One complaint among Islanders fans this summer was the need for an enforcer or, at minimum, toughness, because teams like the Flyers, Rangers and Penguins had added physical guys. I'm all for team toughness, but I'm not for paying a guy like Colton Orr $4 million over 4 years to be your worst player. (Ah yes, Orr: Who's taken five times more penalties than he's drawn, and who was the only Leaf Monday night on the ice for more shots directed at his own net than at the Islanders'. (Yes, the same night the Isles were outshot 61-21. Pay that man a million dollars! Lock him up until 2013!)
Philadelphia Flyers (12-8-1, 25pts) at New York Islanders(9-8-7, 25pts)
7 p.m. | Nassau [home, sweet home] Coliseum | MSG+, radio
Frequent Flyer Hub: Broad Street Hockey
Granted, some nights you need to "put on the foil" and be armed with enforcers for a goon-it-up evening. And sometimes "the guys" enjoy that boost. But far more often, you just need toughness: Forwards who can hit (Trent Hunter, Sean Bergenheim), forwards who are not easily knocked off the puck (Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo), and forwards who are passable 4th-line players and are also willing to drop the gloves (Tim Jackman, Nate Thompson). The Islanders are generally undersized and need to rectify this over the long-term. But the solution is not to make a millionaire out of a guy who can only skate (poorly) six minutes a night, while taking dumb penalties and only finding a role when the other team's resident enforcer mutually agrees it's time for a job-justification bout.
But tonight is the first test against the physical Flyers, who are so physical even Dan
nyiel Briere is doing naughty things, right? Will they run over the Islanders physically? Will they hurt them? It's possible. But I'm more worried about Chris Pronger simply being physically dominant around the Flyers net -- John Tavares's workshop -- and using his long reach to disrupt any moves or shots Tavares tries. I'm also worried about the Flyers' 25.6% powerplay, and the Islanders' tendency to be tagged with several penalties per game (though not as much at home).
And more than that, I'm worried about the Islanders hurting us, the fans -- by getting a lead and making us run through a bottle of antacids and a six-pack of beer hoping against hope that they don't deviate from the approach that got them that lead.
I almost throw the 3-0 lead over the Leafs out; the Islanders were playing poorly before that three-minute spurt, so it's not like "keep doing what you're doing" was the strategy for success, particularly since the "Just throw it at Vesa" strategy became moot once Toskala left the game hurt. But overall, this is a young, not very deep team. So this protecting leads thing, it's going to take time. And ultimately, it's going to take a few more better players.
The Flyers Have Been Recently Rather Rude to the Islanders
In the throes of last year's misery, in a post noting how the Islanders were particularly feeble against their playoff-caliber Atlantic Division brethren, I recalled how the year before (2007-08) they'd played everyone tough -- except the Flyers. In fact, in 07-08, the Flyers wouldn't have made the playoffs without the 14 points they took from the Islanders. So in 2009-10, when the Islanders are closer to their 07-08 competitive selves, will the Flyers domination continue?
I'll just note a few things about Ted Nolan's meetings vs. Scott Gordon's meetings: Nolan had the superior team (and superior goaltending, with DiPietro playing 6 of 8), yet far worse special teams. I mean, just look at that PK: 18 for 32? Faceoffs are pretty close to even for both coaches, when you're talking some 400 faceoffs. And while the Islanders have outshot the Flyers in both years, that is often a product of a team constantly playing behind, throwing desperation bombs while an opponent is content to sit back and close out its win.
The Flyers goalie for 12 of those wins over the last two seasons? Why "Islanders-killer" Martin Biron, of course. Biron gets the start tonight, so hopefully his Islander-killing ways are behind him.
With the way Biron sometimes cheats off his post, I fear he's the type of guy whose teammates might know his weaknesses. Conversely, nothing brings out a singular focus like playing against the team that let you go.
This and That (and-uh)
Andrew MacDonald was sent back to Bridgeport "on loan," according to Katie Strang. If "loan" means we get him back soon, let it be so. I dread more Meyer-Witt by the same degree I relish the chance to see more of Jack Hillen's growth. Your third pairing is general your two weakest defensemen, but those two have been, well, our two weakest defensemen. By Corsi, Witt has been weaker than Meyer -- but in that measure Bruno Gervais has been weaker than both. (Fine print: Yesterday's straw poll concluded that this site's motto should be "So basically, the stats make no sense whatsoever." So there's that.)
Speaking of undersized: Old friend Marc-Andre Bergeron got two goals in the Habs' win over the Blue Jackets. That dude, every once in a while he makes you wonder...then he makes a play that gets him benched.
We're Talkin' About Practice, Man: The Islanders canceled the full-squad practice and just had Rick DiPietro and the scratches and some random regulars. I know they were coming home from the road, but to me the only guy who needed a rest was Roloson. The rest of them could stand to work on correcting a few habits. That said, coaches loooooove practice, and coming home is like giving them their remote control back so they can tinker and direct. So if Gordon passed up a chance to practice in favor of giving them a mental rest, I defer to the guy who is a professional coach.
Lineup Shenanigans: Chris Botta says tonight it will be the same 18 as Monday, though the lines may be shaken up. It's hard to evaluate anyone in Monday's debacle (outside of Sean Bergenheim, Josh Bailey, Hillen, and Dwayne "God" Roloson), but what did you think of Trent Hunter with Tavares and Moulson? In theory it makes sense. And Hunter set up the Hillen shot on Moulson's goal. But I wonder if it's time to put Okposo back up there and reunite that line? Or is it time for Okposo to rediscover how to score without being on that line?
For the Flyers, Briere (suspension), old pal Arron Asham, and Blair Betts are all out.
Prediction: Josh Bailey continues his scoring streak.