The Islanders are ready for the new season.
Despite the fact that the "so-called" experts have consistently written the Islanders off before the start of each season, the team has made the playoffs in 4 of the past 6 seasons. Heading into the 2008-09 campaign, the Islanders are once again prepared to prove the critics wrong.
There is a very different feeling around the Islanders these days—a feeling of optimism, excitement and readiness. With a mixture of experienced veterans, a group of talented young players, and one of the best goaltenders in the world, the Islanders are looking forward to a fruitful 2008-09 campaign.
Newyorkislanders.com previews the upcoming season by breaking down the team into four different aspects—goaltending, defense, offense and coaching. GOALTENDING
There may not be a more important individual on a sports team than a hockey netminder. For that reason alone, the health and durability of Islanders franchise netminder Rick DiPietro
is so important. In 2006-07, DiPietro stole many games away from the opposition with his acrobatic, no-quit style. His All-Star-worthy performance throughout the season was one of the main reasons the Islanders were in playoff contention.
DiPietro has said he is perfectly healthy after coming off surgery this summer. Fans should not be worried about his six goals against in the preseason finale. Rust was the major issue, as DiPietro competed in an NHL game for the first time since March.
Head Coach Scott Gordon has not indicated how many games he expects DiPietro to play, but assuming he's healthy, he could play up to 70 games. That would give backup netminder Joey MacDonald a limited––but important––opportunity to prove himself in the NHL. His play in the preseason––seven goals against in three and a half games played––silenced any doubts about his ability to compete at the game's highest level. DEFENSE
|Radek Martinek and Brendan Witt |
Much has been discussed about the Islanders' injury problems on the blueline last season. And before the puck has been dropped for the start of this season, the injury bug has bitten the Islanders—with Chris Campoli (shoulder) and Andy Sutton (hand) already out for the start of the season.
Fortunately, GM Garth Snow planned ahead and had his defense corps stockpiled. Rookie Jack Hillen, as well as recent acquisition Thomas Pock are more than capable of filling in. Hillen, in particular, had a strong Training Camp, making it difficult to send him to Bridgeport of the AHL. With Campoli out, Hillen has been Mark Streit
's fellow point man on the power play.
"I was told before I saw Jack play that size was a concern," said Gordon. "The minute I watched the tape of his game against the Rangers, I said this kid is pretty good. His instincts are excellent. Off and on the ice he is a smart kid. He has a confidence that comes out in his play."
Speaking of Streit, he instantly boosts the credibility of the Islanders' power play. His pinpoint passing and hard shot make him a versatile weapon as the quarterback.
On the defensive side, Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek may be the most underrated shutdown pair in the league. Witt's tenaciousness and willingness to sacrifice his body, along with Martinek's smooth skating and quick stick, make for a nice duo.
Bruno Gervais and Freddy Meyer both earned increased ice time last season, and during much of the latter part of the season the two performed well as the top defensive unit. Meyer and Gervais give the Islanders blueline a good combination of defensive reliability, but also added offense, especially in Gordon's new system that encourages the defensemen to jump into the play. OFFENSE
Plenty has been said about the youth movement the Islanders are implementing––especially up front. But the top line of Bill Guerin (37), Doug Weight (37) and Jon Sim (31) will be relied upon to provide a good amount of scoring. Guerin and Weight have had a lot of success together in the past, and they'll hope to continue their point-per-game scoring on Long Island. Sim's grind-it-out play was sorely missed last season after he missed all but two games last season with a torn ACL/MCL.
Trent Hunter, Frans Nielsen
and Jeff Tambellini are likely to play as a line, especially after Hunter and Nielsen combined for seven points in the Islanders' 4-2 win over Florida in the preseason.
Mike Comrie will once again be called upon to be a leader on the team, especially in the points category. His soft hands make for some highlight reel goals. Kyle Okposo
and Josh Bailey
have seen time together, but did not have much time to gel with Bailey missing all but two exhibition games. Okposo is set to play in his first full season in the NHL and there are high hopes for the Islanders' 2006 first-round draft pick. The 20-goal mark isn't out of reach for Okposo, who may battle for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Bailey will have nine games to be evaluated before the Islanders have to decide whether he will remain in the NHL for the entire season or returns to captain Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.
Blake Comeau and Sean Bergenheim will look to build upon their 2007-08 seasons. Comeau is coming off of his first lengthy stay in the NHL and can now concentrate more on his physical game that made him successful at the AHL level. Bergenheim created many good offensive chances last season, and if he buries a few more, can also reach the 20-goal plateau.
Richard Park and Andy Hilbert have become two of the team's best two-way forwards. Their work on the penalty kill has not gone unnoticed. Gordon speaks highly of former pupil Hilbert, who may see more of an opportunity to contribute on the scoresheet. Park has developed into one of the most dangerous penalty killers in the game.
"Whatever way you want to stack our lines, I think everybody at some level has been an offensive guy," said Gordon. "That's what makes our situation unique. When I like at other teams and perceived checking lines, their strength may not be scoring, but when our top two lines aren't scoring, we have a little bit more balance in that regard." COACHING
|Scott Gordon |
Considering Gordon has produced winners with far less talented teams than the 2008-09 Islanders, it's a good sign for Islanders fans. Gordon not only gets the best out of his players, his system works.
Gordon's "Overspeed" system is a puck-pursuit and pressure-intense style that gets the opposition reeling. Islanders who have played against Gordon's teams at the AHL level describe the experience as a "nightmare" where you are given no time.
With a younger and faster team than in the past, the Islanders have the right tools to implement the system. In the preseason, the system may have only resulted in a modest 4-3-0 record, but the Islanders cut-down on their opponents chances and shots against.
If Rick DiPietro
's workload is less than it has been in past years, he should have an easier time playing in more games and staying rested for late in the season, when the Islanders' will be making their final playoff push. Click here
to purchase tickets to the Home Opener on Saturday night.Click here
to watch Chris Campoli and Andy Sutton, joined NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, start the day at the NYSE.