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Isles resiliency inspires optimism

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
Co-written by Dyan LeBourdais & Jesse D. Eisenberg

The New York Islanders of November are a stark contrast to today’s Islanders. In fact, the adversity that the team has faced and unquestionably overcome this season is nothing short of remarkable. More importantly, the resilience is a sign of things to come.

That terrible stretch of games spanning from late October to mid December, when the young team dropped 20-of-21 games, was undoubtedly hard to watch and was even harder for the players in the locker room.

But the club’s inability to overcome injuries early in the season, causing them to lead the league in man-games-lost, only adds to the blossoming saga; it’s what the team did with that overwhelming statistic, which truly turned this club around.

While the Islanders may not make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, the campaign can not be called a failure. In fact, 2010-11 may soon be remembered as the turning point of a really great story.

Travis Hamonic #36 of the New York Islanders celebrates his first period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with his teammates on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The protagonists are undoubtedly the handful of players that emerged from relative obscurity, by making good on their first extended opportunity in the National Hockey League.

Garth Snow made a few signings, trades and claims off waivers that were originally questioned; not because people thought they were bad moves, but because the players he acquired were talents upon which most teams had already given up.

Collecting Michael Grabner off of waivers was a godsend. He’s completely shocked the hockey world, replicating Matt Moulson’s feat last season by posting a 30 goal season in his first campaign with the Isles. He should be in the talks for the Calder Trophy and would seem to be in line for a contract extension this off season.

Like Moulson, PA Parenteau was another NHL talent that had been forced to play out his entry-level contract in the AHL; that is, before Snow sniped him off the free agent market. The Isles General Manager made a commitment to the 28-year-old, pairing him with linemates Moulson and John Tavares.

Snow saw a good return on his investment. Parenteau’s career-high 30 assists (which are good for second-most on the team) paved the way for a one-year contract extension, finally giving the Hull, Quebec native the NHL stability he’s craved.

A staggering seven different goaltenders dressed for the Islanders this season. While at times it felt like the goalie situation was desolate, the exact opposite now rings true. At one of the lowest points in the injury plague, Snow shipped a sixth round pick to Phoenix for Al Montoya.

In his first extended look, the former first round selection stood strong in net, posting an 8-3-4 record, 2.37 goals against average and .922 save percentage. And if Snow can sign the Cuban goaltender this off-season, the Islanders last line of defense will be even stronger come 2011-12.

Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders is all smiles as he celebrates his 3-0 shutout with Frans Nielsen #51 of the Islanders after an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Nassau Coliseum on February 19, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
These relative newcomers have blended seamlessly with the Islanders own; the kids who have grown into young men, who were drafted by the Islanders, grew up through their system and are now starting to show that confidence they were missing early on in their careers.

Tavares has taken the next step toward stardom as he topped his career-high totals in every category (26-34-60), leading the team in points for the second straight season and defying the notion of a sophomore slump. As he continues to push forward, the confidence exuding from the first overall draft selection has grown tenfold.

You can't dismiss the Islanders internal gains on defense either.

The Islanders lineup suffered perhaps the biggest blow before the regular season had even begun, losing veteran defenseman Mark Streit. And then, after the early loss of Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau, Andrew MacDonald was asked to step up his role and play as the team’s top defenseman.

MacDonald rose to the occasion. Before his season came to an unexpected end on March 25, the 24-year-old led the team in time on ice and all defensemen in scoring with 27 points (4 goals, 23 assists) and a +9 rating.

Then there is his linemate Travis Hamonic. While the rookie defenseman hoped he'd have his opportunity to play in the NHL this season, it’s doubtful he thought that he'd earn the trust and responsibility of being a top defensive pairing.

In two weeks, when the Islanders season comes to an end, don't be frustrated or angered by the team's lack of a 2011 playoff birth.

Instead, think of how much this team has grown. How much they have become a family that has learned to depend on one another and who has come to expect nothing less than the best effort from each one of their teammates each and every night.

That's your New York Islanders of today, tomorrow and of next season.
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