New York Islanders: Why the Isles Can Make the 2011-12 Playoffs
Here we go again.
It’s been said that the past is a nightmare that we struggle to awake from. For Isles fans, that nightmare restarts by November each year.
Despite the likely outcome of the season for the Islanders, there is always hope at the outset. And—to draw upon another quote—hope is a good thing; maybe the best of things.
The season isn’t over yet. However unlikely it may seem, the Islanders still have a chance to make the playoffs.
(Forgive me for writing a playoff prediction piece this early in the season, but if I wait any longer the Islanders might be mathematically eliminated by the time I get around to publishing one.)
Going back to the hope that exists at the beginning of the season, there are several elements of this year’s team that can help the Isles to a playoff berth.
Don’t give up hope yet, Isles fans. Even though you’ve heard it before, the future is bright for the Islanders…
Defenseman Mark Streit has been the anchor on the New York Islanders blue line since 2008. With the addition of veteran blueliner Steve Staios this season, the Islanders now have a formidable defensive pairing to match up against opposing top lines.
The Islanders are a young team overall; veteran players have the responsibility of mentoring the younger players on any team, but this responsibility is especially important for the Isles.
Along with fellow veteran defensemen Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau, Streit—the captain—and Staios have been charged with guiding a team of young players through the ups and downs of an NHL season.
A hallmark of playoff-bound teams is often veteran leadership along the blue line. With Streit and Staios leading the charge, the Isles have that leadership in spades.
The recent resurgence of right winger Kyle Okposo is a good sign.
After a tough start to the season, Okposo has lately shown the drive and determination that earned him the “A” on his jersey. A talk with head coach Jack Capuano and subsequent benching have combined to restore the confidence in the young Isles winger.
It’s crucial that Okposo returns to the form he displayed in the 2009-10 season, when he totaled 19 goals and 33 assists. Coming off of last year’s shoulder injury, Okposo looks like he’s finally rounding into form.
Good news for the Isles' second line and for the team’s overall playoff hopes.
The Top Line
John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner are the young anchors of the New York Islanders offense. The Isles' top line has youth and talent to its advantage; these kids are only going to get better with time.
Now that all three players have been signed to long-term contracts, the Islanders have ensured their top line will continue to develop the chemistry that leads to goal-scoring in great numbers.
It’s time for Tavares, Moulson and Grabner to transition from hype to action; gone are the days when inexperience could be used as an excuse for the top line’s inability to put pucks in the net.
Awesome mustaches—and questionable jerseys—aside, this line is now experienced enough to carry the Isles as they move ahead this season.
The 19-year-old right winger, Nino Niederreiter, has been hailed as a potential savior—in the same vein as John Tavares—for the New York Islanders.
Perhaps the only silver lining found in repeated finishes at the bottom of the standings each year for the Isles is the fact that the team can draft the best talent.
Nino hasn’t had much of a chance to shine this season due to injuries and roster restrictions, but his ceiling is so high that the Isles will practically be forced to get him some ice time.
In his nine-game trial last season, Niederreiter tallied a goal and an assist before being returned to juniors.
If Nino can make an impact as a member of the third or fourth line when he sees the ice, head coach Jack Capuano might consider pairing him with Frans Nielsen on the second line in order to increase his production.
Let’s face it, the Isles have nothing to lose by playing the kid; if he produces, Niederreiter will certainly play a role in pushing the Islanders toward the playoffs.
I realize that the referendum to build a new Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., was voted down by the taxpayers, but it’s not for lack of trying that the bill failed.
The circumstances around the vote weren’t the most conducive to a positive result; a non-presidential election year, a down economy and a skeptical taxpaying public all combined to shoot down the bill.
There’s still fan loyalty on The Island, though.
The New York Islanders have a proud history—including four consecutive Stanley Cups and 19 consecutive playoff series victories in the early 1980s—that hasn’t been forgotten by Nassau County residents.
Even if a new arena won’t be built on the site of the current Coliseum, there is still a push to keep the Islanders in New York once the lease expires in 2015. A possible relocation site is Brooklyn, which would allow the Isles to remain close to their roots.
If the fans want their Islanders to make the playoffs this season, they’ll have to come out to the games in full force. By showing the team that they’re willing to support a young and improving team, the fans can act as the so-called “X" factor in a potential Islanders playoff push.
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