There are just 12 hours left in the Bridgeport Sound Tigers regular season. Twelve hours where each twenty-minute period will be played with intensity. In my most recent post, I stated that I did not expect the team to return to the arena on Monday March 25th in first place, and they won’t. Did I expect them to lose each of the last five games? I did not, but it happened. Is the team out of the hunt for a divisional title? Not by a long shot.
In a late night tweet following Wednesday’s shut out loss to the Binghamton Senators, Rhett Rakhshani posted “Tough stretch for the tigers. Sometimes you learn and grow the most from the tough times. We will turn this ship around!”. While the ‘boat’ reference brings to mind Captain Ahab’s Peqoud sunk by a Connecticut Whale, the Titanic destroyed by the St. Johns Ice Caps or Captain Quint’s boat Orca devoured by a Worcester Shark in the movie ’Jaws’, I share his optimism.
The team is missing some weapons at the moment. Call-ups, injuries and a suspension will keep David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, Jeremy Colliton and Michael Haley from lighting the goal light for a bit longer. Led by Rakhshani and a net crashing Justin DiBenedetto (pictured/Photo by Pope Steve XXLIV) there are plenty of weapons left in the arsenal and new ones arriving almost daily.
I have said that I believe it would be better for the Islanders to finish between 10th and 12th place in the Eastern Conference as opposed to going the 'Fail for Nail' route and trying to get a top-five lottery pick for this summer's 2012 Entry Draft. But if the season ended today, the Isles would go into the lottery with the fifth pick in the draft. Although that is the least likely position to be in when hoping to move up to number one, the Islanders are almost guaranteed to at least have a selection in this year's top 10 class.
With the playoff picture painting itself out on a permanent canvas over the next two weeks, let's put ourselves in the shoes of some NHL scouts and take a quick glance at what the Islanders will be looking at in between game 82 and draft day.
Nail Yakupov is the clear choice for first overall, having a lot of Alexander Ovechkin comparisons made about his play. After Nail comes Mikhail Grigorenko, who has often been compared to Evgeni Malkin. Both of these Russian prospects will probably be out of the Islanders grasp barring a significant change on the day of the lottery. After these two goal-scoring forwards lie plenty of top-rated defenseman.
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.
Some twenty-five years before the Bridgeport Sound Tigers became a team I, and many others enjoyed the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is one memorable scene in that movie that represents this years’ team showing their heart and determination to win.
In the film, King Arthur (Jack Capuano) is travelling through a forest when he enters a clearing and observes a fight taking place between a Black Knight (The Sound Tigers) and a Green Knight (insert team) by a bridge over a small stream. Arthur congratulates the Black Knight for his victory and offers him a place at Arthur's round table ,but the Black Knight only stands still, holding his sword, and makes no response until Arthur moves to cross the bridge. The Black Knight then refuses to stand aside. Reluctantly, Arthur fights the Black Knight and, after a short battle, the Knight's left arm (David Ullstrom) is severed.
It's still a long shot, but the Islanders have pulled themselves back into playoff conversations with a 1-0 win yesterday over the New Jersey Devils that has put them within five points of the last spot in the Eastern Conference. But even so, there are plenty of questions that surround the New York Islanders hockey club, ranging from the uncertain future of the arena to whether or not Tim Horton's will ever return to the concession stands. The most important questions, the ones that impact the immediate future, are the ones that need to be answered first; GM Garth Snow has to figure out where certain players will fit on his roster as the rebuild pushes forward.
I've already talked about the possibility of Evgeni Nabokov re-signing with the Islanders, as well as teammate P.A. Parenteau returning in an orange and blue sweater. But Snow will have to take a long look at some of his current regulars and decide where they fit with the team long term as some young, fresh faces are pushing for NHL jobs.
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.
Rick Nash won't be donning an Islanders jersey tomorrow night; the Islanders didn't get a first round pick for Evgeni Nabokov and/or P.A. Parenteau; Al Montoya will still be on the bench to back up the Islanders number one goaltender; and the defensive play of Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios will still be seen for the rest of the season.
Staios, despite popular reports from a fake twitter account, was not dealt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 6th round draft pick.
BUT Garth Snow did manage to rid himself of the putrid play of Brian Rolston and the defensive relapses of Mike Mottau. Both were sent packing to the Boston Bruins for a couple of prospects; Yanick Riendeau and Marc Cantin.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have just completed their worst weekend of the year. Playing the second of two consecutive three (games) in three (nights) series, they were only able to capture 5 of the 6 points available. The one point missed occurred on Friday night in a game won by the Springfield Falcons in the 7th round of a shoot-out.
The team returned home to the Webster Bank Arena on Saturday for the 2nd game of the 3 in 3 weekend and through 15 minutes of the second period looked nothing like themselves. Poulin in goal was not having his best night. Snipers Ullstrom and Cizikas were playing in the National League and Rhett Rakhshani was still out injured. Tomas Marcinko was also unavailable serving the 2nd game of his 3 game suspension and the team was losing 0-3 with five minutes left in the second period. But there are four lines in hockey and winning teams get production from all four.
The stage was set for an emotional carry over into Saturday morning regardless of the outcome of Friday night's Islanders/Rangers game; a win for the Isles against their biggest rival and top team in the Eastern Conference would keep their playoff hopes alive, but a loss to their number one foe would have been a crushing blow to their confidence and chances.
Fortunately, the orange and blue would come on top with a 4-3 shootout victory with Matt Moulson netting the finally tally in the fourth round.
Tensions were high at the start of the game and Matt Martin decided to ease things up a bit by fighting Stu Bickel just over two minutes into the game. Both got their licks in before Martin swung and missed, falling to the ice to end the fight early. A fair draw would set the tone for how evenly the game would be played.
The New York Islanders went from potential playoff contenders to looking towards next season within 48 hours earlier this week.
Having the best team in the Eastern Conference coming into your building after being shutout in their last game, isn’t what the doctor ordered.
After two terrible performances against Ottawa and Buffalo on Monday and Tuesday, the Islanders welcome in their cross-river rivals the New York Rangers on Friday Night.
The Rangers are leading the Eastern Conference with 81 points, 7 points ahead of both New Jersey and Boston. They travel to Long Island after being blanked by the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 on Tuesday night. Henrik Lundqvist continued his stellar play making 29 saves in the losing effort. After an 8-1-1 stretch, the Rangers have lost two of their last three games.