Islanders Send Message with Pre-game Fisticuffs

Who wants to dance? - Bruce Bennett

After coming out flat in the season opener on Saturday, the Islanders wasted no time showing the hockey world that they were ready for yesterday's game against the Lightning.

The television cameras weren't ready. The announcers weren't ready. But the Islanders were ready.

Before the opening drop of the puck could even hit the ice, before a second could even tick off the clock, the Islanders and Lightning were throwing fists on Monday. Staged fists? Yes. Emotionless fists? For the most part.

But meaningless fists? Negative.

After the sloppy, passionless first period the Islanders offered up against the Devils on Saturday, it was nice to see that the Islanders were ready to play from the opening faceoff against Tampa Bay. They didn't wait to show us some effort in the second period. They didn't wait until the back end of the first. Heck, they didn't even wait until the networks came back from commercial.

I'm sure both teams thought an extra kick-start was needed for this early season, post-119 day lockout, 1 p.m.-start game. The Lightning know they haven't performed well at the Nassau Coliseum in the recent past. The Islanders were asked by starting goalie Evgeny Nabakov to come out angrier in games. Messages were in need of being sent.

So a couple Islanders (Matt Martin and Joe Finley) and a couple Lightning (B.J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie) scheduled a date to dance at 19:59 of the first period.

Normally, these beginning of the game, scheduled fights are boring and useless. And while yesterday's fights were boring, I believed there was some use in them.

Maybe they weren't the direct reason, but there is no denying the Islanders looked a lot more alive than they did in the first period on Saturday. The 10 first-period shots on goal yesterday were more than a three time improvement on Saturday's first period total. The skating, passing and defense were all better as well.

Before you dismiss the correlation and write off Saturday's start as the result of it being the first period the team had played in over nine months, remember that the first 20 minutes of a game have been an Islanders' nemesis for a long time now. A huge criticism of this team in past seasons has been the way they have come out in the first period, not just by fans, but by the coaching staff as well.

Whether the arranged fights did or did not spark the club, it sent a message. It sent a message to their opponents that the Islanders were ready for this game. But more importantly, it sent a message to the coaching staff and to the fans.

This isn't the kind of the thing a team can do before every game. You can't just start all of your games off with a premeditated fight to rally the troops. It's a stunt that usually holds very little merit. But in this instance I believe it was needed and appreciated.

It will be important for the Islanders to bring the same spark and passion to that first period when they visit the Maple Leafs on Thursday. And hopefully, the message will be sent without the aid of a pre-game donnybrook.

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