At the end of the 2006- 2007 hockey season, the Islanders were facing a crossroads as a team. They had made the playoffs with a degree of consistency since the 2001-02 team, only missing in the 2005-06 post lockout season (a team, ironically, with Jack Capuano and Dan Blysma as assistant coaches – divergent career paths, no?). However, those four playoff teams had something in common: first round exits. So when sophomore general manager Garth Snow determined in 2007 that first round exits were untenable, and that the only way to fix a band aid roster was via a rebuild, many fans agreed with the sentiment. After all, free agents like Bryan Berard and Josef Vasicek were burning up the salary cap. And really, when Trent Hunter nearly leads your team in scoring, blowing a team up is largely justifiable.
So how’d that rebuild go? Considering that 20% of the opening night roster was on the 2007-08 team (Okposo, DiPietro, Neilsen, Martinek), better than we expected at season’s start. John Tavares continued to improve, taking another dozen or so games off of how quickly he can get to 20 goals. Evgeny Nabokov has been a shutdown goalie from late March through April. Lubomir Visnovsky is 12th in the NHL in +/- for defensemen. His partner, rookie Thomas Hickey, who prior to this season was most famous for only post 2004-05 lockout top 5 pick never to have skated in the NHL, has been absorbing Lubo’s approach like a sponge and getting results. Brian Strait, who was sought after by this organization so badly that they never offered Pittsburgh a 6th round pick to acquire him has played solid third pairing minutes, especially compared to Joe “Road Cone” Finley and Matt “Awful Contract” Carkner. Our second half all stars- Frans Neilsen, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey- are playing like, well, second half all-stars. Colin McDonald is a pleasant surprise. Casey Cizikas has given the fourth line a game plan. Matt Martin hits, which is what Matt Martin does. And as we type, the Islanders are sitting ahead of Ottawa and the disgusting New York Rangers in the 6th seed, looking at a possible first round match up with Washington, although Ottawa has a game in hand that could knock us down to 7th.
That last sentence, however, is our concern. As of writing, 3-6 and 2-7 are presently Islanders vs Capitals and Senators vs Bruins. We like the idea of playing the Capitals in the first round. They are a beatable team. Like the Islanders, a late season push led by Alexander Ovechkin remembering how good he is when people pass to him propelled the Capitals to a fantastic 10-1 record in the last 11 games. However, if Ottawa closes out 3-1 in their last 4, and we go out 2-1, then we’re the 7th seed. And that means battle tested, cup veteran, LARGE Boston, who is a less flawed team than Washington. We understand that if the Islanders continue to find a way to win as they have lately and end up winning out, if Ottawa does the same, they control our fate.
Here’s the flat out statement- we would much rather face Washington then Boston in the first round.
And, if we falter a little? Pittsburgh. YUCK.
As the playoff picture clears up, we have quite a few fears about the second season.
Our fear, no matter who the opponent is this coaching staffs in-game strategy. We have seen John Tavares’ line consistently matched up against the other teams top d-men and top lines. As it is now, the Isles power play has been feast and famine. Doug Weight has stated he has no desire to coach, and he coaches like it. What happened to the best penalty kill in the NHL in February? There has been no change pre-game and there are no in game changes. Jack Capuano will have a chance to prove his worth: Does he lead the team? Does the team win despite the lack of coaching?
Let the new games begin!
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely