Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 New York Islanders.
Isles fans have been heavily dissatisfied with their team’s performance in the past couple of years to say the least. With their most recent playoff appearance coming in 2006, it seemed that the Islanders were going to struggle heavily in the extremely competitive Atlantic Division once again.
But in the lockout-shortened season of 2013 there was an abundance of success. Not only on, but off the ice as well.
Before the lockout ended, Islanders owner Charles Wang made a huge announcement on October 24, 2012 that his team was moving to Brooklyn. Starting in the 2015-2016 season the Isles will play their home games at the newly created Barclays Center for the next 25 years.
Commissioner Gary Bettman had a message to the Islanders fans after the deal was finalized:
“You don’t have to worry about the future of this club.”
This provided confidence in not only the city, but the players as well. Led by John Tavares and Matt Moulson offensively, the Islanders finished the season 24-17-7 and captured the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Isles had qualified for the playoffs for the first time in six years and were paired against the number one seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and their dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
That amount of talent was too overwhelming for the young Islanders squad to handle as Pittsburgh eliminated them in six games. Although the series lasted longer than many experts predicted, New York was disappointed with their first-round exit.
It was still a major accomplishment for a team that finished dead last in the Atlantic Division in 2011-2012.
While John Tavares enjoyed the short ride in the postseason, he has high hopes for this upcoming year.
“It’s really hard to describe what playoff hockey is like in the NHL,” Tavares told NHL.com this summer. “There’s really nothing like that. You see Chicago with the Cup and us getting a little taste of that experience, I think it drives you that much more to want to be successful and get to that ultimate goal.”
General Manager Garth Snow is doing everything he can to put together the roster needed to bring the cup back to the Island for the first time since 1983. He re-signed 2008 draft picks Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic to long term deals, establishing the true core of the team.
Snow then went out and acquired enforcer Cal Clutterbuck from the Minnesota Wild for struggling prospect Nino Niederreiter at this year’s draft.
The 25-year-old adds well-needed grit and aggression to a skilled Islanders lineup as he has been in the top 10 in hits for the last five years. He is arguably one of the toughest players to play against in the National Hockey League.
Metropolitan Division forwards: keep your heads up.
That’s not all; the Islanders might have found their first line right winger in Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He has the opportunity to play on a line with Tavares and Moulson which will boost Bouchard’s production tremendously.
Peter Regin was also signed by New York to provide depth at center.
The most notable subtraction this offseason from the Islanders lineup is their captain, Mark Streit. The veteran defenseman was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers back in June after not being able to negotiate a new contract.
It will be interesting to see who is named the new captain this season, but Tavares is the obvious favorite.
Story to Watch:
Will Nabokov continue his recent strong play?
Evgeni Nabokov was spectacular last year. He was no doubt one of the biggest reasons why the Islanders clinched a playoff spot. His numbers in the regular season (23-11-7, 2.50 goals-against average, .910 save percentage) silenced all critics and proved that his career isn’t over just yet.
But will he replicate those sensational numbers, especially in a new division?
With their number one defensemen (Streit) gone, there is a monumental hole in the Islanders defense. In order for Nabokov to get the help he needs on the back-end, guys like Andrew MacDonald and Lubomir Visnovsky have to step up and carry the load.
If that doesn’t happen, the Islanders will be in a lot of trouble. Goaltending is definitely their Achilles heel.
Let’s also keep in mind, Nabokov is 38 years old. His best years are behind him. Garth Snow and the Islanders management have to be prepared if “Nabby” falters during the season.
However, their current back-up goaltender is Kevin Poulin, a 23-year-old who hasn’t quite convinced the NHL that he can take over a starting role.
I was very surprised that the Isles didn’t go out and trade/sign a more experienced goaltender this offseason capable of splitting time with Nabokov.
The Islanders may have a problem with their current goalies this season, and it will be fun to watch how this plays out for a team with such high hopes of being a contender for the Stanley Cup.
After all, goaltending wins championships right?
Player to Watch: Kyle Okposo
If Pierre-Marc Bouchard isn’t put on the Isles first line then head coach Jack Capuano will most likely put Kyle Okposo alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Okposo has battled inconsistency issues his entire career since being drafted seventh overall in 2006. He has shown shades of brilliance but also has made Islanders fans want to bang their heads against a brick wall from time to time.
I for one am a believer in Okposo’s play. He demonstrates a certain style of hockey that you don’t see very much anymore.
He is a power forward who has soft hands around the net and can really take someone off the puck with his 6’0” 212 pound frame. His play heavily resembles St. Louis Blues forward Chris Stewart.
Okposo has shown that he has the potential to be a constant offensive threat during his young career when he stays healthy.
However, Okposo only scored four goals in 48 games last season, though also put up 20 assists.
In this year’s playoffs, a prime example of his play was on display when he picked a fight with Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen in game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. He fired his team up and sparked a comeback win while putting up four points in the series.
Isles fans can only hope that he builds off his recent success and continues to light up the scoreboard and his opponents.
If Kyle Okposo can regain his scoring touch this season with the Islanders, you can expect playoff hockey on the Island come May.
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