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Season preview: New York Islanders


Season preview: New York Islanders

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: New York Islanders

2014-15 record: 47-28-7, 3rd in the Metropolitan

How they finished: Lost in seven games to Washington in the conference quarterfinals

Coach: Jack Capuano (6th season)

Notable additions: G Thomas Greiss

Notable subtractions: C Tyler Kennedy, RW Colin McDonald, G Michal Neuvirth, D Lubomir Visnovsky

RELATED: What can the Caps expect from Oshie, Williams at right wing?

Schedule against the Capitals: Thu. Jan. 7 at New York, Thu. Feb. 4 at Washington, Thu. Feb. 18 at New York, Tue. Apr. 5 at Washington

Outlook: Unlike last year in which the Islanders made headlines by acquiring defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk a week before the season, this summer was rather quiet as general manager Garth Snow appears satisfied with the talent he has assembled and will look to see some measure of progress on the ice.

If you think the Caps have had a tough time lately in the playoffs, that's nothing compared to the Islanders. While the Caps have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1998, the Islanders have not advanced past the first round since 1993. Of course, four Stanley Cups help soften that blow, but I digress.

While New York may not have made many changes on the ice, they will be making one major move off of it as this year they trade in the friendly confines of Nassau Coliseum where they played for 43 years for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That transition will be made a lot easier if the Brooklyn fans embrace their new team. If not, the Islanders will not have much of a home ice advantage to speak of the first few years.

The Islanders are of course led by John Tavares, their superstar captain who was among the finalists for the Hart Trophy last season. Tavares is entering his seventh season in the league despite the fact that he turns only 25 in September.

This is a very young team and they may actually be getting younger as Michael Dal Colle and Ryan Pulock will challenge for roster spots in training camp. Dal Colle had 93 points in 56 games in the OHL last season while Pulock managed 17 goals and 12 assists in AHL Bridgeport.

Jaroslav Halak provides some stability for a sometimes shaky defense that will be without veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.

But while there is plenty of reason for optimism for this young roster, there are also some questions as well.

Tavares is one of the NHL's elite players, but it is safe to say the Islanders are behind where they were hoping to be six years after drafting him. Tavares has led the Islanders to the playoffs only twice and never out of the first round. In his first six years, Sidney Crosby helped the Penguins reach the playoffs five times winning the conference twice and the Stanley Cup once. Even Alex Ovechkin, often criticized for his lack of postseason success has reached the second round four times.

That lack of playoff success hasn't gone unnoticed as evidenced by the fact that, despite coming off his best season as coach of the Islanders, there was speculation as to whether Jack Capuano would remain coach. Kyle Okposo's name was also rumored to be on the trading block throughout the summer. The veteran winger is entering the last year of his contract, but he also is the second best player on this team behind only Tavares.

The Islanders find themselves with lots of cap space, but without a GM currently willing to spend it as Snow said, "these young players are going to need new contracts when they get out of their entry-level contracts. Raises are usually in order when the player performs."

Snow sees the problem Tampa is now facing and is keeping plenty of room open to ensure that he can afford to keep his budding stars. While Tampa was playing for a Stanley Cup last June, however, Snow's Islanders were watching from home.

If Snow plans too much for the future, he can't keep wondering why they aren't getting any better in the present.

Expectations: The Islanders are one of the tougher teams to predict. I could see them being one of the best teams in the division and the conference or I could see them fighting for a wild card spot.

The talent is there, no question about it, but the Islanders seem to lack that key piece that can turn them from a good team into a great one. For the Penguins, the acquisition of Bill Guerin served as a lynchpin to their Cup run. Bruce Boudreau finally got over the second round hump when the Ducks added Ryan Kessler.

The Islanders just don't have that x-factor.

With money to spend, New York is going to be at the center of every trade rumor in the NHL this season. Snow wants to keep cap space open for his young players, but if the Islanders struggle they will be in the market for rental players with expiring contracts to help them finally reach the second round.

I just don't see enough progress from the Islanders' core to think they will be able to keep up with teams like Tampa Bay, Montreal, Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh, etc. There is enough talent there to reach the postseason and, given the right matchup, maybe even the second round. Beyond that, I still believe the Islanders are a year and a player or two away from competing for the conference.

MORE CAPS: Team Russia fined for walking off the ice at Worlds

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks 
Vancouver Canucks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues
Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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Holtby is back, but Copley will start

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Holtby is back, but Copley will start

The Capitals take on the Montreal Canadiens to finish off a four-game road swing on Monday (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Washington has won two of its first three games on the trip and look to take win No. 3 in Montreal.

Here are four things to watch:

Braden Holtby is back, but Pheonix Copley will get the start

The Caps reassigned Ilya Samsonov to the Hershey Bears on Monday signaling that Braden Holtby will be back in the lineup for Monday’s game, but Pheonix Copley will still get the start.

Copley has been impressive on the road trip getting all three starts thus far with a .922 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. It says a lot that even with Holtby back, the Todd Reirden is still willing to put in Copley. Per Isabelle Khurshudyan, Reirden said he wanted to get Holtby back into his routine before starting him.

No Oshie, no Kuznetsov

T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both injured in Wednesday’s game and will be out of the lineup in Montreal.

Here is a look at the lines from the morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky

Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

It is important to remember that when the Caps finally get healthy, they will have two extra forwards on the roster. While the Caps can afford to keep two, most teams typically only carry one and Washington may look to trim one of those extra forwards in the coming weeks. That makes games like this one where more players are getting into the lineup and getting more minutes because of Oshie and Kuznetsov’s absence critical for those players who may or may not be fighting to stay on Washington’s roster.

Todd Reirden remembers

The last time these two teams met, things did not go that well for the Caps. Washington had a 4-3 lead late in the third period, but the Canadiens would score three goals in the final 3:04 of the game to win it 6-4.

Reirden has not forgotten about that game and called a fake goalie interference challenge late in Colorado on Friday just so he could remind his team to finish strong.

“It was a situation where a few weeks ago we had the lead and let it go against Montreal and it was something that we discussed with our team,” Reirden said following Friday’s game.”

Reirden reminded the players about how that game ended as a way to motivate them in Colorado. How much more will he remind them about it on Monday in a rematch against the Canadiens and will it lead to a stronger finish for Washington?

Max (Power) Domi

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin has been widely criticized for many of the moves he has made while with the Canadiens. It appears this summer, however, like he may have done something right.

Bergevin acquired forward Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk. It is a deal that looked decidedly one-sided in favor of Arizona, but let’s take all of the context out of it for one moment and just look at how Domi is performing right now. He looks like a tremendous player.

Domi has already racked up 10 goals in just 20 and comes into Monday on a nine-game point streak, a streak that started on Nov. 1 in the game against Washington. He has far and away been the team’s top offensive threat this season and leads Montreal in points with 24, seven more than second-place Tomas Tatar.

Speaking of Tatar, he is also someone the Caps will have to look out for as he has seemingly settled in with his new team and has six goals in his last six games.


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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes


NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.

Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.

At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.

Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.


Here are a few observations from the past week:

  • What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
  • The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
  • Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.

How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.