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New home, top line among questions for Islanders

by Brian Compton

The New York Islanders won 47 games last season but once again couldn't get out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals. They're essentially returning the same group and hoping their younger players will continue to evolve.

Here are three questions facing the Islanders this season:

Can the Islanders create home-ice advantage in Brooklyn? After 43 years of playing their home games at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders begin a new era at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. There will be an adjustment process for the players as they get accustomed to their new surroundings, but the hope is it will be a smooth transition. Given how tough the Metropolitan Division is expected to be, the Islanders and their fans are going to have to create a raucous environment quickly. New York opens the season at home against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 9.

"We want to make it a tough place to play right off the bat," captain John Tavares said. "I don't think too many teams enjoyed [going to the Coliseum], so you want to bring that same kind of feel to [this] season."

Who will skate with John Tavares? The Hart Trophy finalist, who had career highs in goals (38) and points (86), had several different linemates last season and produced regardless of who was on his line. But some consistency could lead to even bigger numbers.

Anders Lee, who scored 25 goals as a rookie last season, is an option, as is Ryan Strome (50 points in 81 games). Brock Nelson could be shifted to left wing, allowing Mikhail Grabovski to play center on the second or third line. Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are obvious candidates.

But a wild card is left wing Michael Dal Colle, the Islanders' first-round pick (No. 5) at the 2014 NHL Draft. He had 42 goals and 51 assists in 56 games for Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League in 2014-15. Islanders general manager Garth Snow said he is not opposed to at least giving Dal Colle a nine-game audition at the start of the season, depending on how he performs in September.

"He had a great season, winning the Memorial Cup," Snow said. "He's a huge part of this team, obviously. The luxury we have now is we've been so fortunate in the drafts that we've had is we have a tremendous amount of depth at all positions. We'll never discount any young player from making our club out of training camp. Really, Michael's performance will dictate that. That's why you have training camp: It gives every team an opportunity to see how players perform at the highest level."

Can the Islanders cut down on goals allowed? Jaroslav Halak was a major upgrade for the Islanders in goal; he went 38-17-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in his first season with the Islanders. But New York allowed 224 goals, fourth most in the Eastern Conference.

One of the few changes on the roster will be Halak's backup. Thomas Greiss, who had a 2.59 GAA in 20 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, signed a two-year contract with the Islanders on July 1.

"I think that's more of a team thing that we need to get better at," Snow said. "Jaro's one of the top goaltenders in this league, and I think you saw when he was carrying our team for extended periods of time. We were fortunate enough to trade for his rights last spring and then got fortunate enough that we agreed on a four-year contract. That really solidified that position for us. To be able to have a goalie that you know is going to be able to give you an opportunity to win on any given night is a great luxury to have."


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