With the season beginning on Thursday it is time to take a close look at this team that Garth Snow has built for this season. Coming off the most successful season in over 20 years this team has a lot to live up to, and many experts don’t believe that they will. Like every other team the Islanders will have to overcome many challenges, and here they are.
The first goaltending issue is a superficial issue. It is that they are carrying three goalies when there is only room for two. Goalies can be creatures of habit, so sharing duties three ways instead of the traditional two can cause problems. Jaro Halak last year already made it known he was unhappy with the situation. Players who are worrying about other things can be cause for worry. This is not a situation that will change anytime soon.
Thomas Greiss had a career year last season, and there are many ways to look at that going forward, was it an anomaly and he will regress, or was it his breakout season. Greiss has been a backup in this league since 2008 and was brought to the Isles to fill that role. In the six seasons before arriving he never played in more than 25 games and had a save percentage of only .913. Even last season he only played 41 games and has never been asked to carry the load as the starter. Making Greiss the starting goalie is a very tricky issue for the Isles and one that could cause problems down the road. It seems like he had a great year instead of being a great goalie.
While this seems to be the most stable unit on the roster there will still be many questions moving forward. Johnny Boychuck struggled last year in the playoffs and looked off. He has come into training camp with some injury issues. There are signs that he is on the decline and the Isles need to find a way to replace those minutes. The Islanders have also made it known that they are still concerned with Ryan Pulock’s ability in the defensive zone, adding an ageing defenseman in Seidenberg (along with sending down Pulock) show that there is still concern over the last spot on the unit.
Another cause for concern is the Penalty Kill Unit. Last year they were fourth in the league with an 84 percent success rate. With the same rosters the year before they were 26th with a 78 percent success rate. This is one spot where the loss of Frans Nielsen will hurt the Islanders. While they may have replaced his goal scoring they have not replaced him as a two way forward. In addition to Nielsen, this team will have to deal with some regression on the PK unit. While it is difficult to believe they will return to the bottom of the league, there is no evidence to prove that they will continue to be one of the best. Regression will bring them to the middle of the pack and in turn give up more goals.
The forwards are the most polarizing unit on this roster. While we know we can expect big things from John Tavares (if he’s not a Hart Trophy contender, that may be the biggest issue this team has) it’s nearly everyone else that is cause for concern. Brock Nelson scored 26 goals last year but absolutely disappeared at the end of the season. Anders Lee had a strong finish to get to 15 goals coming off a 25 goal campaign the year before. Ryan Strome went from being a 50-point player to a 30-point player and a healthy scratch. If these players continue their regression this team will have trouble putting the puck in the net. The Islanders seem to be depending upon at least one rookie to be a major contributor. The waiving of Parenteau has opened up a full time slot for a someone to fill.
The subtraction of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen will hurt the offensive productivity of this team. One of the biggest loses will come in shootouts. While the shootout is a terrible way to decide a game, the Islanders have been an average shootout team mostly because of Okposo and Nielsen. Without winning 12 shootouts over the last two seasons, they probably do not get to 100 points in either campaign (and may have missed playoffs). Losing Okposo and Nielson, the Isles lose 19 of 27 shootout goals over the last two seasons (in addition to 53% of their chances). In a tight playoff race all of these points are needed to move onto the playoffs, and losing two of the top five shootout goal scorers over the last 2 years will mean less shootout points.
There is no debate that the Metro division is tougher than ever. Above the Isles in the standings are both the Presidents Trophy winners (Capitals) and the Stanley Cup Champions (Penguins). Neither of those teams have gotten worse. The Metro also had two other playoff teams in the Rangers and the Flyers. The Flyers are a team on the rise with how quickly they were able to reload last season and be a factor. With their young talent they have the chance to take the next step forward. The Rangers window may have closed but they still are bringing back much of the same team that has been a playoff staple for years now. Both Carolina and New Jersey finished last year with over 82 points and both are possibly surprises coming out of the Metro. Lastly the Blue Jackets have more talent than their last place finish would indicate.
While this was an overly negative look at the team, I do expect this team to be competitive. While they are not as good as the top two in the division, they should be better than the bottom five. A solid third place finish is what I expect out of this team along with a tough series against either Washington on Pittsburgh. This team is still looking to take the next step forward and currently they do not have the guys to do it.
Three Stars of the Week Preseason
- JF Berube: JF came into camp as the third goalie on the depth chart but with the top two being out of camp he got plenty of opportunity to show why the Isles are holding onto three goalies. He had plenty of chances to play himself onto waivers or the AHL and did not.
2 Josh Ho-Sang: Josh had an impressive camp (he showed up, which was a plus). He turned heads with his talent and only went to Bridgeport because of the numbers game. If Barzal, Beauvillier and Ho-Sang all had the same junior status things may have turned out differently for Josh.
1 Anthony Beauvillier: Talk about a player who played himself onto the team (at least for 9 games). Coming into this camp he was viewed as the fourth ranked forward prospect in this organization. With his ability to play on both ends of the ice, he may have beaten out everyone ahead of him to make a difference in Brooklyn this season.
This is where we will examine the topic many Islanders fans want to know, when will a new coach take the reins of this team. After the success of last season and the Islanders patience this is not something that is imminent but with expectations (and new ownership) this will be something to keep an eye on. A 0-degree seat will mean he is completely safe and will be the coach for years, and a 100-degree seat will mean I expect him fired before I hit submit.
Current Temperature 25 degrees.