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Islanders Back & Forth: Washington Wipeout; Philly Failure; Tale of Two Uncles

A new weekly look at the Islanders’ most recent - and next few - games. Mostly.

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New York Islanders v Washington Capitals
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Islanders face their other new division-mate and the team they can never, ever get away from.

But first, let’s look back at the (largely unsuccessful) week that was.

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Game 6: 3-2 loss to the Capitals

Let’s talk about Uncle Leo.

There’s nothing I can say about Leo Komarov that hasn’t been said before; About this alleged skills on “defense,” or his frequent penalties taken at the exact wrong time, or his nearly unshakable ability to do little else during the course of a single game. This loss, in which Komarov was on the ice gliding gently behind Capitals defenseman Justin Schultz as he scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left, earned immediate enshrinement in the “Really, Leo?” Hall of Fame.

But there is something I think doesn’t get enough attention, and that is the similarities between the hockey playing “Uncle Leo” and his namesake, the Seinfeld character of Uncle Leo, played by the late, prolific character actor Len Lesser. Both men share more than a cozy nickname.

Neither is a particularly welcome sight, one for Islanders fans scanning the night’s lineup, the other for Jerry, who’s never happy when his uncle appears at random times in his day. The signature, “Jerry? HEL-LO!” greeting just makes Jerry’s face scrunch up and his stomach sink, because now he knows he’s in for a long, long visit. Komarov’s presence in the lineup has sometimes come at the expense of a player who’s younger, faster and has more scoring potential than he does (or Ross Johnston, who I guess is like David Puddy in this analogy).

Both Uncle Leo’s are, generously put, agents of chaos. Komarov has had his share of good games for the Islanders over the last two-plus seasons, but he’s had his misadventures, too. You never know what you’re going to get when he’s in the lineup. Meanwhile, when Uncle Leo shows up, you know some crazy (or at least cringe-worthy) shit is about to go down. Whether it’s disrupting a telethon, blowing up his own apartment and singeing off his eyebrows or just a long, boring story about his son Jeffrey that Jerry can’t simply get away from, Uncle Leo means trouble. For us, it’s funny. For Jerry, it’s torture.

Perhaps most interestingly, both guys haven’t been around as long as you might think. Komarov has played 132 regular season games for the Islanders since coming aboard in 2018, plus 25 more in the playoffs. It certainly feels like it’s been a lot more than that, but maybe that’s because every time he’s on the ice, I start sweating and shaking and hoping that he gets back to the bench quickly without causing too much damage.

Meanwhile, Uncle Leo was only actually in 14 of Seinfeld’s 180 episodes. That’s a super small number for a guy who made such a huge impression. Jerry Seinfeld has said that half the magic of the show was finding actors that could come on every few episodes and knock their one or two scenes out of the park. Newman and Mr. and Mrs. Costanza are usually the go-to examples, but Uncle Leo is right behind them in about half as many episodes. Much of that credit goes to the Lesser, who could go from goofy to pushy to menacing and back, and had been in nearly every type of TV show for 40-something years before his most famous role was even conceived.

They’re also both old, although Komarov is “old” in the relative sense of the professional athlete which means he’s somehow 11 years younger than I am.

So the two men are a lot alike but I think we can all agree that TV’s Uncle Leo beats hockey Uncle Leo, even if it means hearing about Jeffrey and the parks department.

Game 7: 6-3 loss to the Capitals

There’s a sick feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I can feel a game getting away from the Islanders.

In most cases, I end up worrying for nothing. But after Conor Sheary scored his first goal of the game and the Islanders’ response was to simply let him score another one a few seconds later, I knew which way this one was going. I hoped that after the Caps tied it, that the Islanders would snap back into gear. They did not, and the final score is barely indicative of just how embarrassing and sickening the whole display was.

Normally, in games like that, I try to keep breathing and stay perfectly still. I can start to sweat. I don’t say much more than, “Come on! Really?” It’s an uncomfortable state to be in, and it usually doesn’t subside until well after the game is over and I’ve put something else on TV.

In this case, I woke up the next day still feeling the residual effects. I probably won’t forget it for a long, long time.

