I will now spend the next three days in abject terror that the Islanders will be the first team to lose to Columbus.— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) October 18, 2015
That was me after the Islanders beat San Jose last Saturday. You can check the replies and see that I wasn't alone in thinking that.
The belief that the Islanders - at the time, winners of three in a row - could possibly lose to the disintegrating Blue Jackets - at the time, losers of six a row - was based on extensive experience and history. I don't have dates or examples of games in which the Islanders had every reason to win and yet still lost, but I don't need them. I've lived them.
Coming out flat against teams playing on back-to-back nights? Seen that, too. Playing teams with injured stars or, even worse, injured goalies, and making the replacements look like All Stars? Going weeks or a month without a win, like the rest of the league is playing a cruel game of schoolyard keepaway with the smallest, weakest and slowest kid in the class? Seen them all and then some.
So imagine my surprise when the Islanders actually beat the Blue Jackets 4-0 on Tuesday (which greased the skids for their coach's firing to boot).
It wasn't exactly the best game the Islanders have played this season. They conceded 37 shots to a desperate opponent, and without Jaroslav Halak's 37 saves, my dire prophesy would have come true. But that's hockey. Sometimes you don't have it, and your goalie does. How many times have we seen that happen to the Islanders, too?
After the game, in another surprise streaming directly from my subconscious, some players honestly discussed the ghosts of trap games past:
"In the not-too-distant past, we were in the same position ourselves," [Cal] Clutterbuck said after the Islanders (4-1-1) won their fourth in row and sent Columbus to 0-7-0, tying the modern record for worst start to a season. "There were times we felt like we literally couldn't do anything right. But for us now, we have to take advantage of that and we did."
"I was a little out of my element there," said Hickey, who scored only his eighth career goal. "I think even at times last year, we've gotten anxious in 1-0 games, maybe a little impatient.
Reading the players acknowledging, if not outright admitting, to my same worries is somewhat comforting. First of all, it means I wasn't hallucinating all the other stumbles (or maybe that we're all hallucinating here inside the Matrix, which could be a huge problem beyond hockey). Secondly, it means they want to shake those tendencies as much as I want them to and that, to reach the next level of their evolution, they're going to have to.
Something struck me in these two quotes beyond just the usual post-game hot air. Maybe they represent a changing of their mental approach to the game and a maturing from "young team with talent" to "downright nightly threat."
Six games into the season is far too early to declare this Islanders team as having "turned the corner" or ready to "make the leap" or any of those other vague classifications they seem to get whenever they start a season with a few wins. There will be slumps and anxious moments and stretches where they can't do anything right in the next 76 games. I'm also going to worry about the Islanders losing games they have every right to win because I am an Islanders fan and it's what I do.
But maybe soon I can start doing that a little less.