The Islanders' victory in St. Louis on Saturday night showed why Doug Weight is the right coach for this team, and why his club will qualify for this season's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The win was the second time in the last few weeks that the Islanders rebounded well from flat performances. The first was on Oct. 28, when Weight's team blew out the Cup-finalist Predators in Nashville after a bad game in Minnesota two nights earlier. Beating the Blues the night after the Islanders stunk in Dallas showed something. As lost as they looked against the Stars, they found their game at the start in St. Louis.
That's not easy to do.
As always, credit goes to the players first. But Weight and his staff pushed the right buttons, starting with the head coach challenging the heart of his team in his postgame interviews after the Dallas debacle. That was really good. Weight was pissed and he let it show. He knew he had very little time, and no practices to fix whatever broke in Dallas in time to face the Predators.
When a team plays back-to-back on the road, they fly immediately (in this case) from Dallas to St. Louis and limp into their hotel very late at night. Besides a team lunch, all that usually takes place is a video session and meeting at the hotel - sometimes at the arena. Either way, there's not a lot of preparation. In all likelihood, Islanders coaches did not dwell on the mistakes against the Stars, but the opportunity to put that loss behind them 24 hours later.
Although it is not an advantage when you are playing the second game of back-to-backs, most NHL scouts believe your best period is likely to be the first period. That's when your legs still have something left and the opponent is just getting loose.
The Islanders played a classic let's-get-our-balls-back first period in St. Louis. Weight and staff did their part, but it also doesn't happen without the veteran leadership [hockey cliche alert!] "in the room."
Now they need to limit the lie-downs like the ones in Minnesota and Dallas. And not drop a home game like Thursday's against Carolina before they meet up with the varsity, Tampa Bay.
Today's Tweeted Questions
@MSchwarz8 asked, Mathew Barzal is the most exciting Isles rookie since ___________?
I'd love to come up with a clever answer for you, Mike, but Barzal is the most exciting Islanders rookie since John Tavares. The negative to this is that some former prospects were either mishandled (Nino Niederreiter), never too great to begin with (Griffin Reinhart), forever straddling the line between brilliance and Bridgeport (Josh Ho-Sang) or who-knows-what-went-wrong there? (Ryan Strome and fill in anyone else who frustrated you).
But when it comes to Barzal, cynicism subsides. I don't know what his ultimate upside is (here's my monthly qualifier that I'm not a scout, don't do analysis, skate like Trent Hunter). That said, Barzal is a gem, a keeper, a young man with the right attitude, and a versatile set of skills. His five-assist night came the game before, but when I was at the Barc last Tuesday for Edmonton, Barzal had me and my section out of our seats four or five times. Dude, I'm getting so old, I don't always stand when Bruce plays "Born to Run."
Now comes the challenging part for Barzal. You post a big number like FIVE assists, and you're no longer the "pretty good young player" that the Lightning scouts and video coach will tell Jon Cooper to monitor Saturday in Tampa. Barzal has come so far so quickly, especially with this "Hey kid, you carry the puck from our blueline to their goal" strategy, opposing teams are now game-planning against him.
And that's a wonderful thing for the Islanders, because he doesn't play on the same line as the most exciting Islanders prospect since him.
@DENZO812 asked, "What is the fallback plan if Belmont does not get approved?
This gets asked a lot. Do you really think there's some great fallback plan out there? After all these decades of Howard Millstein and "pigs at the trough" and Charles Wang and "Paris Has Her Tower," you believe the Islanders still have a bunch of other options in this region? They do not.
The focus is on Elmont because 1) that's where it should be and 2) it's really all there is. We've been hearing about the Citi Field and Willets Point Project for almost as long as we've heard about the Nassau Hub. Suffolk County has never seemed like an option, and if it ever was, you sure hope somebody would have brought up a genuinely realistic site in the last quarter-century.
If you care about keeping the Islanders here, give your support to Jon Ledecky, Scott Malkin, and anyone else involved in the RFP for Belmont. When Milstein didn't get his way with Nassau, Milbury waved me over to tell me he had to slash the payroll to at least $15 milion and preferably $5 million. When the Lighthouse, and then, the public vote for a new Nassau arena failed, Wang took the best deal he could get, in a basketball arena in Brooklyn.
Ledecky and Malkin insist they are all about keeping the Islanders in this area, and I believe them. But if the door closes on Belmont for some reason in 2018, I don't have any idea where they would go from there…and I don't believe they do either. At least not in New York.