In spite of a 5-3 record there’s been sluggish play to start the year for the New York Islanders, but for all the fan frustration and complaining there is something beautiful about winning the way the Isles do.
A win is a win. You’ve heard it for eons in sports and, while cliché, it’s still darn true. An ugly win or a pretty win count for two points. A squeaked out win or a breeze of a win also still counts for two. The New York Islanders don’t earn many pretty or breezy victories, but, for the last season plus they’ve just been winning ugly quite often.
We all remember the predictions of futility last year. Even an optimistic fan like me expected an overachieving, hard-working team, but not quite a team who sat in first place in the Metro for a large portion of the season.
And this season the Isles led the pack in the number of “which team will regress this year?” articles written by hockey pundits.
For me, something does feel different from last year. Maybe it was the ‘no expectations to be good’ approach to last year while we’re entering this year as fans with a high expectation of similar results.
Did we let a little hope sneak into the Isles’ faithful?
There was something blue-collar and intense about last year’s team playing a “don’t let them score” strategy, but this year so far seems a bit disjointed and you’ve probably found yourself arguing with the TV more than last year (or the laptop screen for some of us). I have, but I wasn’t sure why.
It’s because I forgot to appreciate the beauty of winning ugly.
The sample size is too small to look at statistics. When you’re only eight games in you can’t responsibly extrapolate 10x. I’m not looking at statistics here, but about stepping back and looking at who this team is, who they always were since last July.
The Isles are 5-3. They’ve won four in a row.
Their power play looks better but to the detriment of even-strength play. The team defense has room to improve to return to last year’s form. The intensity wanes frequently and pops up in spurts (mostly at the end of the game).
But there is consistency from last year.
A handful of players are off to great starts. Goaltending is taking form. Ladd is nowhere to be found. Trotz is asserting himself more than usual. Young players are finally getting chances (Wahlstrom, Dobson) and taking confident leadership roles (Pulock, Pelech, Toews, Mayfield, Barzal, Beauvillier, Dal Colle).
The preseason energized the fanbase and gave us even more to be hopeful about in the years to come.
Lou’s plan seems to be unfolding.
Built for the Playoffs
Being dominated by a Blue Jackets team this week for a majority of the game that had its roster decimated in the offseason is discouraging, but having a coach who recognized it and a team that piped up when it was challenged are encouraging signs.
These are the signs of a team that doesn’t need to have everything go their way to win (can anyone remember a game that has gone their way from start to finish?). Just look at the Lightning last year. It was too easy and the moment they faced a challenge to who they were and how they succeeded, they folded.
I’ll take 82 ugly games and a playoff birth any day. I might be an outlier and a glutton for punishment, but with the frustration and all-too-frequent disoriented stretches of play come the moments where they wake up and get it together and manage to pull it off in truly 2019 Isles fashion.
If It Works, It Works
Lou said it best a few weeks back – “I’m one who doesn’t worry about scoring. All I worry about is goal differential. If we score two goals every night and give up one, I’m not worried about scoring.”
Personally, I’m one who doesn’t worry about too much about statistics. They tell a story, certainly, and can’t be ignored, but they don’t tell you the final score. They can uncover trends and tendencies, but can also be misleading.
When the name of the game is scoring more goals than your opponent – or in the Isles’ case holding them to fewer goals than you can scrape together – you win.
The Isles were third-to-last in both power play and faceoff percentages last year and yet made the playoffs and swept a perennial winner in the Penguins. That’s not how you draw it up. Ever.
Those stats don’t add up to wins, but they can add up to ugly wins if you do other things right.
It’s ugly, and frustrating, and even at times boring, but it’s Islander hockey and it’s winning hockey. Next time you want to scream at the TV, save your breath – this is the new norm. Let’s appreciate the beauty of winning ugly because for a long time it was just plain ugly.