Saturday, October 23, 2010

Future now for Long Island???

Rebuilding can be a tedious process. For Islander fans who waited for centerpiece John Tavares to fall into their lap last year, they already could be seeing a quick return on Garth Snow's retooling. Even minus top blueliner Mark Streit, power forward Kyle Okposo and a few games without JT91 before the top dog returned from a concussion, here is Long Island's team sitting atop the Atlantic with a stellar 4-1-2 record good for 10 points- trailing just the sizzling Lightning by a point in an East that also has the surprising Leafs in the top three.

Is this the time for Scott Gordon's Islanders? Last season despite plenty of injuries, the third-year coach's club fought tooth and nail hanging around the playoff race until the final couple of weeks when their inexperience caught up. A year older and wiser with key offseason additions James WisniewskiMark EatonMilan Jurcina, Mike MottauP.A. Parenteau, Zenon Konopka along with a healthy Rick DiPietro, they're starting to prove themselves. Perhaps new MSG-Plus analyst Butch Goring wasn't so nuts when he proclaimed that the club he helped turn into a dynasty was going to make the playoffs. Credit him for mentioning how hungry this team is as evidenced by their aggressive play thus far.

Continued improvement from Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau helped give the club a boost without Tavares. And what can you say about captain Doug Weight, who wasn't even certain he'd return? All he's done is lead this pesky bunch while tallying a goal and five helpers while turning back the clock. Not bad for the slick 39 year-old American who should one day have a place alongside new USA Hockey Hall Of Fame members Jeremy Roenick and Derian Hatcher.

The Islanders are getting contributions from everyone, including ex-Ranger Parenteau who leads the club in scoring (2-5-7) with six of the seven coming via the power play while the team on Broadway remains stuck with two power play goals. There's also been the solid play of steal Wisniewski, money finisher Matt Moulson along with the tandem of DiPietro and Dwayne Roloson doing their part. Frans Nielsen has also been a factor and the youngest player in the league, Nino Niederreiter already notched his first NHL goal and assist in the club's first seven games. Even waiver wire addition Michael Grabner has chipped in with a couple of goals, displaying some of that world class speed and skill that made him a first round pick in '06 with Vancouver. It's not like the 23 year-old Austrian didn't produce in a brief stint with the Canucks going 5-6-11 in 20 games last season. Might they regret letting him go? Only time will tell.

For a team that just lost blueliner Andrew MacDonald six weeks after breaking his hand in Thursday's overtime win over Tampa Bay, they'll find someone else to fill in. Most notably Jack Hillen. That's what we've learned in three years under Gordon. His teams never break. That maybe the best reason for fans off the Meadowbrook to believe that this year's outfit can reach the postseason. What happens when Okposo returns? What if Streit somehow makes it back for the home stretch? When does vet grinder Trent Hunter find his game? You can bet he will. Do the Islanders keep Niederreiter? Why not. He's a solid two-way forward with speed and grit.

As the Islanders enter Game No.8 when they visit Florida later tonight, there's a lot to admire about what they've done. The work ethic. The way they go about their business. The focus. Should we be jealous? One thing we've learned. Don't take them lightly.

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