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Islanders Back & Forth: Pageauiversary; Sorokin Shutout Sequel; Thanks for Nokelainen

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

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Boston Bruins v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This week, it’s all right there on a silver platter. Are the Islanders hungry enough to take it all?

First, let’s look back at the (7-out-of-8 points) week that was.

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Game 18: 3-2 win over the Sabres

This was not a good game for the Islanders, although the score was ultimately in their favor. They played terribly against a very bad team and came away with two points, which is not something you want to become a trend.

The only reason anyone will remember this random regular season contest was because it was the first game in which the Sabres healthy scratched a dude making $9 million a year for the next seven years. In a world without a salary cap, Jeff Skinner might make an intriguing addition for the Islanders. A guy capable of scoring goals but who needs a playmaking center sounds like he would make sense for an Islanders team with a few creative centers and a need for a big scorer. In the world we actually live in, this isn’t happening, so Skinner will have to just suck it up.

He got back into the Sabres lineup this weekend because Jack Eichel was hurt. Oof. As my old co-worker used to say, “When it rains, it snows.”

No, that doesn’t make any sense. But it feels appropriate for Buffalo.

Game 19: 7-2 win over the Bruins

Uhhh... yeah. So, I guess the Islanders can beat the Bruins three times in the same season. Between this and their 6-3 loss to the Rangers the next night, Boston might want to change hotels the next time they come to New York.

Because time has no meaning for any of us anymore, I was completely blindsided by the fact that it had been a year since the Islanders acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau. It feels like he’s been here for a decade. You might have to go back to the magical Saturday in 2013 when they acquired both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to find a guy coming over via trade that immediately became an integral part of the team’s makeup.

I mean, the dude signed a long term deal, scored and fought a Ranger in his first game, talked about joining the family, then strolled in wearing a bathrobe and headband and dominated a team ping pong tournament. That’s a Beast Mode few months right there.

There was a lot of concern about the price the Islanders paid to get him and the contract he signed, but I think most of us recognized that Pageau could be the perfect addition and might balance out a lineup that needed to find the right mix of forwards. Turns out he’s been that and more. One year in and so far, so good.

Of course, sometimes even legends need a little help from their friends...

Game 20: 4-3 OT loss to the Penguins

By my count, the Islanders have gifted about 38 points to the Penguins in their games this month, something even Mat Barzal called “a tad” frustrating. I think he was underselling it. These are two evenly-matched teams and the Islanders have handed Pittsburgh valuable standings points thanks to momentary lapses in judgement, dumb rotten luck and their eternal nemesis, intangible Penguin Power.

The NHL Mass Mutual Variable Universal Life Insurance Policy East Division is beginning to separate itself along the lines a lot of us figured would exist before the season even started; the Sabres, Devils and Rangers towards the bottom and the Capitals, Bruins, Flyers, Penguins and Islanders towards the top. The problem for those five teams is that only four are gonna make the playoffs. The one that misses probably won’t miss by much.

And so games like this could come back to bite the Islanders in a big way later on this season. The thought of that is already making my stomach turn.

Game 21: 2-0 win over the Penguins

Phew! I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t feeling confident in this one until there was less then 30 seconds left. The Penguins had scored twice in 28 seconds in Saturday’s game and they’re damn capable of doing it again. Fortunately, the Islanders hung on (after some great work with the net empty that sadly didn’t turn into a goal) and skated away with a shutout that was a long time coming.

It’s amazing that Ilya Sorokin racked up his second straight (20-save) shutout. He was calm and flawless again, which is a fantastic development for the Islanders.

But this... this is mind-blowing.

Wow. Thirty-five years between shutouts of a team that’s been in your division for the better part of that time period.

Let’s go to Kelly Hrudey for his take on this incredible statistic:

The score of that January 9, 1986 game was 9-0 Islanders. Mike Bossy had a goal and two assists, Bryan Trottier scored twice, and 25-year-old Hrudey made 27 saves. Mario Lemieux was a minus-3 and goalie Roberto Romano was in for all nine scores against. He actually won 21 games that year for Pittsburgh, but also lost 20. I’m guessing that one sticks out above the other 19 losses that season.

I guarantee no one involved in that game thought it would take another three decades for the Islanders to get another shutout over the Penguins. And yet, here we are.

Record for the week: 3-0-1

Season Record: 11-6-4

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Tuesday, March 2 at the Devils

You might not remember, but the last times these two teams played, the Devils won in a shutout by Scott Wedgewood, who I think has been returned to his home planet since.

Devils center Travis Zajac recently celebrated his 1,000th game, all with New Jersey, and it feels like I’ve read 1,000 complaints about him by Devils fans on Twitter. Zajac might not be the most exciting player in the league (or even in Devils history) but he has 538 points in his career, which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s certainly a far cry from the guy the Islanders took four picks earlier in that same 2004 draft, the immortal Petteri Nokelainen.

The Finn played 15 games for the Islanders and tallied one goal and one assist. He was quickly traded to the Bruins for center Ben Walter and a second round pick, which was then traded to Columbus, who took a player named Kevin Lynch. This is one of those perfect Mike Milbury deals in that it involved a lot of moving parts over multiple years and added up to absolutely nothing.

