Early in the year, the Stars fell 7-5 in Long Island against an Islanders team that looked as formidable as any in the league. Ales Hemsky finally started looking slick and awesome, and the Stars came back from a 3-1 deficit to hold a momentary lead. It was like watching a cage full of frenzied gophers fighting over the last delicious piece of gopher food for 60 minutes. It was nothing like the Tuesday Islanders game, at least in terms of goals.
I've been hammering this point all year, but once more for posterity: the Islanders are basically what we wanted the Stars to be this season. And for all we know, their records would have been quite similar if Garth Snow hadn't been able to land two of the top possession defensemen in the NHL this season from Boston and Chicago. Kulemin and Grabovski were great pickups as well.
Rick "Goose" Gosselin has clearly been listening to the Stargazing podcast, as he totally lifted my Islanders shtick for his (good) article yesterday:
A year ago today, the New York Islanders sat in last place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 14th overall in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders were allowing more goals than they were scoring by a wide margin and steaming toward yet another non-playoff finish.
One year later, despite a 3-2 overtime loss to the Stars, the Islanders sit in first place of their division and second overall in the East with 85 points.
So overnight turnarounds are possible in the NHL — and that’s good news for a Stars team that has drifted into the abyss this winter.
Except that the Islanders’ overnight turnaround was actually years in the making. The "overnight" part came with the offseason acquisition of two low-profile forwards, two defensive defensemen and two goaltenders.
The "years in the making" part came at the draft table. Five of New York’s top seven scorers this season are former first-round draft picks by the Islanders. Leading scorer John Tavares was the first overall selection of the 2009 NHL draft.
The Islanders also have a former second-round pick and a third-rounder skating regular shifts, plus three former first-rounders and a second acquired from other NHL teams. That steady accumulation of talent has been evident this winter. The Islanders are suddenly a force in the NHL again.
"They’ve been picking in the top five for a while, so they’re seeing the maturing of some high-end players," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "We’re in different modes. They did it through the draft by being bad, bad, bad …
That's a lot of first-round talent right there. For all of the talk about how this year was a "step back" for the Stars, I think the team as it was built was always going to be tumultuous, capable of beating amazing teams and capable of of playing defense with the effectiveness of a screen door on an underwater sea lab. Unfortunately, the one thing the team figured they could rely on (Goaltending) decided to take a year off, and the struggles that otherwise might have provided a heart-attack-inducing-but-thrilling backdrop to another step forward for the team were instead magnified like an ant beneath a monocle.
This changed Jim Nill's plans.
John Klingberg, Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth were supposed to be this team’s defense of the future. Injuries and an horrific start to the season (9-12-5) forced Nill to pull the ripcord early, and all have been skating in Dallas this winter.
"Right now we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be," Nill said. "I knew we’d bring in these young defensemen — but I thought we’d be bringing them in about now. I thought we’d be moving the [Sergei] Gonchars at the [trade] deadline. We ended up doing all this in November."
Recent first-round picks Valeri Nichushkin, Radek Faksa, Justin Dickinson and Julius Honka figure in the future makeup of the roster. So do second-rounders Brett Ritchie, Devin Shore, Remi Elie and Philippe Desrosiers.[DMN]
So if that overtime win wasn't sustenance enough for the moment, take heart that what the Stars are trying to do has been done, is being done, and, perhaps, will be done this spring by a team playing in the oldest barn in the league.
The Islanders made the playoffs in 2012-2013, then missed them last year. Now they're battling for the top spot in the conference, all thanks to continued dominance from their forwards, better goaltending, and some high-quality acquisitions on defense. The Stars have taken a different path to their rebuild, but it certainly wouldn't be too surprising if they roared back with a vengeance next year, just as the Isles have done this year.
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If anyone knows a good way to recover from a high ankle sprain without eliciting sympathetic "oh no!" comments from coworkers as you limp down the hall, please fax me immediately. Thank you.
Matt Martin was suspended one game (or 1.95 games, if you count his ejection, which you should not) for kneeing Trevor Daley. What do you think about that supplemental discipline? I think the Stars have lost two players they rely on quite a bit for something like 8-10 weeks worth of time because of "reckless" hits, and the offending players will only miss a handful of games in total. That is frustrating.
If they remade That's So Raven and it starred Jordie Benn instead of Raven or whoever it was, then Mike Heika's piece on Jo. Benn would be sort of relevant. The headline would be, at least. Also, Jordie Benn claims he doesn't look at Corsi that much. [DMN]
Via Erin "Erin" Bolen, here is an insider's view of what hockey players are like when dealing with them at airport check-in for charter flights. Cody Eakin and Trevor Daley's anecdotes both made me want to ruffle their hair. Seriously, this is great stuff. [High Heels and High Sticks]
Mike Heika says the Stars' guardian angels have not been doing a great job this year. It is Three Stooges-themed. I sometimes wonder if Heika has almost too much fun writing these. [DMN]
The Islanders game recap from Lighthouse Hockey is quite a good read. [LHH]
Well, sad times for other teams in the Central, as Winnipeg appears to have finally cottoned to the fact that Ondrej Pavelec should not be starting hockey games (except those against Dallas). [Pro Hockey Talk]
Mike Ribeiro has worked hard on his final shot at staying in the NHL. Here's a great piece on what that journey out of a troubled past entailed for Ribeiro, his family, and Nashville GM David Poile. [SI]
And it looks like a piece of that past is reaching its claws out towards Ribeiro again, as he and his wife are the recipients of a lawsuit from their former nanny. [TMZ]
Henrik Zetterberg is back from his "upper-body" injury just in time to play hockey with Erik Cole. [Pro Hockey Talk]
The Blue Jackets traded for David Clarkson because they were averse to paying Nathan Horton while he was indefinitely injured. Unfortunately, Clarkson is now out for the season as well with a torn oblique. Literally everyone could have foreseen this happening. [Rotowire]
And speaking of not-injured acquisitions, Marek Zidlicky scored the OT winner in his first game with the Red Wings last night. [NHL Video]
Dan Ellis (yes, him) is going to be in net for the Panthers today. You know, the goalie the Stars traded to the Panthers for Tim Thomas last year at the deadline. That Dan Ellis. Oh, and the Panther's ECHL goalie will be the backup. Goalie depth, eh? [NHL]
As an equipment nerd, I loved this story on how Mike Green is combing eBay for any surviving Easton Stealth sticks after they discontinued his favorite model nearly ten years ago. [Russian Machine Never Breaks]
Finally, here is a video in which Tyler Seguin fails miserably at naming the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To be fair, the original TV series ended in 1996, when he was like four years old. (And to be even more fair, I did not see the latest movie. I didn't even see the whole CGI one back in 2006 or whenever because I had to take a phone call in the theater halfway through from a then-significant-other, causing me to miss the entire second half. Still not over that.) Oh yeah, right. The video: