FRIDAY OVERRATED, GRABNER ANYTHING BUTMario rips…Wang anti-fighting? NYI 7 Buffalo 6 (OT)

6:00 pm: Prior to this season, when the Islanders finally inserted frequent fighters Trevor Gillies and Zenon Konopka into the lineup from the start, the Islanders rarely had a consistent tough presence for the better part of three seasons. (Joel Rechlicz, anybody?) On Saturday, former NHL defenseman Aaron Ward revealed that the Islanders had been pushing an anti-fighting agenda.

The veteran of 838 NHL games and Doug Weight’s teammate on the 205-06 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, Ward retired last season and is now an analyst with TSN, VERSUS and the Big Ten Network.

Ward wrote the following on Twitter on Saturday morning:

Ironic that a team owned by Charles Wang involved in incident like this. Known amongst players in the past and confirmed by source: he’s had a “get fighting out of hockey” mandate. What position are we taking now?

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In their 55th game of a season in which they appear destined to finish for the fourth straight year with one of the five-worst records in the NHL, the Islanders successfully exacted revenge against the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins. They beat the Crosby and Malkin-less Penguins, 9-3, and engaged in several fights. Call-up Micheal Haley, buried in Bridgeport the entire season, could not have given more to the cause, scoring a goal, beating up Max Talbot and fighting Brent Johnson – who knocked out Rick DiPietro a week earlier – before Penguins enforcer Eric Godard left the bench to stand up for his goaltender. As written here on Friday, the night was a haven in an awful season, the best day of the year for a downtrodden fanbase.

But somehow one win, a few scraps, two suspensions and one big league-imposed fine are now a defining moment in franchise history. The tide has turned for the Islanders? A defining moment? Sign of a change in culture? Or today from Howie Rose: “The restoration of Islander pride”?

My apologies to the faithful in Islanders Country who continue to check out this blog and view the SNY interviews in stunning numbers. I’m sorry, but my bar is a lot higher than one crazy night at the old barn two-thirds into a fourth straight lost season.

The Islanders should be able to get better and regain credibility soon, perhaps as early as next season. It only counts, however, when they do it from beginning to end for an entire season and beyond.

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Mario Lemieux’s statement in reaction to the fines and suspensions handed out to the Islanders:

Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that. The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action. If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

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Larry Brooks wrote today in the New York Post that the plight of the Mets owners eliminates the Queens option and dooms the Islanders:

It’s a doomsday scenario for the Islanders, and a nightmare for their fans, who have four years in front of them to watch the sand run through the hourglass, and will have to decide whether it’s worth it to buy tickets and help defray the cost of developing John Tavares and all these draft choices, when another fan base will reap the rewards.

 
Four years from the expiration of the lease, and with so much that can change with Islanders ownership, on-ice performance and politics, it would seem a little early for doomsday scenarios or anything definitive. Then again, any influential writer bringing attention to the Islanders’ plight in Nassau County is a good thing.

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The most important story surrounding the Islanders is not about Ferocious Friday, but about the emergence of Michael Grabner as an offensive star. Grabner had a hat trick, including the game-winner in overtime, as the Islanders defeated the Sabres in Buffalo 7-6. Grabner now has 24 goals – nine more than anyone on the Florida Panthers, who waived him during training camp.

In a crazy, crazy season, Grabner’s surprising rise has been the most incredible development of all of them. Heading into this season, one of the questions with the Islanders was about the numbers that youngsters Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey would post in their contract years. Who would have thought it would be a good problem to have to reward Grabner for a fabulous rookie season?

Comments on all of this are welcomed.