It has finally come—the end of the regular season for the New York Islanders. Some may have looked upon this past season and declared it another year of mediocrity, the continuance of years of sub-.500 play and misfortune ending up in the bottom of the standings.
But in stark reality, that is far from the total truth. At the outset of this season, a lot of fans had based their own presumptions off of the stellar play that the Isles ended last season with. Figuring the hardships of the years before had finally past and a playoff berth was almost expected. While this is not exactly what happened, and many can see why some fans have regressed to the misery of the past years, they shouldn't.
So much ground has been made this season. From a quick glance on the outside it may not seem this way; but if you delve beyond the mere surface and past the numbers, you can see why.
Firstly, this season was at the outset, and in the end as well, to be decided almost solely by the team's defense. The Islanders did what they could last offseason and took some gambles on a few players to bolster their blue line. Mark Streit was named captain of the team, and Steve Staios was added to round out with some experience for the younger players. To sum it up, Staios' play was not exactly what many had hoped for, and neither was the return of Streit. It wasn't until near the end of the season we saw why the Streit of old was so desperately needed. But it was too little, too late.
Mike Mottau was traded at the deadline for what many fans thought was more of just a relief than anything, for two young prospects. Slow transition with faster-paced teams in their own zone and quite a few mistakes was the overall downfall of the team this year. Milan Jurcina and Staios posted some rather abysmal points numbers this season, and Jurcina's plus-minus rating is a constant eyesore on the chart. Although Mark Streit's isn't much better, the difference in ice team per game is substantial, along with the fact Streit was playing against some of the best lines in game, makes it less painful. In all honesty, as younger players were worked up into the system this season their defensive woes became much less apparent.
Although the bulk of the problems were in the Islanders own zone, it is not the whole story. Failure to produce and put pucks in the net, was another woe for the team. It's pretty hard to win games when you only score one or two goals a night. Secondary scoring was barely visible until almost the end of the season, and it only showed up a few times earlier than that. Once again, at the end of the season, though, it seemed everyone turned up their game. Josh Bailey finally hit his ryhthm and perhaps saved his position on the team, posting 32 points. While Bailey surprised in the end, some others did not. Michael Grabner, highly touted and having signed a five-year contract coming into the beginning of this season, ended by hitting the 20-goal mark during the last game. As some refer, hopefully it was just his "sophomore slump," and he will rebound next year.
Kyle Okposo started off having a bit of a weird season, being benched a few times. He came back in new form or rather the form of old and posted a career high in goals, ending the season with 45 points. The line of Nielsen, Bailey and Okposo became the real workhorse of the team, that could be counted on to score regularly and grind out the goals the team needed outside of the first round.
The new faces of Rolston and Reasoner were just about abysmal. They did almost nothing in terms of performance, and Rolston was traded at the deadline as well. Nino Niederreiter performed less than had been hoped for, but with this next season, perhaps he'll see some real ice time and not be on the worst line on the team, which will help his numbers and bring in the promises of being an excellent draft choice.
As always the first line posted the best numbers. Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau all had excellent seasons. Tavares finished eighth in the league in points scored, and all three players falling within the top 32 points producers in the league. Parenteau has yet to be locked up for next season and hopefully we'll hear some rumblings of an extension soon, which we all should hope for, he became an excellent play maker this season and worked extremely well with Tavares and Moulson.
Moulson proved he was not just a fluke over the past few years and solidified his spot as one of the best clean up scorers in the league. Seemingly, if you give the puck to him in front of the net, it more than likely will end up a goal. He posted excellent numbers and exceeded the 30-goal mark for the third season in a row.
Tavares once again, carried the team on his back. He was at times one of the few players producing when no one else was. His skill level is leaps above many others in the league, and if the Isles are able to aquire another marquee player, Tavares will flourish even more.
Wrapping up the summary is goal tending, and what can be said? Nabokov provided the security in net that hasn't existed in nearly a decade. His play was stellar in almost every game, including a 40-plus-shot shutout of the Flyers in perhaps one of the greatest goaltending feats in the league this season. He allowed the team to play without the stress of soft goals constantly going in and giving up early leads. In short, he allowed the Islanders play like a normal hockey team for the first time in recent memory, not a team so worried about being scored on every other shot. Furthermore, his singing with this team for another year is a testament to the progress the club is making. That a upper-tier veteran goaltender who seemingly had the ability to sign with many other clubs stayed here with this group.
Al Montoya had a bit of an off year, after starting out on fire in the beginning of the season. A good steamrolling by Evander Kane was all it took to pretty much end his play and throw off all of his rhythm for the rest of the season. And in the long term, it may have hurt his odds of being resigned by the Isles for next season.
Finally, coming to Rick DiPietro...what is there to be said? He was injured early on and his play before that was mediocre with a rumors of a return for next season being unlikely, you can't help but feel it might just be best for everyone to retire.
Some of this may seem rather dismal, but you have to look at all that was accomplished, the Islanders broke some of their worst streaks. They finally were able to beat Pittsburgh and Philly in their own buildings for the first time in several years. The Islanders ended a streak of not winning more than two or three road games in a row. Perhaps the most important part was, the Islanders were in fact in playoff contention until pretty close to the end of the season.
Eighth seed was just a few points out of grasp and the Islanders haven't been that close in a very long time. When the team was working well, you saw they could literally beat almost anyone in the league. They have that raw talent and bonding that few teams have. If this year was a let down for some in terms of performance, next year seems to be the year they well make an actual dent in the standings.
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