The New York Islanders embraced their past and gave hope of their future all in one night. Last night’s game saw the Isles honoring the greatest “Money goalie” of all time and Hall of Famer, Billy Smith before beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum had a playoff-like atmosphere that is now getting contagious as the place gets fuller by the day. The last time the Islanders celebrated an Islanders Legend, Al Arbour came back to coach one more game for his 1400th all time with the Isles and he beat, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Is this all part of a plan for the rest of the year?
The Islanders swept the home and home series from the Penguins, a sign that it is no longer going to be easy to win the Metropolitan Division. Players and media will emphasis that it’s still early in the season and they would be right, but that’s not a good sign for Pittsburgh. The New York Islanders are a young, hungry team who are just coming into their own with maturing players like Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome. Then you have players who are having a renaissance season like Josh Bailey & Nikolay Kulemin and players with bigger roles such as Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Has anyone seen Lubomir Visnovsky play in this many games in a row? Michael Grabners return is imminent, so the Islanders are now firing on all cylinders. So yes, it’s early, but that means the Islanders should only get better from here.
The Islanders love taking big steps at the Penguins expense. Their first step was when they got their pride back in a February 11, 2011 matchup that saw the Isles pummel the Penguins 9-3 in what many recall as “Fight Night.” That game saw the Islanders win the game by the second period, but it also saw a fight filled game, a flashback to the 70’s if you will, that saw more game misconducts and has not been repeated since. For many fans, it was the most complete game the Islanders had played since the rebuild and many consider that game to be the start of the turnaround for the organization.
The next big step in the growth of the Islanders came a year and a half ago during their first round matchup against the Penguins. The unproven Islanders took the Penguins to six games, a few going into overtime, before bowing out to the stringer Pens. Some believed the Isles had a real shot at taking the series, but it was certainly a learning experience for the players. It was also an experience for the players to witness just how incredibly intimidating it is for opponents to play in the Coliseum when it’s playoff season. Never had the Islanders players hear am “Old Barn” that loud before and for the first time, they had experienced playoff hockey on Long Island.
But last night, it looks like the Islanders have turned another corner. After beating Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center the night before, the Islanders once again had a playoff atmosphere in the crowd and a share of first place was at stake. The Billy Smith tribute day was all the Islanders fans needed to show up. Smith dropped the puck, and then the focused shifted to the Penguins. After trailing 1-0 like they did the night before, it was Matt Martin who got the Isles on the board and they never looked back. The Islanders, over a span of a full 60 minutes, just look like a team that’s playing desperate where the Penguins play like another day at the office. For the Islanders, this past weekend sent a clear message to the rest of the League that they are no longer the laughing stocks, tire fires and fish sticks. They have arrived, they’re not going away anytime soon, and they’re looking for first place.
Now I don’t know when the Islanders will honor another legend, but the Isles are 2-0 against the Penguins when they do. Nothing like honoring a legend and beating the Penguins in one night.