Thursday, November 6, 2014

Minority Report

The West Coast Trip Of Death began as it has for the last billion years: with the stench of fear dripping from fans' discussions of the upcoming games.  The home loss to the struggling Winnipeg Jets along with the spectre of the road trip had intensified the wave of pessimism to Roland Emmerich levels.  Once the Islanders went to San Jose and lost to the Sharks after being trounced by a suspect Colorado team, it confirmed everyone's fears and send the Islander fanverse over the edge.  With a three day break leading to the upcoming back-to-back against powerhouses Anaheim and LA, negativity festered quickly.

"Everything is wrong and this entire thing is a tire fire."

If I had placed a big bet at the start of the season on Islander fans wishing - no, craving - for the return of Josh Bailey to fix the team, I'd now be first in line to buy the Carolina Hurricanes.  Everyone had forgotten about all the moves GM Garth Snow made during the offseason and were again screaming for a top-line left wing to play with captain John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.  The head coach's hair gel was better at setting lines than he'd ever be and the team should just start conceding power play goals immediately so that they had more time to play terribly in the neutral zone at even strength.

According to internet Islander fans in the days following the San Jose loss, the following things needed to happen or all hope was lost:

Things The Islanders Must Take Away
  1. Jack Capuano
  2. Greg Cronin's Penalty Kill
  3. Cory Conacher
  4. Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Brian Strait
Things The Islanders Must Add
  1. Anything Not Jack Capuano
  2. Anything Not Greg Cronin's Penalty Kill
  3. Anything Not Cory Conacher
  4. Anything Not Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin or Brian Strait
As a fan trying to remain optimistic in the face of such a familiar situation, I retreated into posts written by authors/fans who share a similar level of (admittedly shaky) sanity.  Rob McGowan over at The Checking Line, garik at Islanders Analytics and Dan (with Dominik) at Lighthouse Hockey all made sure to do their best to rein in the growing despair.  As is my mission this year, I tried to stay positive.

"Even if they lose the next 2, It's going to be OK."

The first part of that statement makes believing the second part pretty difficult.  However, the reality was that losing to the Ducks and Kings and finishing the West Coast Trip Of Death with a 7-7 record - which would include defeating a shaky but capable Arizona team - would keep the Islanders in the thick of the division (if not still a bit ahead).  Their good start had provided some cushion.  Granted, this has happened in seasons past, but the trend has to break some time, right?  This team's PDO of winning in November is about 12, so the regression towards 1000 has to start some time. (Of the 4 people who will ever read this, only 0.5 of you will laugh at that).

So resigned to the fate of the team was I that I didn't plan on watching either game.  Staying up until 1:30am just to see them lose was not high on my Fun Things list.  Then the news broke that Anaheim was going to play the game with out top players Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (along with starting a backup goalie).  All of a sudden, I thought things might go alright for the Islanders.

And they started out pretty good.  John Tavares and Kyle Okposo both scored to put the team up two goals.  Jaroslav Halak was playing much better in net.  If I had to sum up the day from that morning up until that point, it was all like...

Until the Ducks did all their Duck stuff and crawled back into the game with two goals of their own.  As any Islander fan would've predicted, neither goal was really all that pretty.  Travis Hamonic broke his stick while killing a penalty.  Considering the state of the Islanders' PK unit, that's like putting a 3-legged dog on roller skates and asking it to play fetch.  Then right before the second period ended, Anaheim followed through on a crazy broken play in which every Islander tried to clear the puck, only to have it land in from of Emerson Etem, who just spun around and fired it past a screened and confused Halak.  Fluke plays and bad bounces should have a commemorative shoulder patch on Islander jerseys.  Suddenly, the kids were not alright.

In what was almost the most Islander-y Islander way of giving up a go-ahead goal, Hamonic slid into Halak in a failed attempt to do something resembling NHL defending and nearly put a rolling puck into his own net.  The ref motioned that it was a goal.  Hamonic was all like:

The goal was disallowed by the omnipotent folks in Toronto and us Islander fans took another swig of the half-empty bottle of alcohol we'd opened halfway through the 2nd.  #IslesTwitter - which is a rabbit hole every fan should visit once in their lives just for the sheer spectacle - was a mess.  Three days of festering pessimism and rage coupled with giving up a two-goal lead to a weakened opponent was fuelling Mt. St. Helens-level vitriol.  The game - and what was left of fans' sanity - was hanging by a thread.  For me, however, I chose to focus on how this year's team has shown that it's a new era.  I no longer expect third period collapses.  I let the optimism flow as the clock ticked down.  They made it to OT and were gifted power play by the fickle hockey gods (sometimes known as Tim Peel).  Then John Tavares did what John Tavares do.  And I went to bed exhausted and happy.

With the win last night, the Isles will be at worst 7-7 when they fly home.  Which I'd already accepted as good enough.  Even after so much losing it's still hard for most fans to accept mediocrity.  Up until this year, I probably wouldn't accept it either.  However, I've quickly learned there's a big difference in accepting a loss because the team simply isn't good enough and accepting a loss because you feel they are good enough to come back from it.  I'm still in the minority so far in learning that distinction.

Most of us saw that Arizona game and checked it off as a game they would need to win after a terrible California trip.  It is now a game that merely should win.  Maybe if they follow through on that it will help bring some fans over to the optimistic side.


Post a Comment