Hockey from the Blind Side, Random Thoughts and Observations for the Coming Season, The Top Line

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According to Islanders Point Blank and their running countdown, we are now at 8 days before the New York Islanders will start their season. To me, the summer seemed to fly by in a flash, and this had little to do with the compressed schedule from last season either. Well, perhaps it did to some degree, but regardless of the matter of how quickly time has passed, we have reached the fall and, thus, it’s time for hockey!

So, here we are almost at a week to go before we start it all over again. This season, after last season’s success and making the playoffs, well, we have quite a bit more excitement and enthusiasm at hand. For me, personally, this blog and the radio Show Gary and I are doing only adds additional facets to my emotions. I am looking forward to this season with even more anticipation, and I can’t wait until the NHL season opens overall on October 1.

With that all said, I’ve been thinking about parts of the Islanders game that will play important roles in what kind of success they are to achieve this season. I am, over the next few posts, going to toss out some of these ideas, which will include shining the spotlight on specific players as well as just some intangible things. A lot could happen to this team, and I feel that the potential for great strides forward is there should the hockey Gods smile upon them. I guess one could make this same statement about other teams, but, of course, this is an Islander blog and the Isles are My Team.

Whether you agree with me or not, I am going to talk about some factors or guys on the team that could very well play a role in the degree of success the overall team might have. Some of what I will present will probably be “no brainer stuff”, but other points might be more opinion than fact. In any case, I will start with the matter of the #1 offensive line.To me, one of the primary factors that will need to be established for the Islanders is finding the guy to play with John Tavares and Matt Moulson on the top line. Brad Boyes was definitely serviceable last season, but the “perfect” right winger is something the Islanders will need to find. Who can compliment JT and Moulson will go a long way to making that line an even bigger threat and important cog in the works for the Isles.

As of the latest news, it seems that Josh Bailey is being moved on to that line on right wing. Bailey was put with JT during the playoffs last season after game #1 against the Penguins, and there was undoubtedly a lot of success with that combination. However, Moulson was not on that line, but now, Bailey will play the right side on that line. Clearly, Josh Bailey has been a much better offensive player when he has been on the wing, so, perhaps, this combination might be the one that matches the success we saw when PA Parenteau was part of the top line.

But, let us not forget the acquisition of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Concussion problems have hampered his career in recent years, but he did put up 60 or so points in the past for the Wild. I personally feel that a full season with his health back will make that signing another gem by Garth Snow, but whether he is the solution for the top line seems unclear. The fact that Bailey was moved to the first line makes me wonder if the coaching staff was satisfied with the initial combination involving Bouchard. Obviously, I am not a fly on the proverbial wall, but I think it’s a good educated guess to say that tinkering is still being done by Jack Capuano and company.

What about Ryan Strome? Is he out of the equation at this point? There was a lot of talk about him ultimately being the right wing for Tavares and Moulson. In fact, he was shifted from his natural center position in Bridgeport last season, which prompted the speculation that he was being “groomed” for the top line spot on the right side. Yet, to my knowledge, I don’t know how much that experiment has actually been tried this season in training camp.

Let us not also forget that Kyle Okposo has spent some time with JT and Moulson in the past. He, in fact, had a lot of success playing as part of that trio. His style of play certainly seemed to make him a good fit, and though he also played well with Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey, Kyle is surely an option that can be used. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

However, at this point, it seems that there is still a question as to who will exactly fill the right wing role. To me, this is a very big question. Without a doubt, John Tavares and Matt Moulson produce the highest offensive totals and have done so as a combination on their own over the last few seasons for the Isles. I would go as far as to say that they would rank in the top 5 of duos currently playing in the NHL today. Finding the guy to play the right side is something that is key in my view. Parenteau certainly got the job done when he was there, but there doesn’t seem to be a solution that is comparable at this stage.

The reality is you have a center on the top line who will score 40 plus goals and tally up over a point a game. Then, you have a left winger who can probably hit the 35 or 40 goal mark himself and pick up 75 plus points. The need for someone who can contribute to that line and be a scorer within his own rights only becomes the more important. Brad Boyes would have most likely hit the 70 point mark in an 82 game season and, most likely, scored 20 goals. Nevertheless, is it simply a matter of JT and Moulson making anyone a better player or was Boyes’s game that much improved from previous season to something that resembled earlier in his career?

Some might think or feel that I am emphasizing a point that is not as critical as I am making it out to seem. Some have jokingly commented that I could play on the top line and score 50 points by virtue of who I’d be playing with. Even so, I believe that the right wing slot on that line is a position that needs to be addressed and finding the guy who will finish that line will be one of those not so little factors that might make the Islanders a “great” team as opposed to a “good” team this season. Look at any successful team and their top line, and you will understand why I consider this as an important piece to the puzzle for greater success for the New York Islanders this season.

You can follow me on Twitter, @hockeyblindside