Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Suck it, Tom Petty

Fans of the New York Islanders are fragile.  We have yet to fully shed our cocoon of worry even though this year's team has remained one of the most consistent in the league.  Well, at least they were up until the loss to the Rangers.  That game marked the start of their worst stretch of the year.  A stretch that resulted in a record of 1-6-1 over the next eight games.  Luckily, the team was able to win a wild back-and-forth game against the Detroit Red Wings and avoid finishing the month of March on a serious downer.

Let's reset for a second.  The Islanders are still one of the more consistent teams in the league.  As I wrote previously, this was the frustrating part to the losing streak.  Even though the wins weren't there, the team played some very good hockey.  The Isles had their share of issues - you don't lose that often without some things going wrong - but the biggest factor in the outcomes of the games was usually the opposing goalie.  After running into Andrew Hammond and Carey Price (and playing terribly in Chicago) they were Dubnyk'd (Minnesota), Quick'd (Los Angeles) and (surprisingly) Andersen'd (Anaheim) over three straight games.  The Islanders had plenty of opportunities and carried play for long stretches in each of those games.  Prior to the game against the Anaheim Ducks, Michael Willhoft wrote a nice post over at Lighthouse Hockey that hopefully gave some much needed perspective to all the cracking Isles fans.  I know it helped me.

When they were finally able to break their scoring slump and win a game, the sigh of relief from the fanbase was palpable.  Obviously, getting back in the win column was paramount, but the Red Wings game also marked a break in the schedule.  The Islanders had played a high number of games until this current three day respite.  Whenever I looked at the standings I would enjoy the Isles' place amonst the top teams and the optimism would swell accordingly.  Then I'd notice the games played column and all those warm and fuzzies would be taken away from me.

I had long ago surrendered the division title to those annoying New York Rangers because they had played roughly 328 less games than the Isles at any given point in the season.  Accepting this allowed me to build the required apathy to counter any Ranger fan preening as the season wound down.  It also eliminated some of the excitement for the final five games.  Sure, there's still home ice advantage - which I've been pining for all year.  But as Brian Erni wrote on Islanders Point Blank, having the extra home game is really nice, but not a huge factor.  The penultimate game against the Pittsburgh Penguins should be real fun, but other than that we've been reduced to hoping no one important gets injured before the playoffs.

Choosing not to worry too much over being the higher seed and the team a virtual lock to make the postseason, it really leaves us fans with nothing to do but wait.

The irony of the situation is that we Isles fans are used to sitting around at the end of the season, twiddling our thumbs and watching the team play out the string.  Difference is we've usually been waiting for the draft lottery.  Interestingly, I've gravitated towards the many annual draft lottery articles (and tanking debates).  Reading about percentages and draft order scenarios feels like home.

But we've moved to some new digs.  So now what?  Instead of worrying about which ping pong ball comes out first, I'm worrying about John Tavares going too hard to the net or Jaroslav Halak stretching too far to make that extra save against the lowly Buffalo Sabres this coming Saturday.  I need to wear loose pants while watching Nick Leddy carry the puck through the neutral zone, but that thrill will be gone right quick if I see him being lined up for a hip-check by an opposing defender.  I will instead assume the hope-and-pray position on my floor.

Maybe I need a personal scratch.  Not unlike the veterans on the team being giving a game (or two...or three) off by head coach Jack Capuano.  My sanity might need to go a couple of games without turning on the TV.  I'm not sure spending all game wincing at each bodycheck thrown on an Islander player is healthy for me.

After all that's happened this year, through all the ups and downs (mostly ups) and cheering and jeering, it seems the waiting really is the hardest part.  Damn you, Tom Petty.


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