Interesting game. Classic Patrick Division-style tilt. Lots to cover, so let's jump right to it. I'm talking Brendan Witt's health, the Pock(x) on our house, the Comeau/Tambellini contrast, the Josh Bailey WJC question (and his declining play), Fritz v. Cote video, plus some random game-specific observations.
One thing I don't feel bad about, though, even though it will go into the TV announcer handbook alongside this season's real collapses, is the "blown 2-0 lead." A brief first-period 2-0 lead is not the same as carrying a two-goal lead into the third. It's just not. This was not the plague we saw vs. Pittsburgh or Montreal or Atlanta.
[Event Summary | Boxscore | Game Summary | NHL recap]
First, Brendan Witt: The Islanders' goals against were down to poor defensive coverage in the Flyers' transition game, and Brendan Witt was one of the culprits. Caps fan 'jobe' stopped by the game thread last night, mentioned that he likes Brendan Witt [so many Caps fans still do, for reasons we easily understand], but observed that "Witt looked shaky."
I think Witt has looked shaky ever since he came back. He is just not moving well -- looks awkward even in his stance. Whether or not he's fit for the puck-moving part of "Overspeed" is currently beside the point: His defensive mobility is suffering right now. He probably came back too soon from the knee injury (the medical specifics of which we never received, but we saw the gruesome collision). That seems to be a habit of Isles, coming back too soon (hey Comrie, hey DP), but you expect it with Witt because he makes his living jumping on grenades for teammates. It's just too soon even for Witt right now.
Pock(x) and Callahan: That said, I don't know who fills in if we give Witt a rest. Andy Sutton, who missed last night with the flu, has not looked fantastic. And Thomas "Pox on our houses" made another junior league defensive turnover last night. He just has not impressed me, and I'm ready to move past this waiver claim -- or let him develop in Bridgeport, whatever -- but I'd rather have Hillen up at this point. Next in line: Joe Callahan looked decent in 13:45 his NHL debut, although on the winning goal he should have seen that drop-pass coming from a mile away. Still, I'm ready for another look.
Mitch Fritz v. Riley Cote (who I idiotically called "Cole" all last night): Wow. I'm not a fight aficionado, but wow. It amazes me anytime someone takes on the Andre the Giant reach Fritz. It's unfair. So Cote wisely brought Fritz in close, and they each bashed each other bloody. (Speaking of Cote, his hit on Sim to create the Asham goal was excellent, and Asham's sniper shot upstairs was the kind of brilliant shot every ruffian who makes it to the NHL has hidden somewhere in his arsenal.)
Blake Comeau, He's no Jeff Tambellini: Isn't it just perfect that Comeau scores in his third game back? And on a slightly lucky bounce of his own making (Tamby could find nor create no luck up here)? It's funny that we're going through the same thing we went through last year: Isles fans discovering the bundle of hockey sense that is Comeau, while wondering why Tambellini can't translate gaudy AHL numbers into some crumb of NHL success.
I don't know if Comeau came into training camp like a bold youngster who thought his spot was sewn after last year, or what. But for this Islander fan who couldn't see him in the preseason and didn't see him in Bridgeport, it's like nothing changed since the end of last year. He's good, he goes to the right spots, and he just had to serve a coach's banishment to the 'A' before returning.
If you consider that the Isles will add a top-end young talent or two (or four) in the next year or two, I feel pretty good about Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Comeau being in that bunch.
Josh Bailey, What to Do? Chris Botta re-ignited the debate on Josh Bailey and the WJC, and the majority of respondents said, "Send him!" Before the decision not to return him to Windsor was made, Garth Snow indicated that if he stayed, he'd be an Islander (thus, not a Canada Jr.) all season. But that was when the guise of staying in the playoff hunt was still on. Now it's not.
So would Bailey benefit from being a leader at the WJC? Possibly. Would the current Islanders miss him? Not necessarily -- the kid's play has really receded lately, and while the Isles can't replace his skill right now, a change -- or an interruption in the long NHL season -- might do him good. (Yes, that was Mike Sillinger, 37 and coming off extensive hip surgery, who replaced Bailey and ignited the Hunter line the other night in Toronto.)
That said, this is why it was a gamble to keep Bailey in the first place. Even with the injury delay, the decision-making time came at a moment when it still looked like the Isles maaaaaybe could stay in the hunt all season long. Now, a few weeks later, his contract (and the free agency clock) has started, and we're wondering if he might benefit from ... junior competition.
An Officiating Quibble: This was the first time all season (perhaps becaue the Islanders have fallen on their sword quite enough) where I felt frustration and a referee's poor call affecting the game outcome. Given the physicality of the game and the proximity of the puck, Witt's "interference" call made no sense to me. He was maintaining position in front of his own goal, and his opponent fell. B.S. That said, as mentioned the Isles should have read that drop pass that led to Simon Gagne's PP slapper goal 11 seconds later. Just shows how thin the margin of error is now.
The Big Picture: We all knew the playoffs were a lost cause this season, we just didn't want to tell Bill Guerin or Doug Weight that (and thankfully, they haven't listened). But a little while ago, it looked like maybe they'd maintain the ruse for a good first-half run. Now at 10-16-2, though, that's over. So it's important they maintain a positive atmosphere, because there's a long season ahead and a lot of development under a long-term coach yet to come.
The UFAs "trade or not to trade" decision is likewise a long way off (and I'm not certain that any of Weight, Guerin or Sillinger will want to go anywhere). But Weight will soon get his 1000th point in an Islanders uniform, and Sillinger has gone right back to a ridiculous faceoff success rate (16-9, compared to Weight's 7-11 and Bailey taking fewer now). So if teams have a need, the Isles will certainly have some desirable assets to deal.
... And that is all. Overall, I'm ticked at the Witt call, but it was a good game, and the Islanders impressed with their effort and pressure in a rare national TV appearance. The fight continues Thursday in Pittsburgh...