The Islanders started the calendar year 2015 in a place few people expected them to be: leading the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division and looking like one of the NHL's most exciting offensive machines.
Things didn't last, of course. They rarely do for this team. But in judging the last 360-plus days for the franchise, there are highs worth remembering and celebrating along with the lows we harp on, analyze and perpetually stew about every day.
One of them happened last January, when a longtime Islander had a career-best night against a hated rival and put his team in a position to look down upon the rest of the league for the first time in forever.
It's surprising to think that Kyle Okposo hadn't had a hat trick in the NHL before that January 16th game against the Penguins, given all the goals he's scored for the Islanders since 2007. With the way the game unfolded, it's equally surprising that he only ended up with four that night. He tied the game in the third with his second goal of the game, then added the game-winner and an insurance goal afterwards, all on frequent nemesis Marc-Andre Fleury.
It's tough to pick a favorite. I like the blind backhand over Fleury for his second goal, but that third one, scored from one knee on a sweet, sweet pass from Josh Bailey is the kind of goal everyone dreams of nailing. Kyle would probably be the first to say there was a little bit of luck involved, too. But when a game plays out like this, who cares.
As for the guy in net for all four of those scores, he knows Okposo pretty well.
I dont' know what it is, but every time Okposo is on the ice, Fleury seems lost. Okposo buries a rebound, backhand high, tied up 3-3.— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) January 17, 2015
Okposo's outburst earned him Third Star of the Week honors from the NHL, but the afterglow didn't last very long. A week or so later, just after the All Star Game, Okposo was placed in IR after having surgery on a detached retina (Still: !!!) and missed the next month or so. In the interim, the Islanders fell out of first and then some, finishing third in the Metro and qualifying for the playoffs only days before the end of the season.
But on that one night, everything came together for the Islanders and one of their longest-serving and most likable players in an incredible, unforgettable way.