By Brian Bohl
UNIONDALE, NY- Five losses in the past six games put the Islanders in the Eastern Conference cellar just two weeks after the club was one period away from beating the talented Pittsburgh Penguins to climb back to. 500.
But on that night on the eve of Thanksgiving, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby showed why they are two of the best players in the NHL, completing the comeback that ignited the Islanders freefall. Coach Scott Gordon's team has surrendered 98 goals through 28 games and is batting Toronto to become the first team to allow 100 goals this season.
An army injury continues to sideline Kyle Okposo, the Islanders 2006 first-round pick and one of the few players who actually can be considered part of a "youth movement" the Islanders have embellished to shrug off responsibility for what will most likely be another playoff-less campaign.
Mike Sillinger's return from a hip injury means the Islanders have three forwards older than 35 playing on the top two lines, joining Bill Guerin and Doug Weight has the other two veterans who should be traded if only to give them the chance to contribute to a contender instead of wasting their golden years in a half empty Nassau Coliseum.
But before ignoring the final 54 games, there is hope that the franchise can build towards the future. Blake Comeau was expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of first-year coach Scott Gordon, who replaced Ted Nolan. Gordon was touted as the perfect man to bring out the best in young players, which resulted in a successful run as an AHL coach.
Comeau didn't profit from the move initially. Gordon and GM Garth Snow demoted the 22-year-old to minor league Bridgeport. Instead of sulking, the forward tailed 19 points in 19 games, including four goals to get the call up to the big league club.
In his three games with the Islanders, the team's 2004 second-round pick has played with the same confidence he demonstrated as a Sound Tiger. Comeau has logged more than 10 minutes of ice time in all his contests and scored his first NHL goal since March 24 when he found the net against the Flyers at the Wachovia Center Tuesday night. His presence might energize a unit that is only two points better than the league's last-place team.
"It's a good group of guys in here," Comeau said. "We want to learn from our mistakes and not have it come back and affect us for the next game."
With Okposo and Frans Nielsen rehabbing their injuries, 2008 first round pick Josh Bailey and Comeau could be the only two forwards worth watching. Should Snow move Guerin, Weight, Sillinger or any other veteran at the trade deadline, Comeau might even be expected to play 17-20 minutes per game to replace the departed production.
Comeau showed flashes of potential in his first full NHL season last year, recording eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 51 games in 2007-08. The 6-1 right-winger never put up gaudy goal totals in his five seasons with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, though his two-way ability and hitting prowess made him the 47th overall draft pick four years ago. That physicality was on display in first game with the Isles this year, as Comeau racked up three hits against the Thrashers. He has been credited with four hits overall since getting the call up.
"A big part of my game is being physical," Comeau said. "I can't take anything for granted. I have to play physical every night and earn my spot in the lineup every night