Baby Islanders taught big lesson by veteran-laden Wild.
At this point of the season, it's all about what the youngest members of the New York Islanders can learn from playing better teams. They got an education last night from a distinguished professor, Jacques Lemaire. They always took a huge step towards forming an identity.
Marion Gaborik scored twice as Lemaire's Minnesota Wild pounded the Islanders last night 6-2. The Wild also got goals from Antti Miettinen, Owen Nolan, Martin Skoula and Andrew Brunnette. The Islanders' tallies were recorded by Bruno Gervais (who, despite not being known for goal scoring, with only three to his credit his entire career, has now notched three over his last 11 games)and Andy Hilbert
As noted before, the Islanders learned some lessons last night. The defensemen learned that leaving men open in front of the net will many times result in goals being scored against you. A simple lesson, to be sure, but one that clearly needed reinforcing as all of the Minnesota goals came about due to traffic in the crease area. Islanders goalie Yann Danis had one of his worst games as pro on a statistical basis, but he couldn't be held responsible for most of the damage. Young defensemen like Gervais and Jack Hillen, though they don't possess tremendous size, must learn how to maximize their presence and leverage in order to give their goalie the best opportunity to stop the puck.
The team also learned a different kind of lesson. The young guys discovered that, when you commit silly penalties, the other side may score on the resulting power play. Again, that lesson is basically “Hockey 101″ but you'd never know it by the eight minutes in penalty minutes that Blake Comeau took. The Wild converted three of their seven power play opportunities. Essentially, they yapped and barked at the newbies and coerced them into unnecessary transgressions. A smart move by a well-coached, veteran squad.
However, let's touch on those transgressions for a moment because, during the course of this game, the baby Islanders managed to sum up what they are all about. At the end of the first period, Comeau received a late hit from Minnesota's Miettinen. Kyle Okposo, displaying the type of leadership that many expect will land the “C” on his jersey one day, flew over and nailed the Wild player. He then proceeded over to the Minnesota bench and, after receiving some threats from there, didn't back down an inch as he challenged the players to do something besides just talk. The identity the team is forging is one of a young, aggressive team that will bring maximum effort to the rink every night. Sure, they're going to make mistakes as they learn. But they don't intend to be an easy time for any team. They will play with pride until the final horn sounds.
As an Islander fan who has witnessed quite a few players over the years who have disgraced the sweater with their lack of passion, all I can say to this new group is “Sign me up for a few years of this.” With the talent level these kids have lurking within, it won't be long before they change more than a few minds about the joke the franchise is viewed as.
Beware, NHL: It won't happen this season or possibly next either, but one day soon, the Islanders will be a team to be reckoned with.
You've been warned.
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Written by Frank Mazzola