A season ago, the New York Islanders surprised many around the NHL by making the playoffs. The Islanders finished with a 24-17-7 record, good for 55 points and the eighth seed in the East. They were beat in the opening round in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but still, it was a huge step in the right direction for the organization. All of this coming after a horrible month of February, where it looked like the Islanders would once again miss the postseason. But thanks to the surge during March and April, the Islanders got into the playoffs. Now they look to build on that success.
There were a couple of factors last year that got the Islanders going. The secondary scoring from the likes of Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo helped out the team’s star player John Tavares power the offense. Offensively, the Islanders finished seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 2.81 goals per game. That showed that the offense found itself during the course of the year, and got more consistent as the season went along. Everybody got more comfortable in their roles and stepped their game up.
Evgeni Nabokov really played well down the stretch, a big reason for the success late. There were times last year where the defense really helped out Nabokov, while at other times, it looked like the defense left him out to dry. The Islanders finished 21st in the league, allowing 2.83 goals against per game. That has got to improve this year. Special teams were also of note last year. On the powerplay, the Islanders were pretty good, finishing 11th in the league. It’s the penalty kill that needs improvement, as it finished 21st in the league last year.
Some critics say that the lockout-shortened season was a help to the Islanders getting into the playoffs. I say no. I still say the Islanders are a good team that can make another solid run this year. Sure, there are still some holes to be filled, but General Manager Garth Snow seems happy with the team he’s going in with this year.
There have been some holes that have already been addressed. Sure, they lost their powerplay quarterback in Mark Streit, but his role can be filled by Lubomir Visnovsky. That takes care of that. The defense is going to play better in their own end, and Travis Hamonic and Andrew McDonald are going to be counted on to play a bigger role again this year. Plus, throw in a young up and comer like Griffin Reinhart, and young talent like Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey, and the Islanders blue line looks to be set. They may not be the most intimidating crop, but they will be good enough to keep the Islanders in it.
In net, the Islanders will have Nabokov back, but who backs him up, whether it’s Kevin Poulin or Andres Nilsson, will have to play well. There is no way the Islanders can ride Nabokov for more than 75 percent of the season; he will break down. So the backup netminder is going to be important.
On offense, the Islanders are still looking for that top tier forward to play with Tavares and Matt Moulson. Pierre-Marc Bouchard could be that guy, as he has been playing with them most of camp. The Islanders will be looking for Michael Grabner to return to his form from his rookie year. The team has plenty of young, talented forwards like Ryan Strome, Andres Lee and Brock Nelson who can provide more scoring depth for this team.
Also added to the mix is the physical presence of Cal Clutterbuck, who along with Matt Martin are the hit kings of the league. Those two guys will strike fear into the opposition by running them over. Having that kind of physical presence on the ice will open up more room for the scoring forwards to do their thing.
Taking into account all of those things, plus the new divisional realignments, the Islanders are set for an interesting season. You add into the mix the Islanders division teams like the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, and things are going to be tough for the Islanders this year. All things considered, I see the Islanders finishing this year with a 42-34-6 record, good for 90 points. With that, the Islanders will be on the playoff bubble and finish fifth in the Metropolitan Division.