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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Isles Hang On in Atlanta Thriller

Islanders 5: Thrashers 4

If you're anything like me, you probably scratched your head a little at the line changes reported on the Islanders roster in last night's pregame. Mike Comrie on wing with Weight and Guerin? And what's more- Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, the two youngsters, together on the same line? Was this going to work?

Answer- yes and yes.

Comrie didn't get on the scoresheet, but he provided some great energy on the wing as well as effective backchecking, and as for the kids, Bailey and Okposo connected for two goals (both by KO), as the Islanders hung on for dear life against the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4. I say hung on because this turned from a 4-0 cakewalk into a 4-3 dogfight, and it didn't get any easier for Yann Danis or the rest of the Isles in the closing minutes.

The Islanders burst out of the gates in perhaps the best first period of their season, scoring four goals- first newly-returned Trent Hunter 55 seconds in (that cut hand seems to be all better now), then Okposo's first, then a lucky one by Tim Jackman that goaltender Kari Lehtonen let completely escape him, and finally a goal by another returned player, Doug Weight. Weight's eighth of the year signaled the end of the night for a seriously embattled Lehtonen, and Johan Hedberg replaced him. Hedberg did significantly better, only allowing one goal for the rest of the night.

As good as the Isles were in that period, that was how bad the Atlanta Thrashers were, particularly on defense and in goal. Although he certainly wasn't getting any help from the D, which was very sluggish on the backcheck, Lehtonen himself was not in tip-top shape in his first start of the season against New York- he was playing very loose, lost position quite a few times, and had trouble tracking the puck as well as handling it. Thus, he had an early goodnight.

The second period saw no scoring, but a parade to the penalty box, as there was plenty of clutching, roughing and interference. Jackman had seven PIM total, including five for fighting with Chris Thorburn. The Islanders maintained their lead and their dominance, however, keeping pressure off of Yann Danis, although he did make some good saves. The Thrashers also made it very easy for the Isles to clear the puck and move back into the offensive zone. Their offense didn't show up until the third period, in which youngster Zach Bogosian started off 26 seconds in to cut the lead to 4-1. Then a bad penalty by Bill Guerin put the Thrashers on the power play, and go figure! The PP that had gone scoreless in five games struck paydirt here, as Rich Peverley, only recently picked up to center Ilya Kovalchuk, cut the lead in half. Before anyone knew it, 8:36 had gone by, and what had been a 4-0 lead was now 4-3, with a flukey goal by Marty Reasoner. The momentum had clearly shifted in favor of the home team, and no doubt Isles fans were cringing at the thought of another complete collapse in the final minutes. But luck and hard work prevailed.

A miss by Peverley on the next shot (thank Radek Martinek for getting just enough to deflect the puck) sent the Isles on the rush, and wonderful work by the Comeau-Bailey-Okposo line resulted in Okposo's second of the game and ninth of the year. (You have to love how good the future looked last night.) It was KO's first multi-goal game of his career, and his goal became the game-winner after Kovalchuk scored his 21st with about 90 seconds to go. The win snapped the Isles' 14-game road losing streak and gave them their second win in a row (they have been 2-0-1 in three games).

A relief? Perhaps, if you're not one of the many people who believe too many wins in a row will shatter their hopes of getting John Tavares in the 2009 NHL Draft. As it is, the Isles have a shot of winning their next three as well- against Florida at home, Tampa, and then Florida again on the road. Nothing is certain, but there is a chance of February looking a little brighter for the Islanders.

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