Nokelainen played for five teams in his NHL career, compiling 20 goals and 21 assists in 245 games. Not only is it amazing that that many teams felt the need to add a moderately-sized Finnish center whose career high in points for a season was 13, but that they wanted him so badly that they moved actual assets for him four separate times.

When UBS Arena opens, I hope the first game against the Devils is on Petteri Nokelainen Night.

Thursday, March 4 vs the Sabres, Saturday, March 6 and Sunday, March 7 vs the Sabres

Whoa, that’s a lot of games against Buffalo. To put it bluntly, the Islanders need to win these games. This might be the easiest week on their entire schedule. Is that too much pressure? I don’t care. Win the games.

For the Sabres, this might be the closest they get to a playoff series this season. The Islanders’ last playoff series against the Sabres in 2007 was... not a good one for them. My friend and podcast partner Michael Leboff remembers this series perhaps better than anyone on Earth and he’d tell you that it was the closest five game series you could possibly see,. Three of the five games were decided by one goal, and the Islanders came within one great Ryan Miller save of tying Game 5 with seconds left.

The most disappointing thing about this video is knowing that the Islanders had that insane finish to the season, leading to the most memorable pokecheck in franchise history, only to lose in the first round. Seeing Ryan Smyth on the ice with the clock ticking down is a reminder that the team was all in that season for the first time in forever and it turned out to be one of the most fun campaigns they’ve had in (relatively) recent memory.

The second most disappointing thing is that the game was broadcast on Versus, which became NBCSN, and the guys on the mic are John Forslund and Eddie Olczyk, who are still on the job today. Gee. No wonder every national NHL game feels stale as hell. The product hasn’t changed in 14 years.

Predicted record for the week: 3-1. Let’s not get too greedy (But seriously, c’mon. Get all four.)

Canadian Sportswriters Say The Darnedest Things:

Last week, the Canadiens fired Claude Julien, a highly-respected Stanley Cup-winning coach, as the Habs seemed to be going through a statistical rough patch after bursting out of the gate early in the season. The main culprit in their collapse seemed to be their goaltending (*cough* CareyPrice *cough*) letting them down. Surely firing the coach would be a bit of an overreaction, no?

NOPE! Au revoir, Claude. There may have been other strategic reasons for letting him go that GM Marc Bergevin saw in his players. New coach Dominique Ducharme has a cool name, a hairstyle straight out of DragonBall-Z and a history of success at the junior level. He’s stepping into a tough market, which is gonna make his first NHL gig that much harder.

At least the expectations for the new coach aren’t too high... right, Arpon Basu of The Athletic?

But when Julien left the Bruins and was replaced by his assistant, Bruce Cassidy, Boston immediately took off. They went from 24th in the NHL in actual goals for percentage at 5-on-5 under Julien to sixth in the NHL from the time Cassidy took over to the end of the season. They went from 20th in points percentage to sixth. The transformation was overnight.

Bergevin had this young, progressive coach standing on the bench next to Julien, much like Cassidy was standing next to him in Boston, and what he was watching on the ice was far from progressive. The level of urgency the Canadiens displayed simply wasn’t high enough, and it was on Julien to create it. So Dominique Ducharme becomes Bergevin’s version of Bruce Cassidy, hoping to catch that same jolt they saw in Boston.

Hey, maybe Ducharme does turn the Habs around. Who knows. As I’ve said before, I’m constantly impressed by Cassidy’s Bruins (even when they get wrecked by the Islanders) so to me, that sounds like a high bar to climb.

Then again, that comes with the territory with Montreal

Alternate Programming Options:

A few outlets reported last week that a G.I. Joe TV series, centered around the character of Lady Jaye, is in the works for Amazon. The feature film, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, is still slated to be released this year. As a fan of the franchise going back almost 40 years, I’m excited to watch both of these. Then again, I’ve been excited about live action G.I. Joe movies before and have been let down big time.

I saw G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in a drive-in theater (shoutout to Hyde Park, NY) in 2009 and I tried to talk myself into thinking it was okay but not great. A subsequent viewing changed my mind. It’s bad. Certainly more bad than good. There are a couple of admirable aspects going for it, mainly a couple of okay performances and that writer/director Stephen Sommers clearly has an affinity for the property. Too bad that affinity didn’t translate into an enjoyable or even competently-made movie.

Its 2013 sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, is at least the latter, which brings it closer to the former. It’s no one’s idea of an action classic, but it’s got The Rock, a lot of fan service and an appealing story that at least makes an ounce of sense, so it falls into the Not Great, Just Forgettable category.

So what’s this week’s recommendation? Hasbro, G.I. Joe’s toy company since the beginning, has uploaded full episodes of the old Real American Hero cartoons to YouTube that you can watch any time. (Tubi, a free streaming app from FOX Studios, also has them if you’d prefer to watch on a TV via Roku and not a computer). If you’re itching for some classic G.I. Joe action, any four of these episodes, no matter how cheesy or silly, are still a better way to spend two hours than watching either movie. Plus, you might learn some valuable lessons, because knowing is half the battle.

Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:

This firing has nothing to do with Claude Julien’s firing (unless you count both Julien and Henning each coaching their respective teams twice and sporting similar, uh, hair styles), but the clip is a short, bizarre time capsule. Poor Lorne. A true Islanders legend who never stood a chance as a head coach in a couple of pretty dire situations.