PITTSBURGH, PA– The 1 point separating the Islanders from the final playoff spot might as well be 10, if for nothing more than because it’s never enough just to earn the spot. You have to keep it, too.
So to reiterate what I’ve said in my previous two posts: forget the standings, resist taunting other teams and fans for now. The Islanders haven’t achieved anything. And no, don’t think playoffs now or a month from now. Just hope our beloved Islanders prove to be as ornery as they have been this past week, ripping a page out from other Eastern teams’ playbooks like the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The wonderful fact about our Conference, well this truncated season really, is the lack of point disparity among the teams inhabiting their respective divisions, for it affords any club the chance to dream big. And that’s the ‘biggest’ trap of all.
And it is the aforementioned fact where the ‘rub lieth’ for the Islanders and Isles fans alike: this squad isn’t built for the post-season, at present. It’s hardly built for the regular one, honestly. So open your eyes and ears.
Again, when the middle two lines show consistency, identity, and fortitude, then will I join all of you in dreaming of the playoffs, spew my typical ‘Rangers are this’ the ‘Devils are that’ nonsense, or ‘we have a chance to make a serious run’ blah blah blah. No. The Rangers and Bruins are built for the post-season, and if you deny that fact you need your head examined.
(Listen: if we had another John Tavares, then all would be well. The Rangers have a Tavares-like player, his name is Ryan Callahan, not so much in scoring prowess but in every other department you can hope for. And the Rangers have Rick Nash. We don’t have a Rick Nash. Hello, people. Like it or not, he’s a badass. I hate liking him, but I love hockey more. So, kudos to the Rangers for trying to buy another cup. And I love watching Nash play. Also, are we going to forget that our owner doesn’t know a hockey stick from a handsaw? More on this in June. Ha.)
And don’t you dare accuse me of pessimism. Here’s my point: How would you characterize John Tavares’s line? A legitimate threat? A proven scoring line? Okay, so there’s that line’s identity: The Scoring line. Good.
Now, how would you characterize the 4th line? The Energy line, right? Or the Checking line, or any variations therein. But they too have an solidified identity wouldn’t you agree?
The PK unit is the…well…the PK unit. Their identity is already predetermined and thus their duties, as well; the PP, although categorized as one of the league’s better units, still has issues to resolve. But for the most part, there’s an identity there, as well.
Now, characterize, if you will, lines 2 and 3? Go ahead? The “can’t win a faceoff” line? The “can’t get through the Neutral Zone cleanly” line? The “I’m going to take bad penalties late in the game” line? The “Marty Reasoner” line? The “Michael Grabner should be on this or that or wait this” line? You follow?
Take a page from JT’s book, since we’re on the topic of how a team like the Isles should maintain their composure, deficiencies in tow (then take one from the Capitals of yesterday afternoon in a minute): When asked about how he felt regarding his 100th goal, an astonished JT answered: “Really? Oh wow” and then brought the conversation back to the team. If you think he was being modest or disingenuous, you’re not an Isles fan. Simple as that. No one who plays in the manner that JT does cares about his own record. No way in Hell. Compare him to Alex Rodriguez and you’ll see what I mean. Polar opposites, you say? Here’s Earth. There’s Pluto. Figure it out.
Okay, forget baseball comparisons for a minute. Referring back to the Capitals then: Who would you rather have on your team right now: Tavares or Ovechkin? Not today’s Ovechkin, but THE Ovechkin of the past. A bit more difficult a choice, I know, because AO has played longer, etc etc. But, AO isn’t a proven leader, and he’s never played like one. That fact is now more noticeable than ever simply by looking at his puck management skills. He reminds me of Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks: great scorers but not great players and/or leaders. There’s a big difference.
Give me a John Tavares in any sport, surround him with decent and consistent talent and then check up on said team in five to seven years to see if they haven’t already made the post-season three or four times, or better yet won a championship.
The Islanders just need to play hockey. Just put on your skates. Quit the dreaming and just skate, hit, hustle, pass, shoot, score.
And as fans, we need to enjoy, yes E-N-J-O-Y, this awesome roller-coaster ride. Don’t think playoffs. Just meditate upon the fact that John Tavares is on our team playing the best hockey of his life and he’s only 22! He’s on a team still searching for itself and yet has already scored 100 goals.
Think about the fact that he rarely complains, thanks his fans, and scores, hustles, bleeds and sweats Blue and Orange. Now that’s a hockey player. That’s all I could ever ask of him and this club. Play your goddamn ass off.
So, Go Isles! Beat the Penguins. And if not, beat the Bolts. And if not, beat the Panthers. But whatever you do, don’t lay down.
Follow Rich Diaz, if you think he’s worth your time, @eyesonisles