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Islanders Back & Forth: A huge win, a blah loss and a few new faces

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

New York Rangers v New York Islanders
All smiles
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The biggest news are the two new faces, but the games the Islanders played last week told stories had a little bit of everything.

First, let’s look back at the (very much in flux) week that was.

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Game 39: 1-0 win over the Capitals

The score wasn’t indicative of the way the Islanders outplayed the Capitals on this Monday night. That’s not something you can say too often. The reason the game was so close was the excellent play of Washington goalie Vitek Vanecek, a guy even most Caps fans probably had never heard of before the season. Semyon Varlamov was excellent, too, and Brock Nelson came through in the end (an early theme this week) to give the Islanders a huge win. Perhaps the hugest of the season.

As many said in the comments afterwards, the Islanders were playing so well that it seemed as if one bad bounce was going to ruin the whole damn thing. That’s a problem I never expected to have to tangle with. But seeing the Islanders put on a show in the third period and essentially try to will themselves to a win never gets old, even with the lingering anxiety.

Game 40: 3-2 SO win over the Flyers

Hey, new guys! Nice to see you. That is you, right, Kyle? It’s hard to tell without the beard.

I like the trade for the Islanders and think Lou Lamoriello did well to maximize his most tradeable asset - a first round pick that’s expected to be a low one - to acquire two veteran rentals that can help his team in the playoffs. I was confused by the presence of Travis Zajac until I remembered that the next center on the Islanders depth chart is most likely Leo Komarov, followed by Sound Tigers Tanner Fritz or Otto Koivula. So having an extra actual NHL center on the roster is a good idea, even if his skills are diminished with age.

Palmieri is the big get and despite a couple of lackluster first games with this new club (like this one. Thanks again, Brock), he looks to be a good fit. He’s not Anders Lee and that’s okay. Palmieri is known to produce goals and it already seems like he fits in personality-wise with the Islanders. I think the real test will come after he’s had a few days to practice with to get Barry Trotz’s system down pat.

I have a scintilla of hope he could be re-signed after the season but that’s another problem for another time and will require a long list of dominoes to fall first. For now, all he has to do is score, which is what he’s done over his entire career and has already done once for the Islanders. More of that, please.

Game 41: 4-1 loss to the Rangers

This score is a little deceiving, too, but make no mistake - the Islanders did not play well here. Which is surprising considering the circumstances going in: two straight wins, only one home loss all season, the first meeting with their biggest rivals in over two months and a chance to create some daylight at the top of the division. Instead, they only looked engaged in a few instances and two early unlucky goals against buried them.

Normally, a loss to the Rangers would send me into a depressive spiral. This time, the fluky nature of the goals and the still a-work-in-progress addition of the new guys made me confident they’d come back stronger next time. Not losing any ground in the division lead helped, too. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t let it derail my entire weekend, either.

Game 42: 3-2 OT win over the Rangers

A loss here would have absolutely derailed my entire week. Yet another trash second period, where the Islanders don’t skate, can’t complete a pass, spend no time in the offensive zone and are content to simply ice the puck and play catch with each other until they eventually turn the puck over. I’m as thankful for Ryan Pulock’s first goal of the season as he is.

Instead, let’s talk about the best part of any trade deadline: the hours-long televised torture of TSN’s Trade Centre and Sportsnet’s Trade Deadline show.

Every year, both of Canada’s biggest sports networks set aside nearly an entire day for analysis, breaking news, stories, rumors, rumblings and whatever else they think is going to happen. And every year, the best thing that can possibly happen is nothing. Because that allows hockey fans in multiple countries to watch these talking heads squirm, stall and bullshit their way through hours of dead air until the cameras finally turn off.

A lot of bigger deals by contenders have already happened (some, in fact, are going down as I write this), which I hope means a lot of TV executives and hosts spent Sunday night sweating through their suits thinking about all of the deals that won’t be happening on Monday. I hope someone kept the phone numbers for the llamas TSN brought in for the 2015 TradeCentre because they might need them.

The sad thing is, I’ll probably still be watching. ESPN+ will stream TSN starting at 8 am (!!), while Sportsnet’s show starts at a relatively subdued noon on Monday. If you’re watching, too, prepare yourself for hours of minor trades, no trades, analysis of where Nick Foligno fits in among other Leafs Legends and perhaps, a live animal or two.

Record for the week: 3-1-0

Season Record: 27-11-4

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Thursday, April 15 and Friday, April 16 vs the Bruins

If every season series was its own video game, this would be the last stage of Islanders-Bruins. The Islanders have managed to progress through the first five stages of the game and now face the grueling final gauntlet: back-to-back games on back-to-back nights in Bowser’s Cas... er... Boston. There’s one other game in May, which was rescheduled from a few weeks ago. But this is the big test.

Between the trade deadline and their neverending list of injuries, we have no idea who’ll be in the Bruins lineup for this game. They have two new goalies (Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman) who have looked pretty good in the absence of what would be the usual starter and back-up (Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak). So far, the Islanders have handled Boston well and there’s no reason to take their foot off the gas now. They need points and there’s a good chance they could meet again in the playoffs.

