UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders were supposed to build off their run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a scare in a six-game first-round 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 admits 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 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 this season but struggled to hold leads. They lost 13 games that at some point they led by two goals. Martin knows that needs to change if New York is 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.
"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."
Islanders 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 for the St. Louis Blues and Washington. He replaces 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov, who was limited to 40 games this season because of injury and becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"I think that's a big help. When [Nabokov] went down, [Kevin Poulin] and Anders [Nilsson] played good hockey but it was definitely tough," Martin said. "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 wake-up 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 Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Islanders won the Stanley Cup four times from 1980-83 and reached the Final in 1984, but they haven't been in 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."