After a slow start, the Islanders are back to last season’s form.
With starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak injured for the first four games of the season, backup goalie Thomas Greiss showed strength between the pipes. Greiss is one of the few offseason additions to the Islanders roster.
Greiss played for the third time this season on Thursday, Oct. 15 and had his third-straight strong outing, turning aside 44 shots in the Islanders’ 4-3 victory over the Predators. Greiss, 29, never made more than 25 appearances in any of his six previous NHL seasons. He guided the Isles to a 2-0-1 record during Halak’s absence.
Halak returned to the lineup and made his season debut against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, Oct. 17. Halak set a franchise-record with 38 victories in net last season. He continued where he left off last season, winning games — with a 6-3 win over the Sharks.
Last season, the Islanders goaltending tandem was skeptical. Chad Johnson, now with the Buffalo Sabres, proved to be ineffective in his 19 games as an Islander. Johnson was brought in to be Halak’s backup, but he was later traded for Michal Neuvirth who took over the role. Neuvirth played five games with the Isles and is now with the Philadelphia Flyers. Going into training camp, the Isles released longtime minor league staple Kevin Poulin.
Along with the addition of Greiss, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow added a few experienced veterans in former New Jersey Devils’ forward Steve Bernier and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. This adds a bit of veteran experience to a generally-young locker room. One of the biggest offseason moves was the trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which sent forward Michael Grabner to Canada in exchange for five minor leaguers. Unfortunately, Grabner was plagued by injuries towards the end of his time in an Islanders uniform.
Some thought the adjustment to playing in a new building would affect the play of the orange and blue. However, they have been proven wrong thus far. The Isles currently have a record of 3-0-1 at their new home, the Barclays Center. The overtime loss was at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. It does not matter where they play, winning will continue. Especially with a young team like the Islanders, more team chemistry will take place this season. Playing with an almost identical group can only help the team.
One aspect of this year’s season will be the ability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Yes, they are only six games into the 82-game regular season, but this is what the fanbase has their eyes on.
Islanders Captain John Tavares and Hart Trophy candidate last year is showing why he deserves the Most Valuable Player award, compiling eight points over the first six games.
Another plus to this season is having forward Kyle Okposo healthy and back in the lineup to start the season.
Despite their age, forwards Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson are due to have breakout seasons this year. Strome and Lee have been on the wings alongside Tavares. Playing with Tavares is certainly a way to improve a player’s game, as he is one of the best in the league. All of these young-guns had successful seasons last year and can only continue to grow and learn the game.
Another key to this season is that Head Coach Jack Capuano changing up his lines from last season. On each forward line, there is at least one veteran. Lee, Nelson and Strome were on a line together for a while last year, “The Kid Line” as those in Islanders land called it. This year, Nelson has made the transition to a right-winger, after playing left-wing and center for the majority of last season.
Overall, besides these keys to the first week of the season, the Islanders are eager to finally accomplish more this season than they did in last year’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.