“I love what the Islanders are doing. I don’t think you’d hear any complaints if it became a trend around the league because it’s certainly a helluva lot more exciting than the trap or the lock. The big question is whether they can sustain it for the full season. No matter what, I give Gordon high marks for not dipping his toe in and instead going full-throttle from game one.”
>>a visiting Western scout, to former Isles PR VP Chris Botta
Sorry for ripping off a Chris Botta feature two days in a row, but this is information that needs to be shared and shouted from the rooftops around the league. Botta harvested some surprising comments from a variety of sources about the Isles' system under Scott Gordon.
The good thing about taking over a team rebuilding from (psychologically) near-scratch is that you can try something bold and creative and not worry that you'll be dropped after 16 games like some such Melrose.
Last season's AHL Coach of the Year has taken an already-thin Islanders roster that's further decimated by injuries, and turned them into the type of team that scares the crap out of new visitors who aren't self-loathing Vancouver reporters.
Yes, the Islanders are relying on strong goaltending (doesn't everyone?). And yes, there is concern from some -- myself included -- that Scott Gordon's go-gadget-go "overspeed" system will run players into a fatigue wall, or that opposing coaches will start figuring out how to chip around the team's constant pressure.
But the joy of watching this system when it's clicking -- the joy of seeing an opposing D-man panic in the face of a forecheck, then think his spin puts him in the clear until he runs into the next wave of forecheck -- is like the joy experienced when you see a friend's face after you've convinced him that the car he pays just a little bit too much attention to is the one police say was found torched except for the CCR tapes. Giddy laughing and a little bit of guilt.
“I really like the way they play. You can never let up against them. You always have to be moving, especially with their defensemen always in pre-pinch. It’s a game where you have to take advantage when they have breakdowns. It’s an exciting style. If they continue to have games like the last three when everyone on the team is on the same page, there’s no reason they can’t be effective for the entire season.”
It has taken the Islander players -- those who are still healthy -- all of preseason and now 15 regular season games to get this system down enough where they know it and believe in it enough to execute it for 60 minutes. And even at this stage, three per Alex Auld and one per Roberto Luongo is about all the goals their finishing-challenged roster will expect to muster. Plus, at least early on, they've blown leads in a way that raises the question of whether this style can lock an NHL game down when it really matters.
But I like hockey first, specific teams second. And if my team's in rebuild mode, this is how I want the interim to be conducted. Not through a cynical sit-and-pray for survival style -- which might not be good enough for even .500 in the powerplay-crazy, OT-weighted NHL anyway -- but through something original, creative, and just a bit risky.
This is hockey as I learned it as a boy. This is, in a sense, hockey as Mike Keenan coached it back in the day -- minus the lunacy, the players earning enough to challenge him, and opponents devising actual systems to defeat his forecheck, of course. Keenan's Flyers were fun to watch because they skated like their lives depended on it (Come to think of it, they probably did.) Gordon's Islanders are starting to skate like their lives depend on opponents' paniced turnovers.
When the NHL (and players) woke up during the lockout and realized the game had descended into muck for 10 years, isn't this what we hoped would come of it? The physicality is still there -- it's just delivered at a frenetic pace.
Heck, the Islanders have nothing to lose. And they're not alone: Of 29 NHL teams (30 if you include the Rangers), at most 18 can sincerely talk their fans into thinking they maybe-just-maybe have a shot each year. So if I'm Florida Fan or even Colorado Fan (and Ottawa Fan?), this is the stuff I want to be watching while waiting for more skill and hope to come through the system.
Because if Gordon can makes things this interesting with this roster, imagine what he can do when the cavalry arrives.