If you are an Islanders fan searching for a reason to be interested in this season's remaining games, coach Scott Gordon has given you a dandy. By hitching Josh Bailey to Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo, Gordon is maxing out your chances for excitement the rest of the way.
The youth brigade should be energized by relying solely on each other. Putting this line together signals that it's really their time now. Okposo, in particular, looks so confident now, even on the penalty kill. It's almost hard to believe that he played only 14:08 in tonight's 5-4 win at Atlanta. It seemed like he was out there every other shift.
One difficulty that could surface for the Comeau-Bailey-Okposo line is a failure to have the puck. If Bailey doesn't continue to improve on face offs (he won five of nine tonight—a good result), the line will waste precious seconds of its shifts forechecking and playing defense. Obviously those duties are necessities and all three should aspire to be solid two-way players, but this line is together to produce offense.
That they did so in the first period of their first game together, on a skilled Bailey-to-Okposo conversion, gives Gordon all the evidence he needs to keep them together without worrying about them needing a veteran presence.
And what more could you ask for than all three players on the line working to create the goal that saved the Islanders from complete collapse after coughing up three-fourths of their four-goal lead in the third period?
For most of the third period the team played its best tentative, we-have-no-idea-what-to-do-here hockey. It was easy to wonder what had happened to the tenacity best exemplified by Okposo's play in the first period.
Then Comeau made that chip-dump into the corner, and you could just tell by the way he pursued the puck that there was still something left in the Islanders' tank. Comeau to Bailey to Okposo. Bang, 5-3, and the eventual game-winner.
Yes, the Atlanta defense was full of holes and starting goalie Kari Lehtonen looked like he was playing in roller skates. But when that happens, a team has to pounce. And the Islanders did. When Lehtonen dropped Andy Hilbert's harmless shot, Tim Jackman got to the net and put the puck across the line.
I love to see Islanders forwards show composure and be patient enough to score goals like Trent Hunter did to give the Islanders a lead just 55 seconds into the game. Too many times in the past, a forward would have let the goalie keep his angle and be rewarded with a harmless shot to the crest. Hunter made sure to hit the back of the net after not scoring in his previous 17 games.
The Islanders needed a game like this. Even if you're rooting fervently for them to cement their hold on 30th place, constant misery is no good for the fans, the players, or the organization. Neither is setting records for futility on the road.
So let them have this would-be-but-wasn't laugher and don't worry about the draft just yet. Remember, you don't know what the Islanders are going to do with that pick anyway. Maybe Luke wasn't the Schenn they wanted.
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