With the first pre-season game action of the 2013-14 season just one day away, the Islanders hit the ice Monday morning before their flight to Regina, Saskatchewan. With 51 players still in camp, the Islanders and Calgary Flames will meet for two split-squad games. One group will stay in Regina, while the other will continue on to Calgary, with both games scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
After four hard practices, defenseman Brian Strait is among those chomping at the bit to see game action for a change.
“I can't wait for this,” Strait said. “It's been a long offseason and you just wait for your next opportunity to get back out there and compete again. You don't do any kind of competition throughout the summer except playing golf against your buddies.”
Head Coach Jack Capuano plans on utilizing the eight preseason contests to take a hard look at his squad. With more players in camp than last season competing for limited roster spots, the Islanders coach wants to experiment with line combinations and pairings, a luxury he didn’t have a year ago.
“This is a good chance for a few different things,” Capuano said. “We can evaluate our young guys pushing for a spot, and see who needs more time in the American Hockey League. We’ll also see some of our older guys and what kind of summers they had and where they’re at. We have some new guys on our team, and that gives them an opportunity to get familiar with our system.”
Capuano also indicated that there could be personnel changes to the special teams units. He will try Frans Nielsen on the point for one power play unit, while giving many players ample opportunities on the penalty kill.
“Our special teams weren’t great down the stretch and in the playoffs last year against Pittsburgh,” Capuano said. “There’s some adjustments that we need to make with the unit of four that’s out there with our goaltender.”
The Islanders will start the preseason schedule with five games in six days. Last season, forward Josh Bailey missed training camp and the first 10 games of the regular season with an injury, and had the challenge of hitting the ice at full speed after a long layoff. This time around, he’s looking forward to the exhibition matchups to prepare for the season opener on Oct. 4 at New Jersey.
“These games definitely help,” Bailey said. “It’s certainly nice to get some preseason games and get your feet wet, and get a feel for things before the regular season begins.”
A video stream of Tuesday’s game at Calgary can be found on Newyorkislanders.com.