I see neighbors on their way to something just like me
In our passing there’s a brief reflection
Walk the talk of progress like a captain lost at sea
Sitting all alone with my connection
"Turn It On," The Hoagland Conspiracy
One of those common but not quite black-and-white topics with the New York Islanders is the matter of their performance against foes in the tough Atlantic Division, which is clearly one of the two best (if not the best) divisions in the NHL, each of which will send four teams to the playoffs.
In many seasons of this Isles rebuild, and in the armchair judgments passed on ex-coach Scott Gordon, the notion of "can't win the divisional battles" and "can't win on the road in the Atlantic" has been tossed about by pundit and pontificate alike. But the challenge in finding meaning in these statements beyond coincidence, of course, is that 25th-place (or thereabouts) teams don't tend to win often. Particularly, such teams don't tend to win against good teams. And the Atlantic tends to have good teams.
It's like the broadcast factoids about a low-scoring team that has a poor record when they don't get the first goal or when they enter the third-period trailing: Well, yeah. They don't score often, period. Nostradamus!
Anyway, to what, if anything, are we to read in the Islanders' oddly symmetrical and modestly improving 2-3-1* record (*tomorrow night pending) against each Atlantic foe this season? With victories finally in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this season, dare we read any progress ... or is it just coincidence in the NHL's any-given-game environment?
Note that they still don't have a winning record against any Atlantic team -- though that too is hardly unusual since this rebuild began. But this year, at least no one has made them their whipping boy as in years past.
Recent Records vs. the Atlantic
The 2011-12 total does not include Tuesday night's final Atlantic game of the season vs. the Devils.
In 2008-09, the first year of the rebuild and the year they bottomed out at 30th overall, the Isles were 4-17-3 against the Atlantic. You get the idea.
Three-Minute Island: The 2-3-1
*Yes, this quickie was just an excuse to shoot a Three Minute Island clip for the nascent YouTube channel in front of a 60-year-old faux Old West town set. Apologies; it was a nice setting. The wood really tied the street together.
Looking at recent history, you can argue there is modest progress there, with the Islanders cutting down on the margin of defeats and the shot differential.
Then again, that's true of the Islanders against the whole league this season: They have reduced their shots against -- against all teams, not just the Atlantic -- thought in ways real or imagined their offense has suffered: The Islanders' shots per game has stayed the same in 2011-12 as in 2010-11 (29.4 per game), but fewer are going in this year (2.37 GF/GP, vs. 2.74 in 2010-11).
Simplistically, the Isles have notched a few more wins against the Atlantic this year (and hey, they might even add another Tuesday). Psychologically, you can read another stride taken by finally winning again in Pennsylvania.
Is there more to it? If progress is taking place, it's baby steps. But you knew that already.