Games 8 and 9: 3-2 OT loss to the Flyers, 4-3 OT loss to the Flyers

I’ll lump these two together because they unfolded in similar fashions. Flyers fans were no doubt afraid of a repeat of last year’s playoff series between these two teams. They were right, except they looked at it the wrong way.

Philly won two more overtime games against the Islanders this weekend, adding to the three they won in the bubble. That’s because one team actually tries to win the game in extra time and the other skates around looking for... something before eventually finally conceding the game-winning goal. There’s obviously a huge difference between regular season overtime and playoff overtime, but the Islanders didn’t put up any more of a fight in the playoff OTs than they did last night or the night before.

It’s frustrating, especially considering that A. the Islanders have generally outplayed the Flyers in all of these games and B. the Islanders are the team with Mat Barzal, a human cheat code. Overtime games shouldn’t be this hard, and yet the Islanders seem to make them so.

It feels like whatever game plan or strategy they have for OT has taken precedence over getting that all-important goal. It also feels like the last time the Islanders beat Philadelphia in overtime was May 24, 1980.

Record for the week: 0-2-2

Season Record: 3-4-2

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Tuesday, Feb. 2 and Thursday, Feb. versus the Sabres

I promise not to make this a habit, but I’m watching the Sabres-Devils game while I write this and damn, these Sabres home uniforms are great. Blue and gold, bottom stripes, a real old school vibe, which is always best for a hockey club. Why did they ever change these? (Actually, I think we all know the an$wer)

Buffalo’s not bad this year and they seem loaded up with veterans who know from elsewhere. While they might not be a recipe for sustained success, it certainly makes them a tough out right now. (Remember the pre-2009 Islanders, loaded up with B-list free agents? Some players were more successful than others. If not for a certain shootout poke check, they might have been even less successful).

Good to see Kyle Okposo back on the ice, too.

Saturday, Feb. 6 vs. the Penguins

Oh good. The team everyone declares dead every season, just to watch them put together a crazy run that gets them labeled a Cup contender again. Even that playoff sweep two seasons ago isn’t enough to make me feel confident in these games.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford up and resigned last week, which took just about everyone by surprise. It was almost as surprising as when he was randomly named their GM seven years ago. There was a lot of complaining about how this old guy who had spent his management career in backwaters like Carolina and Hartford didn’t have what it takes to run the prestigious Penguins.

Two Stanley Cups later, Penguins fans were still complaining about him on his way out the door. The roster is old, the pipeline from the AHL isn’t as fertile as it once was and his many daring trades have left them with few options.

GM’ing is a tough business. I’ll stick to my armchair.

Predicted record for the week: 2-1. My brain won’t let me write “3-0” but I’d much prefer 3-0. especially after last week.

Alternate Programming Options:

I’m a sucker for stage magic. I love it. It’s usually not the trick itself but in the absurd skill and practice and creativity on display. I could never put in the time or have the aptitude to even pull a coin out from behind someone’s ear, let alone some of the crazy stuff people are doing out there. My wife and daughter love it to, and that love has made Penn & Teller: Fool Us as close to appointment television as anything else we watch.

On the show, magicians from all over the world perform for Penn & Teller and their (now virtual) audience. If the duo can’t figure out how the trick is done (and the performer “fools them”), then the performer wins a short slot opening for them before their show at their namesake theater in Las Vegas. The last performance of the night is always Penn & Teller themselves or separately.

For most of these magicians, being seen on American national television is more valuable than performing in front of a few thousand people at the Rio Hotel. And it brings out people from everywhere to take a shot at it, even if most do not fool the hosts. There are amateurs and professionals and teenagers and seniors, doing card tricks, escape acts, mentalism, quick changes, sleight of hand and everything in between. And almost all of them are great.

The show has been on the CW for seven seasons (a total of 95 episodes so far, first on Monday’s now on Friday’s) and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone else who’s ever watched it. That’s a shame because it’s a fun, escapist time for the entire family with some mind-boggling tricks. Fooling Penn & Teller is really just a small part of the entire package. If a trick is really, REALLY incredible, you almost don’t even care.

You can watch almost all the past episodes on the CW Seed app.

Classic Islanders clip just for fun:

Remember this madness? From February, 2011? Man, what a wild ride to nowhere that season was.