Islanders Defend Their Image, Score Nine

Of all nights I pick to skip an Islanders game!

I went out to dinner with my girlfriend and some friends of mine last night, so I couldn’t attend the game. I checked on the score via iPhone and much to my surprise the Islanders were up 4-0 after the first period. I got a little involved in dinner and talking…..

Then my phone rang.

It was my Uncle – telling me what I was missing, I could just tell it was something of a spectacle. 9 goals for, countless fights, ten game misconducts, another altercation involving Johnson – outright mayhem it seemed.

After dinner I got home and had to turn on MSG to catch the highlights…..and well, you know some lowlights too.

Where do we start? I’ve been trying to digest what I have seen today both online and on Twitter – so here goes.

A few weeks ago, the unofficial Islanders leader Zenon Konopka gave an earful to some writers in the stands watching their practice – he said “We’re no longer going to accept being called the doormats of the NHL”. I certainly don’t blame him for saying that – the Islanders have been heckled both on and off the ice by their fellow players, the press and even fans for far too long. Sometimes it takes that one spark, the one player with the gusto and personality (and most importantly the mouth) to begin a change. That change is upon us.

In my four and a half years writing about the Islanders, I have seen a lot. I’ve seen leaders come and go, even players you wouldn’t expect, rise up and have a voice. The team has had a high turnover, changing gears, direction, coaches – and often being unable to lure big ticket players for reasons we won’t go into now. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there is a fire and more importantly a DESIRE – to change the perception surrounding the team.

For all the lumps the Islanders have taken over the last few years, Garth Snow has sat back and taken those high draft picks, scooped up players via waivers and free agency – and most importantly, drafted very well. He’s now assembled a team that for the most part, is homegrown. A team born out of necessity, in the image of what a future contender will be. What happens is players begin to buy into the direction, to team mantra and protect one another.

All that starts with a leader. No knock on Doug Weight, he’s been that calming veteran player for the team the last few years (and well, 53 games or so) – but maybe he hasn’t been what this team has needed. I feel as though the Islanders have been waiting for a player like Konopka far too long. A player that isn’t afraid to scrap, to yap, to yell at the press – and the best part, align his team and get them to stand up for themselves. The Islanders have been like that kid who has always been picked on, waiting for their moment to change. Konopka is that kid’s big brother, who teaches them how to stand up and defend themselves.

Just this past week, the Islanders were incensed with the lack of calls and respect for their star players. They spoke of far too many instances of liberties being taken and should it continue; they would make a statement by showing the league they mean business. I guess what occurred last night is a testament to that.

The Game Heard Round the League

I’d like to preface this by saying the fireworks last night weren’t totally directed at the Penguins, Talbot, Johnson or any one particular player. This has been something in the making the last three or four seasons.

Having said that; the Islanders suffered some humiliating losses to the Penguins the last few weeks. They were shut out twice, DiPietro got his face broken and the Penguins just laughed at their expense – on camera, on the bench and in the press.

You mess with one of us, you mess with ALL of us. That is the new mentality the Islanders have taken on for the rest of the season; and my guess is the remainder of Konopka’s tenure with the club. For this, and because he came out and openly said he WANTS to be part of the Islanders future – I hope Garth Snow signs him to an extension. Zenon Konopka is everything you want from a veteran leader – oh, and he’s clutch with faceoffs too.

In a show of support for their oft-injured goaltender Rick DiPietro, and to Blake Comeau who is concussed do to a hit that was deemed clean by Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot – the Islanders made it look mean last night.

The boxscore is chock full of info – goals, assists, penalties, game misconducts, fights – it’s likely the longest and most complex boxscore the NHL has seen this season (aside from Montreal – Boston last week). It’s actually so long, you should just go read it for yourselves.

After that bit of light reading, I think we need to watch some highlights.

And some more:

I think Butch Goring said it best on the telecast, calling it “Old time hockey” – because that’s what it was. There will come some suspensions because of this, no doubt – but the Islanders will take them in stride this season, because they made their intentions known. “We will not be walked on, or laughed at anymore – you mess with one of us, you deal with all of us”.

The Islanders have been through a lot this season – namely injuries being the biggest obstacle to overcome. I find it silly that a team who’s collectively lost over 350 man games to injury and featured almost their entire AHL club in the NHL being called out and “congratulated” for defeating an injured Pittsburgh team. The Islanders scored nine goals on their NHL goaltenders….then beat up the rest.

Grabner, Moulson and Tavares all scored their 20th goals of the season, Micheal Haley had a goal and assist, and something like 400 penalty minutes in his season debut, Jesse Joensuu got on the board after some strong play in Montreal, Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic mixed it up with some Penguins and had a few points each. I liked what I saw for the most part – the Islanders definitely showed the league they won’t be taken lightly any more.

Keep in mind the Islanders have one game against Pittsburgh remaining – that’s one I will certainly have marked on my calendar.

Michael Schuerlein


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