This is Just the Beginning (But Don't Get Complacent)
This sucks, man.
These past two weeks, I kept hearing the same phrase regarding this Islanders team; "I'm just happy to be here." After going down 2-0, and then 3-1, and now out in a heartbreaking Overtime Game 6, that statement still rings true.
But man, this still sucks.
When the horn sounded for Anthony Cirelli's series-ending goal, the first emotion I felt was frustration, and there was a lot to be frustrated about tonight. Honestly, the problems I saw tonight were the same problems this team couldn't patch this whole season; a weak power play, negligent defense from Barzal, and an overwhelming fear to shoot from the blue line. Every loss was the same story, and it made this team hard to watch some nights.
Overall, tonight's loss, as well as what cost the Islanders this series, was an under-performing offense. Halfway through the third period, Tampa Bay had nearly doubled the Islanders in both shots on goal and time of possession. If not for outstanding goalkeeping from Semyon Varlamov, this game wouldn't be half as close as it was. You could also point to that glaring no-call when the Islanders had a whole seven men on the ice, but whatever. You won't see me complaining, although I'm sure Tampa having the same penalty called on them in overtime got some blood boiling.
However, once the dust settled, and I watched Coach Trotz lead his team through the formality of shaking the hands of those who sent them home, I remembered why I kept watching. Even with all these glaring problems, I knew there was a fire in this team. This isn't to say that I knew they were going to make their first conference finals since 1993, but there was a lot to look forward for many years to come.
Let's start with goaltending. As of right now, I don't think it's a hot take to say that Varly is our guy, and will be at least until his contract runs out in three years. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Greiss, as the introduction of young backup Ilya Sorokin will likely boot him out the door. It would be unfortunate to see him go, but if Varlamov can be a mentor to Sorokin, the Isles will be good in goal for a long time.
Outside of the goal, there is a lot of work to be done, both in modifying this roster and turning young talent into a consistent playoff powerhouse. If I had a dollar for every time the Islanders didn't shoot from the blue line this season, I'd be a very rich man. Hell, if I had a dollar for every time that didn't happen tonight, I could put a dent in my Playstation 5 fund. Barzal is a great skater, but if he's just going to come down the ice every time with one hundred dekes, it's going to finish with a pad save every time.
The Islanders need a sniper, to not only get some shots in from deep, but to show this young core that it's okay to take a slap shot every once in a while. After having to resign Barzal, Pulock, and Toews this offseason, a signing like the one the Isles will need is a big ask. However, if they can pull of a trade like the one they did to acquire JG Pageau, they'll be in good shape.
At the end of the day, Islanders fans, hold your head high. The self proclaimed "Boys of the Isle" shattered expectations, and their a few decent moves away from going even further, with the best GM in the league pulling the strings. Relish in the team's deepest run in nearly thirty years, as the Islanders won't take the ice again until January. Sit tight for the next three months, but not too tight, because there's still a lot of work to be done.
Basel's Gambling Garden Pick of the Day-Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 1:
This has been a wild two weeks for the NBA playoffs, which makes this pick very tough. After coming back from two 3-1 deficits, there's no telling what the Nuggets can do in this series, but when it comes to game one, I think I have a better idea. Besides Game 7, it was not as easy for the Nuggets to come back that far down as it looks, and they're going to be exhausted tonight. The Lakers on the other hand have had plenty of rest, and while that can mean a lack of momentum, I think Anthony Davis can shut down Jokic, while LA's back court can prevent the best playoff three-point team from getting off a lot of successful shots from beyond the arc.
MY PICK: Lakers -7 (-110)