There was a shift Thursday night when the lively Montreal crowd briefly turned on the Habs, their impatience hovering like a cloud over the [telco] Centre. The source of that impatience was #21 in Islanders white, a 20-year-old kid who plays with all the non-stop hustle of youth but is increasingly wielding the size and power of a man. Okopso carried the puck in and out around the Canadiens zone, his shoulders shaking off Montreal defenders left and right.
It was just another shift for Okposo, who -- as Justin Bourne observed earlier this year, recalling their shared time in AHL Bridgeport -- does not realize how good he is going to be. Islanders fans don't realize either -- we just hope. As islesblogger Mike remarked last night, goals in four consecutive games is something like what we hoped. Scoring the overtime goal in Montreal by muscling off Mathieu Schneider, a 19-year NHL defenseman (yes, his first NHL game was before Okposo's birth) -- that is what we hoped.
If you can put your lottery fears aside -- and Tampa Bay and Atlanta both won last night, too -- then there was more to cheer. A stunning kill of a full two-minute Habs 5-on-3, thanks to Yann Danis and great work from the PK unit. That kill was followed shortly by the Canadiens' tying goal, but no matter: The Islanders repeatedly put the Canadiens on their heels. Yes, I said the Islanders repeatedly put the Habs on their heels.
Bruno Gervais had another strong game -- and his tenacity kept the puck in and fed it to Okposo for the OT winner. No fight for Bruno tonight, but we'll excuse his pacifism this time. Tim Jackman and Joel Rechlicz (his first in the NHL!) gave fight fans plenty to enjoy with two fierce fights that made me glad I sit at a desk for gainful employment. With just a little more ice time than Rechlicz (5:29), Thomas Pock (6:19) suited me by doing no harm.
Danis continued his assault on the Islanders' lottery chances, and he must have taken special satisfaction with a win against his old organization in front of many family and friends. ... Frans Nielsen answered Islanders Outsider's chiding progress report with a goal and an assist.
But what about the tanking?! The lottery pick?! The dreams of Tavares? Heavens, what are they doing winning now? Honestly, as a fan you suffer through the growing pains of a rebuilding year like this, and you want that tanktastic lottery reward for your troubles. But watching young players like Okposo and Nielsen shine, seeing the giddy kids celebrate Okposo's OT goal -- and Danis possibly turn his career around before our eyes -- that makes these otherwise meaningless wins quite fun indeed.
If the Isles foolishly climb out of 30th place, I'll convince myself the lottery ball was going to curse us anyway, and I'll enjoy the pieces of The Future that are coming together right now.