UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders were supposed spend last season building off their run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a scare in the opening round in an exciting six-game series.
Instead, the Islanders took a step back; they went 34-37 11 and finished fifth from the bottom of the NHL standings. To make matters even more painful, the Islanders were forced to sit and watch their archrivals, the New York Rangers, go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
Islanders left wing Matt Martin admitted the Rangers' run lit a fire under him. He wishes training camp started tomorrow.
"It's always hard to watch the playoffs. It's a little harder when you see them go as far as they did," Martin said Friday night during the Islanders' draft party at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. "They earned it though. They played hard, they played like a team and ran into a powerful L.A. team. [It was] definitely hard to watch for a very long time, but I'm looking forward to getting back at it."
The Islanders were competitive last season but struggled mightily to hold on to leads. They lost 13 games that at some point they were ahead by two goals. Martin knows that has to change if they are going to return to the postseason next spring.
"It's very frustrating; that's what we did in years prior to two seasons ago when we made the playoffs," said Martin, who had eight goals, six assists and 90 penalty minutes in 79 games. "We've got to find ways to hold on those leads. Obviously we had some injuries, but that's not an excuse either. We've got to find ways to just hang on to leads.
You can see that the management is trying to move this in the right direction and go far and the players need to follow suit. - Matt Martin
"The problem is we were in position to win games. It's not like we were getting blown out. We've just got to hang on and find ways to win. We know we have the talent in here and the pieces in place to go the distance and get in the playoffs again. Once you get to the dance, anything can happen. We know we're talented enough, we've been there before, we've just got to be more consistent and do what it takes to win."
General manager Garth Snow wasted no time this offseason acquiring a No. 1 goaltender. He landed the rights to Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals on May 1, then signed him to a four-year, $18 million contract three weeks later. Halak went 29-13-7 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .921 save percentage between the St. Louis Blues and Washington. He replaces 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov, who was limited to 40 games due to injury and becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday.
"I think that's a big help," Martin said. "When Nabby went down, Pouls [Kevin Poulin] and Anders [Nilsson] played good hockey but it was definitely tough. They're young guys that may not be in those positions very often yet in their career. We just need some more stability I think in net, and we got that with Halak.
"I think last year was …. I don't want to say a wakeup call, but nothing's going to be handed to us. I think goaltending was something Garth wanted to address and he took care of that right away. It looks like he wants a puck-moving defenseman or a veteran defenseman and he tried to address that. Free agency is just a week away, so they're doing what they can to make us better. But as players it's up to us to produce on the ice."
The 2014-15 season will be the Islanders' last at the 42-year-old Coliseum before they move into the state-of-the-art Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the fall of 2015. The Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 and made the Final in 1984, but they haven't reached the second round of the playoffs since 1993.
"It's been a long, long time since this arena's seen a championship and really just a deep playoff run in general," Martin said. "I think the fans deserve it, I think the players deserve it, I think even you guys [the media] deserve it. It's been a long time. You can see that the management is trying to move this in the right direction and go far and the players need to follow suit. We have a few months here before training camp opens and we have to get ourselves ready to have a great season."
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Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor