On Monday, Andy Graziano and Brian Erni tackled three of the most pressing questions leading into the New York Islanders season opener Thursday in Manhattan.
With the 23-man roster set to be announced Tuesday, and after the surprising decision to place P.A Parenteau on waivers, there is more mystery and drama to it than before. It's possible that Anthony Beauvillier, Matthew Barzal, and Alan Quine all begin the season on the roster, and the battle between Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock has also not yet been decided.
Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The usual cast of characters has been replaced this year with some new faces. Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera replace Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, while the loss of Frans Nielsen continues to be felt. It remains to be seen if Casey Cizikas can fill that role with a new contract extension in tow.
There is no question New York needs much more consistency out of Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, and much more of just about everything from Ryan Strome. Shane Prince likely starts the season injured, opening the door wide for a wave of young talent that hasn't been seen around these parts in some time. There's a new fourth line in town, with Nikolay Kulemin replacing Martin on a line with Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
With the turnover, it remains to be seen if this offense can be better than last year, when they tallied 232 goals, good for fourth in the division and seventh in the conference. If they don't get what they need out of Nelson, Lee and Strome, the playoffs for a third consecutive season might be a difficult task.
Brian Erni, SNY.TV Twitter | Archive Posts
Unlike Andy, I'm not very concerned about the offense. Between John Tavares, Ladd, Lee, and Chimera, I think the Isles have four 20-to-30 goal scorers, especially when you consider just how red hot Lee finished the season, and how seemingly immune to aging Chimera's legs are.
Sure, it doesn't look quite as deep as years prior, but remember, we have absolutely no idea what to expect out of Nelson and Strome. If either one of those two can step up their game, the Isles should have playmaking ability scattered throughout every line. And if they don't, the front office and coaching staff has already shown a willingness to give other guys an opportunity. With Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang chomping at the bit in Bridgeport, Garth Snow and Jack Capuano are going to be a lot less patient with their incumbent group.
I'm much more concerned with how the forwards will play in their own end, particularly without Nielsen, and how they'll kill penalties. Remember, the PK was one of the Isles' strongest attributes last season (84.5 percent, good for fourth in the NHL), and it had a lot to do with Nielsen being the healthiest he's been in a few seasons. That's where Cizikas will really need to fill Frans' shoes, and it's certainly a tall order.
AG: Gone are the days of Radek Martinek. Chris Campoli, Bryan Curran, and Andrew MacDonald. The Islanders now boast one of the stronger, more mobile defensive corps in the entire division. Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey, and Calvin de Haan all can skate, while Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are the more stable, stay-at-home types. Ryan Pulock looks to continue his seasoning on the defensive side of things while trying to find the space to let his 100 mph slap shot go. Adam Pelech had an outstanding training camp and should be the first call-up if something goes awry.
Where the Islanders need to be much better this season over last is in transition. It was painful at times to watch New York work so hard to regain possession in the defensive zone only to see breakout passes go astray or puck carriers lose control. That ties into zone entries on the power play as well. There are things to clean up, but when this defense is playing well, I'd take my chances against almost any opposition.
With a lack of depth at the position in Bridgeport, it's imperative the big names stay healthy this year.
BE: Andy makes great point. The Isles were garbage in transition last year. One season after nearly everyone on the roster put up career highs in advanced possession metrics, the Isles relied far more heavily on the dump in than skating entry in the zone, and it made for maddeningly-short stints in the offensive zone, particularly in the beginning of the season.
Last year, it seemed to take Leddy a solid month or two to get his legs moving like we're accustomed to seeing. Fortunately, those concerns were eventually alleviated, as Leddy progressed toward the mean. Boychuk certainly had his worst season in a while, and much of that can probably be chalked up to nagging injuries. That said, he's going to turn 33 during the season, and there are a lot of miles on that body. Can he bounce back to be the 2014-15 version of himself?
That, along with the utilization of Pulock and Seidenberg, may be the biggest questions facing the Isles on the blue line this season. Seindenberg should generate a lot of the Brian Strait-level consternation from the fan base when he's in the lineup, but in Seindenberg, the Isles probably have their most stable, capable seventh d-man since Lubo Visnovsky. And if Pulock is playing up to his potential, there isn't going to be much that's going to keep him out of the lineup.
This is unquestionably one of the Isles' biggest strengths, and provided the group can stay healthy, it should help alleviate some of the defensive concerns at forward that I have.
AG: Ah, the goaltenders. Much to everyone's surprise, and to the players' dislike, there are still three goaltenders on the Islanders roster. Jaroslav Halak, coming off surgery and an outstanding World Cup, once again assumes the starter role. Thomas Greiss is the best backup in the Metropolitan division, and gives the team a one-two punch that is tough to match.
Unfortunately, J-F Berube looks to be traded or passed through waivers. His attitude and handling of the entire situation makes him worthy of playing somewhere. Obviously, the organization would like it to be in Bridgeport, but the chances of him slipping through the waiver process, without a 'pre-arranged' agreement in place, are slim.
BE: I can't get too worked up about the Berube thing. If he ends up being traded or waived, so be it. The Isles are built to win right now, and even have a "goaltender of the future" in the system. Plans change, and injuries happen. I get all that. But this team has two starting-caliber goalies to go to war with, and that should really be enough to satisfy even the most cynical fan.
It should be an advantage down the stretch, when the Isles have four back-to-backs in the month of March, which also includes the bulk of a nine-game road trip. Provided both netminders are healthy at that point, the ability to run them both out there and have equal confidence in them as the team jockeys for playoff positioning is going to be a huge coup.
I wouldn't be surprised to see some regression from Greiss, but even slightly worse than last year is still light years better than the Isles usually are behind their number-one goaltender. These two saved the season, no pun intended, last year with their fantastic play. Hopefully the Isles will give them a little more room to breathe this time around.
AG: One of the things I loathe the most is making predictions, but Brian talked me into it. There really is no science to it, leaving it purely to 'feel' and a guess. Of course, factors such as slumps and injuries can never be assumed.
With the question marks surrounding the secondary scoring out of Nelson, Lee, and Strome, and the fact Nielsen was not replaced makes the Islanders a tougher team to judge this season heading in, a lot of things have to go right for them to make the playoffs a third consecutive season.
I'll say some things do and some things don't, leaving New York fourth in the Metro but capturing a Wild Card berth.
BE: I am pretty optimistic about this group. There are a lot of dynamics at play here: They've been through a lot the past two seasons, they have guys who are desperate to stay in the lineup, and a big youth infusion is on the way to help bolster the existing core.
I think the PK is worse, but the power play improves. The goaltending holds up, while Lee has a huge season working in front of the net. The Isles finish behind the Penguins and the Capitals in the Metro, and register their third-straight 100-point season.