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Game Preview: Islanders at Blue Jackets

The Islanders kick off the 2017-18 season in Columbus (7 p.m., MSG+)

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

NEW YORK ISLANDERS (0-0-0) AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0)

7 P.M. NATIONWIDE ARENA

TV: MSG+ MSG GO

RADIO: 88.7FM - WRHU, 570AM - The Mission, 103.9FM - LI News

Morning Skate Updates


New York Islanders hockey is back! 

The Islanders kick off the 2017-18 season on Friday night, taking on a Metropolitan Division rival in the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., MSG+). It's been too long since the Islanders last took the ice and they're excited to get the season going. 

"We're just looking forward to getting started," John Tavares said Thursday before departing for Columbus. "I think things went really well and now it's time to play for real. We're excited we're finally at this point. It's been a long summer, obviously a long three weeks preparing, but we're as ready as we can be." 

The Islanders missed the playoffs by one point last season and identified the team's slow start as a major reason. The team won six of their first 20 games and know they have to be ready out of the gate if they want to return to the postseason and that starts on Friday night. 

"You could just really see how much effort and energy that took and we ultimately didn't get to the playoffs," Tavares said. "Playing well and earning points early obviously puts you in a good frame of mind and a good position going forward." 

Banking points against divisional opponents will also be key to returning to the playoffs. The Metropolitan Division fielded three 100-point teams last season (Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus) and will likely be even tougher this season as the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils all added impact pieces over the summer. 

"I'm confident in the people around me, our organization, the players we have and I'm confident in what I believe I've started to put in here," Head Coach Doug Weight said. "I have great confidence in our team and how good we can be."

Video: The Road to Opening Night
ISLES VS JACKETS: 

This is the first of four meetings between the division rivals. The Islanders struggled at Nationwide Arena last season, losing both meetings by a combined 13-2 score. 

The next three meetings are Dec. 14 in Columbus, Feb. 3 and 13 at Barclays Center. 

The Islanders went 1-2-1 against the Blue Jackets last season. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: "I'm excited for the hard work these guys have put in. I have great confidence in our team and how good we can be." -Doug Weight | #Isles pic.twitter.com/xSwZDZyuKs

ISLES FOCUSING ON IMPROVING SPECIAL TEAMS: 

Special teams were a focus during Islanders Training Camp, with Head Coach Doug Weight devoting several full practice days to the power play and penalty kill. 

With the NHL's stricter enforcement of slashing calls (the Islanders were called for seven slashing minors against the Rangers on Sept 18) and new rules regarding face-off violations, the Islanders are preparing for special teams to be a factor early on in the season. 

"We worked a lot more on special teams than we probably ever have in the past," said Josh Bailey, who is entering his 10th season with the team. "Through the course of the preseason there were a lot of penalties being called and it could be crucial at the beginning of the year to get off on the right foot."

The Islanders had the 28th-ranked power play last season (14.9%), but sported the 11th-ranked penalty kill (81.9%). The acquisition of Jordan Eberle is expected to bolster the top unit. Rookie Mathew Barzal also practiced with the top unit during training camp.  

BLUE JACKETS NOTES: 

The Blue Jackets set franchise records in 2016-17, with 50 wins and 108 points, good for fourth overall in league standings. Columbus' playoff run was cut short, as the Blue Jackets fell victim to the NHL's division-based playoff format and drew the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. 

Columbus' biggest roster move this offseason was acquiring Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad. Panarin, who's coming off a pair of 30-goal, 70-point seasons in Chicago, is expected to play on the Blue Jackets' top line, according to the team's website. Saad was Columbus' third-leading scorer last season with 53 points. 

The core of the Blue Jackets team returns in 2017-18, with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky expected to start on Friday. Defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are back to anchor the blue line, while leading scorer Cam Atkinson looks to build off his career-year (35G, 27A). 

Pierre Luc-Dubois, the third-overall pick from the 2016 Draft, is also expected to make his NHL debut on Friday night for the Blue Jackets. 

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