Robert Vollman, Dec. 26

Finally, a few notes that sound quite a bit more familiar and stir memories of the great COZO (Comeau Offensive Zone Orbit):

Comeau and Backlund have some good chemistry. I think both could be a little more direct in their play to get some consistent production. Of late, you see real good possession and passing but it's not turning into shots on net. This is indicative of the team's problems sometimes, they can get too cute. Possessing the puck is great, controlling the puck in order to get good looks is great but you have to have it end up as a shot on goal.

>> Jeff Lebowski, Dec. 14, comment #3 (note: probably not his real name. Really.)

and also:

Good to see Backlund reunited with Comeau and Stempniak, which has been a very effective line for the Calgary Flames. They've been very strong with possession and they tend to spend more time in the offensive end than not. The only thing I'd like to see more of is scoring chances, as the trio hasn't done as effective a job as they could translating their impressive puck time to meaningful chances.

>> Pat Steinberg, Dec. 22

The final two comments are indeed reminiscent of the COZO -- an all too familiar scene where Comeau holds the puck and loops the zone (usually not driving to the net) and back dangerously toward the blueline while his teammates taxi on the runway awaiting instructions -- a cue of intentions, even -- from the flight tower.

Or perhaps as CloseCallJiggs put it best in comments anticipating Comeau's return this week:

And they just finished Zamboni-ing the groove he carved in the ice around the boards.

Comeau was Capuano's first scratchgoat this year as "passengers" were identified. He was scratched again shortly before his waiving and played minimally on the fourth line in his final game as an Islander. Those and the previously mentioned non-PK usage are indicators to me that Capuano was certainly a critic, and if Snow wasn't of the same view he at least did not see Comeau as an important enough asset to war with his coach over.

How much will the Islanders regret dumping -- or at minimum, not finding a role worth keeping for -- Blake Comeau? We'll find out once he gets his next one or two contracts and as his yet-to-rise replacements emerge. At the moment, he's not a Michael Grabner-level waiver blunder, but the demise of his Islanders career, with no asset coming back this way, is hardly a feather in their asset management cap.

Oh, There's a Game Tonight

Well, that's the postscript on all that. The Flames arrive on a roll, climbing back into the playoff bubble despite the ashes Darryl Sutter left behind, while the Islanders have had a dastardly holiday season that's dropped them into the East's basement.

Suffering from a ridiculously low shooting percentage (7.5%) all season, the Islanders consistently have a higher percentage of even strength shots than they do goals. Luck is probably partly to blame, but so is something elusive that Capuano is trying to put his thumb on. That's probably why he's mixed up the lines a little in practice this week, trying Kyle Okposo in P.A. Parenteau's spot on the top line, placing Parenteau with Frans NIelsen and dropping Michael Grabner to the third in a variety of bottom-six mixes while Brian Rolston returns ... next to Nielsen.

It's a thought, anyway. If luck is partly to blame for their 29th overall 2.21 goals per game output, it's due to change some day. If there's more at work that is in any way fixable with the current roster, then last place is a good time to tinker.

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