Five Reasons The Islanders Can Improve on Last Season’s Success

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 07:  John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders is congratulated by teammates Anders Lee #27,Nick Leddy #2 and Ryan Strome #18 after Tavares scored in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The 2015-16 NHL season begins for the New York Islanders tomorrow night at the Barclays Center against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Islanders are coming off their first 100 point season since Denis Potvin was the team captain yet, you can still sense some skepticism in Islanders country about the team’s ability to build upon or even repeat last season’s success. The move to a new arena that can’t possibly be as raucous as the “Old Barn”, a lack of off season moves by GM Garth Snow, big moves by other teams in the Eastern Conference, the questionable health of goalie Jaroslav Halak, a 2-6 preseason and a lack of depth on team defense have collectively tamed some fans enthusiasm for the upcoming season. If you’re an Islanders’ supporter whose pessimism in the team has grown since the team left the ice after the Isles 2-1 game seven loss to the Caps on April 27th here are five reasons why you should believe the Islanders can repeat last season’s success…and probably achieve more!

5. Special Teams Will Improve

NHL: San Jose Sharks at New York Islanders

Hold On! Hold On! I know this is a risky place to start as the Islanders could have been victorious in the first round of the playoffs last year with just a couple power play goals over the course of seven games, but if Garth Snow hired you to be the head coach of this team and the first thing he said to you was, “By the why, John Tavares is going to be anchoring your power play,” would you run out the door and start fielding other job offers? Tavares will continue to be the main man on the Isles power play for another year in a league where teams are only seeing three or four power play opportunities per game. 13 of Tavares’ thirty eight goals came with a man up and Brock Nelson chipped in ten as well. With other young players like Nick Leddy, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome ready to contribute the Islanders will certainly improve upon their 16th place league finish at 18.7 percent.

The penalty killing unit, although finishing 26th in the league, killed 39 of its last 42 penalties. The unit was rock bottom in the league for most of the season and although not yet great, you have to believe it has discovered something. There is a concern here as Michael Grabner’s speed did contribute to the late season success of the penalty kill and Grabs is now gone, but there should be enough depth on this team to replace his loss.

4. Garth Snow has a lot of Trade Chips

snow-gmshow-dl

Snow didn’t do much at the trade deadline last year. He traded Griffin Reinhart this year at the draft but had a return of two first round picks including forward Mathew Barzal at number 16 who had an impressive camp this preseason. Snow just keeps saying he “likes his players”, but the bottom line is he’s locked and loaded for a nice deal if the team needs one this season. Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang and Ryan Pulock all receive high prospect marks and Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen could net a nice return if the Islanders feel moving one or both of them becomes their best option. The thought of losing any of these players might not sound too exciting at the present moment, but the point is if the Islanders are in desperate need of that goalie, defenseman or wing at the deadline because of injury or under performance the chips are there for Garth.

3. Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy are the Best Top Defensive Pairing in the Metropolitan Division and Will Continue to Take Some Weight Off Travis Hamonic

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14:  Johnny Boychuk #55 of the New York Islanders celebrates after his first period goal against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 14: Johnny Boychuk #55 of the New York Islanders celebrates after his first period goal against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

The list of “A+” caliber forwards, just in the Metropolitan Divison, is long and impressive. There should be more than one candidate for the Hart and Art Ross Trophies on a list that includes John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Alex Ovechkin. When you’re thinking about putting Rick Nash on a “B” list, it’s a pretty deep list. The good news for Islanders’ fans is that first, Tavares is on their team and second, when the other top-line forwards come out for their shifts the Islanders can counter with two top defensemen.

Both Leddy (10) and Boychuk (9) set career highs in goals last season. They both seem to have a lot more freedom to shoot with the Islanders and there’s no reason why their goal totals couldn’t grow even higher this year, especially the younger Leddy’s. Although both are faced with the job of defending big players they don’t take bad penalties (14 PIM’s each).

Their additions will continue to have a positive impact on Travis Hamonic who averaged over 25 minutes per game two years ago and was able to play in over 70 regular season games last year for the first time in three years. Both Leddy (20:22) and Boychuk (21:41) averaged over twenty minutes in ice time per game last season and although Hammer missed the playoffs, he had to feel the benefits during the regular season.

2. The Islanders Have Goaltending

Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders

 There are two types of teams in the NHL; those who have goaltending and those who do not. The Islanders are a member of the former not the latter. Teams without solid goaltending, do not make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup.

Jaroslav Halak is not Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, but he is a very good NHL goaltender who can shut opposing teams down and get on hot streaks. Last year he set a career high in games played (59) and the Islanders record for wins (38).

He played fine against the Capitals in the playoffs and it’s hard to blame a 2-1 game seven loss on the goalie. If he can stay healthy he will be a steady netminder once again for the Islanders and if he can get hot in the playoffs,watch out!

There was some groaning about newly acquired Thomas Greiss‘ preseason performances, but he is just a back-up. He has always posted a solid GAA and decent SV% and the Islanders never seemed to play their full defense this preseason in front of him. Keep the jury out on Greiss at least until he’s into the season for a month or two.

1.Lee-Tavares-Strome Could Make a Really Special Top Line

Arizona Coyotes v New York Islanders

First, this is nothing against Kyle Okposo. He immediately becomes one of the best second line wingers in the game. Also, lines change all the time and I can’t imagine Okposo and Tavares have seen the last of each other.

But when Tavares was forced to play with other forwards last year after Kyle’s eye injury, he skyrocketed to the top of the NHL in scoring. “We had some chemistry last year so it’s always good to play with Johnny,” Strome told Newsday during camp. “You’re still out there working on things, trying to get your game in shape, but it’s nice to know you’ve had that success before.”

Jack Capuano realizes the positive aspects of having Tavares and Strome on the ice together as well. He told The Washington Post, “I like the fact that Johnny, when he needs to be hard on [Strome], he’s an extension of our coaching staff. When he knows he’s going to play with him, he expects a lot out of him. That’s been real good for his development.”

Lee was a little more succinct when asked to comment about playing with Tavares, “Still early,” he told Newsday. But Lee’s grit next to the net last year seemed to compliment Tavares’ elegance around it and when you add Strome’s developing skill set to the mix the thought of this trio playing together is nothing less than exciting.

Get ready for opening night. The Islanders aren’t a perfect team, but with their continued development and future moves by GM Garth Snow they can match and improve upon the success fans witnessed last season.

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