Sunday, April 18 vs the Flyers

This is a 6:30 start because it’s on NBCSN. If it’s the Flyers broadcast crew and not, say, Brendan Burke or John Forslund, then I might skip it altogether and assume it’ll end in a shootout.

Predicted record for the week: 1-2. I know, I know. But you gotta figure the Bruins have to get one of these, right? And most of the games against the Flyers have been so close, it’s hard to be too confident.

Canadian Sportswriters Say The Darnedest Things:

I don’t enjoy picking on Edmonton writers in back-to-back weeks, but this overcooked piece of horse meat, courtesy of Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, was too good to pass up.

Titled, “Oilers’ record-setting win vs. Senators further proof rebuild is finally over” it’s the kind of article that will get a reporter raked over the coals for the minute the Oilers hit a skid or, god forbid, lose in the playoffs. Yes, the Oilers beat the same team - in this case, their new division mates in Ottawa, who are, generously-speaking not good - nine times this season, which is something no NHL team has ever done. And yes, collecting those 18 points was important for an Edmonton team trying to establish itself as a contender to come out of the division despite playing in the long shadow cast by Toronto. The Oilers did what they needed to do against a bad team, got rewarded and should be commended. Kudos, gents. Job well done.

I’m not sure you can just declare a team’s rebuild “over” like it was a birthday party and you’re sending everyone home. And I especially don’t think you can do it after winning X-number of games against the worst team in your division.

Generally speaking, rebuilds are “over” when the team either wins a championship, is a no-doubt Cup contender or struggles to stay competitive and needs to re-tool yet again. The Oilers don’t really qualify for any of those. They’re good, sure, but their rebuild probably still needs a few more additions before it can really be called over. The Islanders’ rebuild ended the moment John Tavares walked out the door. They re-tooled and here they are. As always, they’re kind of a weird case.

Even the Oilers players don’t sound like they’re buying what Spector is selling.

Of course, NHL players being who they are, there was little appetite among the Oilers to revel in having forged a new team record. What nine straight wins against the same team really means is, this club isn’t that club anymore.

The nail, finally, is starting to look more like the hammer.

“We want to build something,” [Mike] Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just want to be building. Putting ourselves in position going into the playoffs where we’re playing our best hockey. We’re doing the things it takes to push games along, get important wins…

“We’re not just here to get two points and move on. We’re building for something bigger than just another two points against an Ottawa Senators team that’s going to be a good team down the (road). We’re building for something more.”

Those days of “something more” will arrive soon enough.

I love stories like this.

Writer: Here’s my idea! Isn’t it great?

Player and/or coach: Actually, you’re wrong.

Writer: But deep down, they know I’m right.

Anyway, good job by the Oilers on beating a team they were supposed to beat a bunch of times and not being called frauds. Not every team gets that same treatment...

Alternate Programming Options:

We had a bit of a home emergency on Friday when a valve...uh, dislodged itself from our 21-year-old water heater, causing our basement to flood with an inch or more of water. Fortunately not much was damaged, although I did have some rescuing to do, and a replacement was installed in short order thanks to a very helpful local company. My wife and I spent the better part of our day vacuuming, mopping, towelling, drying or throwing out shit.

It sucked but you know what’s much, much worse than that? Working on a rig several fathoms below the surface of the ocean that floods and forces you and a small band of colleagues to fight for survival against the sea, the crumbling rig, the pressure and some weird monsters that are all out to kill you.

That’s more or less the plot of Underwater, a movie released last year after a few years stuck in limbo. You’ll be forgiven if you missed it, but it’s streaming on HBO Max now and is worth the time if you’re looking for something scary and harrowing. It stars Kristen Stewart, Jessica Henwick (from Netflix’s Iron Fist show), French actor Vincent Cassel, who you probably know from a lot places, as well as several tons of H20. I’m not sure if I had ever seen Stewart outside of those mopey, dopey Twilight movies, but she’s very good here in what is essentially the same kind of Ripley role Sigourney Weaver played so well so often.

Check it out and be thankful your job is on dry land (and probably not overrun by monsters)

Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:

The Islanders have made their big move this deadline (OR HAVE THEY??!!) and so we wait to see how history plays out for the rest of the season.

We know how history played out after the 2007 trade deadline, when first year GM Garth Snow brought “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth from Edmonton to Long Island. In a hail of tears and uncharacteristic drama from Elliotte Friedman, Smyth’s arrival is captured here, in a video my friend Mike Leboff has probably watched a thousand times. If you are or know who the guy in the Dolphins jacket who welcomed Smyth to Laguardia like he was Queens Borough President, know that he has my respect.

Smyth played reasonably well in his short time as an Islander, the team made the playoffs thanks to an incredible shootout poke check, lost in five games and Smyth took off for Colorado (only to eventually return to his home planet of Edmonton anyway). Just an insane time to be an Islanders fan. And it pretty much started right here.