Tuesday, November 25, 2014


The Islanders schedule was well packed in the days since the last post.  Back-to-back games that were part of two home-and-home series made for an interesting, rivalry-building week.  Four of the six games were against two of the top teams in the conference, which gave fans and writers plenty of fuel to feed the "Are the Islanders for real?" narrative.  Seemed these games would give that question a definitive answer.

The Isles were able to defeat the struggling Florida Panthers, but it took a shootout to do so.  The next night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they played decent in front of backup goalie Chad Johnson, but couldn't offset the fatigue and some of Johnson's mistakes.  The team was noticeably tired by the second half of the game.  After watching them win five in a row, I was content to let the loss be what it was.

Take note of this reaction going forward.

Once they returned home and rested (and were in front of their starting goalie), the Isles welcomed Tampa to Long Island and returned to the level of play they'd been consistently achieving.  It was an interesting two games that were nearly mirror-images of each other.  The first game in Tampa, with the Isles on the second part of a road back-to-back, was a tough slog for New York.  They couldn't keep up and gave up goals as the game went on.  When the Lightning arrived at Nassau Coliseum, they were on the second part of their own road back-to-back, having played the Rangers at MSG the night before.  Tampa Bay was able to produce a competitive first period, but couldn't keep up much after that (just as happened to the Isles).  The win was enjoyable (as they all are), but in a different way than I'm personally used to.  The team had just won 5 in a row before losing that final road game.  Isles fans never take losing streaks of more than one game lightly, but as clock wound down on the home win, I wasn't as "high" on it as I'd been after other recent games.  I wondered why and discovered I cared more about the upcoming games against the Pittsburgh Penguins than I did about the Lightning games.  I expected they would play well when they returned home and they did.  My expectations have been reset with this team.  The Tuesday game at home against Tampa was my first tangible reaction to that.

Before the Tampa game started I knew that any loss wouldn't be taken well by the fanbase, but a win wouldn't really register with the hockey world, either.  Playing and competing with the elite Penguins in a home-and-home would.  I wanted that to happen more than a victory against Tampa.  My selfish desire to listen to and read the hockey web-verse raining praise upon my Islanders was turned up to 11 in the days before the first game in Pittsburgh.  I was Veruca Salt walking through this wonderful chocolate factory the Isles had built for us fans.

So of course there I was around 10:30pm on Saturday night, after the Isles had not only competed with, but twice defeated those powerful Penguins, soaking in Twitter timelines and game recaps as if they were my golden goose.  It was a much stronger feeling than what I felt earlier in the year after other wins.  Don't get me wrong, those wins were all fun to experience and I enjoyed the hell out of reading and hearing media folks giving the Isles a nice pat on the back.  However, these victories against Pittsburgh were perception-shifting events.  It wasn't just that the hockey media was giving the Islanders a nice round of applause, they were standing and demanding people start taking notice.  They'd become our bullhorn, amplifying the cheers of the Islander faithful.

By Monday, weekly power rankings had started to trickle out.  Strange things were afoot.  ESPN and The Hockey News both placed the Islanders at the top.  A number of other sites had them in their top 5, with specific mentions of the team's rise.  It was a fun day but the Isles had to play their next game Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.  In seasons past, an Islander winning streak was appreciated, but usually handled with plenty of caution.  When certain teams arrived during a good run, it became a foregone conclusion that the fun was about to end.  Historically, the Flyers were one of those teams.

The odd psychology of this season is why I'm writing this blog.  I'm wrestling with conflicting emotions and trying to understand them on a weekly basis.  Before the game, I was a bit sad actually.  It was a classic stopper game.  I don't think my brain had quite allowed for those gaps in hope to fully close, even subconsciously.  I didn't feel like I had enough time to enjoy the spotlight that was shining so brightly on the team.  As the game started and it again became apparent that the Islanders were playing very well, emotions shifted again.

"They are destroying the Flyers right now.  Steve Mason is having one of those epic goalie nights that happen sometimes so they haven't scored.  But this game isn't even close."

This was the first game in which I felt satisfied with the team losing.  I realize how trite and cliche that sounds.  I've said that many times before during the dark days of previous seasons, when the little positives during losing efforts were all I had to work with.

Fact is, when I thought or said that I was totally, completely lying.  Every time.

Even after the aforementioned game in Tampa, I was content but still disappointed.  I understood why they lost and accepted it.  That is different than being satisfied with it.  With this Philly game, it wasn't just that they played well enough to win.  That's happened plenty of times.  Even when they were the worst team in the league, they'd lose games where they competed and outplayed better opponents.  It's that now they are the better team.  They're not the inferior roster that has to hope the other team plays terribly.  Or that a puck bounces one way instead of the other.  Or that their goalie stands on his head to give them a chance to steal a game.  This time, it was the Flyers who were that team.

That's why I could say, for the first time truthfully to myself, that I was satisfied if they'd lost that shootout.  The New York Islanders have flipped the equation.


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