Many were immediately calling for the removal of head coach Jack Capuano at the start of the season once the New York Islanders' record began to slip from 3-1 to way below .500. However, there were some, like myself, who argued that it was premature to blame the coaching staff for the poor start due to the fact that the roster from last season hadn't changed much and for the other simple fact - the season was still young. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)
Since then, the Islanders have managed to be a consistent below .500 team for the year. They have come close on a few occasions from jumping over the hurdle but would then find a way to take two steps back after taking one step forward. This past week has been the most disheartening of the year for Isles fans in relation to how the team has continued to perform. Not only have they lost games, but they have done it with such depression that even the U.S. economy cringed.
Three of the last eight games saw the Islanders either blow a three-goal lead or lose the game in the final few minutes of the third period. It started when the Islanders went into the second period against the Washington Capitals with a 2-0 lead on February 28th. The Caps would score two goals in the final three minutes of the game and then go on to have Alexander Ovechkin score the early game winning goal in the extra frame. The Islanders also had a 1-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils just this past Saturday, only to see their opponent score two goals just 14 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the hockey game. And most recently, the Islanders blew a 4-1 lead last night against the Caps to lose 5-4 in the shootout.
Changing Daylight Saving Time to the second weekend of March has made this my least favorite weekend of the year. Well into my training regimen for St. Patrick’s Day the last thing I need to lose is an hour of sleep. It would also prove to be a difficult weekend for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Another three games in three nights can be expected but this past weekend the opponents could not have been tougher. On Friday the Tigers visited Hartford the team with the AHL’s best home record, 16-4-2-4. Saturday the team would return home to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins holders of the AHL’s best road record at an amazing 22-6-0-3. Shortened Sunday would find the Tigers at home against the AHL’s point leading Norfolk Admirals and winners of fourteen games in a row. Bridgeport did not post a win in those three games (first time winless in three in 2012) but they were not played in any game and picked up two valuable points in the process.
It has taken almost 15 years, but the Islanders General manager, Garth Snow may have finally found the answer. In the 1997 series between the Sabers and Flyers then Philly goaltender Garth Snow donned a set of shoulder pads so large a pundit asked if Snow “had Jimmy Hoffa buried under there.” He had not broken any rules, there were none? Fifteen-inch pads were commonplace and his imaginative way to level the playing field was totally legal. It also started the puck rolling towards the regulation of today’s goalie equipment by the NHL.
Always searching for a competitive advantage, Garth went out and drafted a tender who required no Michelin man equipment. Anders Nilsson at 6’5 and 220 lbs. fills the net in his long johns. Last night the 21 year old from Lulea, Sweden recorded his first NHL win, a 1-0 shutout over the New Jersey Devils. It is not just his dominating size but also cobra quick reflexes which brought one clever fan to post on Twitter “ Anders Nillson, I dub thee Thor the god of goaltenders.” The Islanders may need the help of a god to make the playoffs, but the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are in a push for the playoffs as well and could use Nillson’s services.
It is still a long shot, but the Islanders have once again pulled themselves into playoff conversation with a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. Kyle Okposo scored the lone goal for the Isles while Anders Nilsson earned his first NHL win with a 24-save shutout performance that earned him first star honors on the night.
"Today I think all the guys out there put up a great job for me," said Nilsson. "The first two periods, I only had 12 shots and they blocked a lot of shots and when they got a shot through it was from the boards. They made it real easy for me to play out there today. They helped me out a lot."
Okposo concurred with Nilsson's belief that the Islanders played one of their best defensive games of the year, rivaling their previous defensive win over the Boston Bruins the night before.
While Kevin Poulin has been enjoying his deserved Pou-LIN-sanity awards and rewards his partner between the pipes Anders Nilsson has gone quietly about his job setting records of his own. On Saturday night he tied the Bridgeport Sound Tigers record for consecutive wins by a tender blocking 26 of the 28 shots he faced in a win over the Adirondack Phantoms. The next afternoon he broke the record previously held by Nate Lawson recording his eighth straight win. In this win over the perennial powerhouse Hershey Bears he allowed only one of the 21 shots he faced to cross the line. Not giving up a goal in overtime he went on to stop all 5 shots he faced in the shoot-out.
Yesterdays game was a rare one o’clock matinee and after playing Sat. at 7pm, Sun. at 3pm Anders picked up the first AHL shut out of his career stopping all twenty-six shots sent his way by the Albany Devils. Team record nine wins in a row for this Swedish behemoth, who looks like a transformer when fully dressed.
How many goaltenders will we see in an Isles uniform by the end of the season? That was a question that a few of my readers asked me before the start of the year. Last year the Islanders featured Dwayne Roloson, Rick DiPietro, Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson. And oh yeah, they also tried to claim Evgeni Nabokov off waivers to only say, "No thanks" before joining the roster this year.
That's a total of six goalies (with a 7th one that rang off the post) that dressed for the New York Islanders in 2011. The count now is at five for this year between DiPietro, Montoya, Nabokov, Poulin and Anders Nilsson, who earned his first NHL start against the Pittsburgh Penguins the day that Sidney Crosby returned to action.
Koskinen has been playing for KalPa in the Finnish Elite League as John Link explains to us in his latest prospect report since there has been a crowd in the crease for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Both Poulin and Nilsson had been playing so well that there was simply not enough room for Koskinen, choosing him to opt for overseas play.
On this edition of the prospect report I will take a look at two Islanders goaltending prospects in the Islanders system and see where they could fit in with the team in the future. I will look at Mikko Koskinen and Cody Rosen, two goaltender prospects that are fighting for a spot in an already crowded Islanders crease.
Mikko Koskinen is a goalie prospect most Islanders fan are familiar with because he has already made his Islanders debut last season. He was drafted in the 2nd round (31st Overall) in the 2009 entry draft. The big Finnish goalie (6’-7” tall) is currently playing in the Finnish Elite League for KalPa. He was assigned to the league after the start of the current season when it was decided that having three goaltenders in Bridgeport was not a good plan for their development. His stats so far this season aren’t bad as he has currently played in 15 games, winning 8 of them with a 1.92 goals against average. These are very good stat for playing in a very good European league.
For any team to be successful there must be contributions by everyone and The Bridgeport Sound Tigers recent winning streak of eight games proves just that. During their eifght game run (one short of the franchise record) thirteen different players have scored a goal (fourteen if you count Scott Howes shootout goal).
Thirteen different players in eight games - impressive. By comparison, the Islanders have seen 17 players score in 46 games and two Sound Tigers (Ullstrom and Reese) are among the seventeen. With everyone contributing it is probably a disservice to select three stars but as that is the tradition I humbly offer mine.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers and their fans had little to celebrate on New Years Eve, other than “Thank God that month is over”. Having gone one win in twelve December games, the only bright spot was that the win came against our in-state rival, the Hartford ‘Whale Pack’. 2012 had to be better, and it has been.
Invited by Rob McGowan, I was given the opportunity to join The Checking Line – Isles Edition as a writer covering The Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Bridgeport has not lost a game since.