If the idea is to gamely notch little victories and brief moments of promise while still struggling along toward lottery territory and the Land of Hyped Teenagers, the Islanders accomplished that in December 2008. The club awoke from the ashes of a 10-game losing streak to go 2-1-1 to close out the calendar year, giving us faithful a few glimpses of hope for tomorrow.
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More importantly, they got Kyle Okposo back, and he and prodigal prospect Blake Comeau have shined a bit playing with a healthy-again Mike Comrie, who collected two goals in this 4-2 win over the sleepy Panthers. Throw Josh Bailey and a lottery pick in that mix, and you start to see the makings of some offensive lines that don't rely on the near-40 graybeard set. (On that note, Doug Weight notched regular season point #999 of his NHL career.)
With Mike Sillinger (IR, uh-oh) and Trent Hunter hurt, the Isles also called up Bridgeport's leading scorer, Trevor Smith, for his NHL debut on New Year's Eve. I don't know what future Smith, an undrafted 23-year-old, has -- but it better be good since he's permanently jarred me by donning Pierre Turgeon's old #77.
Glad Smith's debut in #77 wasn't in the Isles retro third-jersey royal blue threads -- else the psychological shock of comparing now to 1993 would have left me in a stupor. That said, the 1993 Islanders had a much bleaker future (hindsight now tells us) than this 2008 version has. In that sense, bring the shock on. I can handle it.
It's weird: The Panthers' tepid recent play obviously played its part, but this game looked more like one of the "good" Ted Nolan games than any other I've seen this season. That's not to dredge up opinions about coaches -- my support for Gordon stands. Rather, just to comment how this game had that plucky, go-get-'em feel that no other Islanders game has had since, well, at least since long before the December Ugliness began.
The Okposo/Comrie/Comeau combo sure helped, as did key Joey MacDonald saves that kept the lead and margin intact after he steered the Isles through a slow start. Essentially, despite falling behind 1-0 after a ridiculous waive-off of the Islanders' first should-be goal, the Islanders steadily plugged away all game long, building the lead and standing on MacDonald's great saves when needed. That's the only way an underskilled club wins in this league, no?
The final record for December is ugly: 2-10-2. But the final week, with a trajectory toward lottery land that's not completely fraught with misery -- well, it makes 2009 look just a little bit brighter.
What a pleasant surprise to hear the soothing sounds of Jiggs McDonald on this broadcast. Happier still: he'll be making the trip to Phoenix and San Jose, so more good classic-announcer voice sounds to come. That's a Christmas gift I'll take any year.