From NYHJ: Five reasons the Islanders might be playoff-bound
by Ty Anderson/Correspondent
Operating under the belief that there will be an NHL season in 2013, and an abridged one at that, not all is doom and gloom for the New York Islanders in another year that’s pitted them as the supreme underdogs of the Atlantic Division.
In fact, a shortened season might be the boost the club needs. So on that note, we give you the five reasons why the Islanders will make the playoffs this season, counting down to No. 1.
5. Reloading, regrouping, rebounding
In the shadow of the loss of forward P.A. Parenteau, the Isles’ addition of former 40-goal scorer Brad Boyes and puck-moving defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky might have flown under the radar of everybody outside of Long Island, but they will certainly pay dividends for a club that finished with the league’s eighth-best power-play percentage.
Beyond the additions, winger Michael Grabner is better than 20 goals and 32 points. Josh Bailey’s ceiling is higher than his career-best 35 points three years ago, and a healthy Kyle Okposo will only mean good things for the club’s chances.
4. An emerging Nino and Co.
When you’ve been as bad as Islanders have been for as long they have been, there’s little to celebrate in the present, but it’s seemingly time for the club to reap the rewards of constant last-place finishes — namely, players such as Nino Niederreiter, Travis Hamonic and, perhaps, even OHL superstar forward Ryan Strome.
Putting a disastrous rookie year that saw him finish with just one point and a minus-29 rating in 55 games behind him, the 6-foot-2 Niederreiter has returned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with the attitude of a simply possessed forward. Nestling himself among the AHL’s top-10 scorers at Christmas, the Swiss-born forward has become the offensive driving force for a Bridgeport club that’s found itself in a neck-and-neck race with the Springfield Falcons for Northeast Division supremacy.
But perhaps most interesting of all will be the status of Strome. Drafted by the Blue and Orange No. 5 overall in 2011, it’s been a complete domination of the OHL that’s left the 6-foot Strome in an interesting situation. Unless we’re going for style points, little is to be gained by him continuing to improve upon a run that’s included 52 goals and 130 points in his last 78 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs.
Yet, bringing him to the Island would put GM Garth Snow in the position of taking the risk and burning a year of the entry-level contract to improve the club in the now.
3. Sleepers in the East
Did you know that the Isles’ 27 wins against Eastern Conference opponents last year was the most they’ve had since their 32 wins in 2007-08?
The same could be said for their divisional record, which was greatly improved. But while playing in what’s likely the best division in hockey is no easy task, it’s not a fallacy that playing better teams on a regular basis improves your own ability to hang with the best of them, giving the Isles the chance to become the East’s true wild card if and when the puck drops.
Last year, the Florida Panthers, despite their additions, were not expected to be anything more than a fourth- or, more likely, fifth-place team. Instead, they took advantage of a division that beat the absolute hell of each other and surprised everyone with their first trip to the playoffs in over a decade.
Can the Isles duplicate such a feat? Absolutely, so long as they follow one major rule of the underdog — steal points at every corner.
2. Minute-managing the crease
The only NHL team to roll a three-headed monster in net on a full-time basis last year, the formula for the Isles seems to be clear: Let Al Montoya get the nod a bit, don’t overwork the 37-year-old Evgeni Nabokov, and hope for the best when it comes to the health of one-time franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro.
Outside of DiPietro’s injury-mired campaign that held him to just eight games last season, the Isles’ rotation of Montoya and Nabokov had its moments of success despite a second-to-last finish in the East.
In the beginning of the year, when Nabokov was cold, Montoya was hot. The roles switched numerous times as the year went on, but certainly provided bench boss Jack Capuano with decent options for the club’s typically turbulent crease scene.
But just how will a shortened season work in the favor of the club’s netminders, especially with the loss of Montoya to the Winnipeg Jets? Be it Kevin Poulin or, perhaps, Anders Nilsson serving as the club’s third goalie if they follow last year’s blueprint, the plan will be the same and perhaps even more effective.
Why? Simply put, there will be fewer miles logged on everybody’s pads, higher impact of the hot streaks that’ll certainly come their way, and an opportunity to improve upon a goalie’s last outing given the familiar faces they’re going to see in a Conference-heavy schedule.
1. John Tavares
NHL players usually don’t read too much into what the pundits write and say about them. But when it came to ESPN snubbing the No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft on its list of “Top 25 Under 25” list, one can’t help but believe that Tavares has simply used that as ammunition in what’s been a torrid 100-game stretch.
Scoring 37 goals and adding 58 assists over the last 100 games played, it’s clear that Tavares’ contributions are beginning to look somewhat similar to division-rival centers like Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (115 points in last 100 games played) and the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin (139 points in last 100 games played), lining him up for another outbreak, even if it’s in a shorter season.
Need more proof? Consider this: The Islanders’ pivot saw his production increase 24 percent from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign, and then 21 percent from there between his second year and third year.
Sure, it’s not logical to believe that Tavares can up that percentage in a 48-game (if that’s the number) season, but there’s no denying that the kid’s perhaps the most legit under-25 player in the game today.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New York Hockey Journal.