Up, Up and Away for the Islanders – High in the Standings

If you’re an astronomer, the question is: How high is the moon?

If you’re an Islanders fan, the question is: How high can Jack Capuano‘s skaters finish in the Metropolitan Division?

Based on last spring’s delightful climb into the second playoff round, optimism is at a high level on Flatbush corner Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn.

And why not?

John Tavares & Co. finished with more than 100 points for the second straight year, while simultaneously acclimatizing themselves to new digs at Barclay Center. With a break here or there — who knows? — they might have taken the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round and moved even closer to a Cup run.

But, that’s old business since we are now dealing with a new-look Isles squad; very new when considering that ex-heroes Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen have gone on to new places.

Having waved bye-bye to their old buddies, the Isles now welcome the newcomers Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, each of whom could make the Brooklynites a better squad than last year. The surprising Devils claim of P.A. Parenteau means that one of the young studs will have to fill that right-wing slot.

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But we’ll get to the “how” of that in a moment. There’s a major league accent on the positive in the Islanders’ room and The Maven now will explain why optimism is the order of the day:

OFFENSE:

Losing Okposo off the top — as in John Tavares — line hardly is the end of the world. Not when a Cup-winner such as Ladd is there to fill the gap. A former 29-goal scorer, Ladd adds more of a defensive aspect to his game than Kyle did, as well his pure grit.

Losing Nielsen from the second unit does pose a thought-twister for the brain trust. Who will replace Fransie? Some say it should be 26-goal Brock Nelson. Others lobby for Ryan Strome, who suffered through a so-so season in 2015-16 season. “For me,” Strome asserts, “it’s time to take the next step up. The opportunity is there for me to take that role.”

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Big Anders Lee, who was coming on strong before a late-season injury, figures to be third-line right wing with Josh Bailey on the right side and Nelson at center, if Brock misses second line work.

When Martin worked with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, the trio was rated as one of the NHL’s best fourth lines. With Martin in Toronto, the more talented — and equally as big and feisty — Chimera brings a 20-goal season to Brooklyn.

That leaves Nikolay Kulemin, Shane Prince and Alan Quine remaining to round out the assault troops. The latter pair excelled in the first-round triumph over Florida last spring. Kulemin is just plain solid and due for a bounce-back season.

Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier could get the nine-game look because both have provided promise. Barzal is an offensive menace with his patience and skill set, while Beauviller impressed with his 200-foot game — also doubling as an excellent special teams’ player.

DEFENSE:

Picking a “best” Islanders backliner ain’t easy. The Maven’s choice is Travis Hamonic, who returns without a “Trade Me” tag on his back; which is all too good in every way. Then again, Mister Rush — alias Nick Leddy — is a burgeoning star whose best is yet to come. Few blue-liners skate as well or as fast or as strong as Nick. And if somehow Johnny Boychuk can find the form he displayed in his first Islanders year; then we have much to cheer about.

This will be especially so should Dennis Seidenberg plays as well as he did when he teamed with Boychuk on the Bruins.

One could say that Thomas Hickey earned a Top-4 role in his coming-of-age season last year, but he’ll get competition from Calvin de Haan, although the latter knows he can improve his erratic play in 2015-16. Should Cappy require reserve strength, he can reach out to Ryan Pullock , Scott Mayfield or Adam Pelech. Each one is still young enough to reach a higher level.

GOALTENDING:

Jaroslav Halak entered the World Cup of Hockey determined to prove that he’s ready for a bounce-back season. Healthy, wealthy and wise, the Slovakian underlined his competitiveness by spearheading Team Europe to the Cup Final. That alone should guarantee his return as Goalie No. 1 with ever-improving Thomas Greiss there to spell, when necessary. And if a third man is required — as happened last season — Jean-Francois Berube has winner written all over his crease. J-F-B impressed in training camp.

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SPECIAL TEAMS:

Ranked a mediocre 17th last season, the power play needs new faces and Pulock at the point figures to be one of the new catalysts. The rookie and Nick Leddy could be the spark plugs because Tavares simply can’t do it alone. Penalty-killer was a forte, but that was when Nielsen was the pivotal personality. Chimera should help along with Cizikas and Clutterbuck. One thought on improving the power play: Place Tavares at the top of the circles and set him up with a one-timer in the Alex Ovechkin manner.

X-FACTOR: 

Why did Garth Snow send defensemen Ryan Pullock and Adam Pellech to Bridgeport?

  1. This will give them more playing time and more experience, rather than less time and sitting in the press box
  2. They will have an opportunity to improve their transition game coming out of their own zone
  3. The acquisition of the more experience Seidenberg becomes a better option as the No. 6 D-Man.

P.S. – Now, with Pullock gone, Cappy must find the best PP shooter from the point.

COACH:

Jack Capuano has grown with the Islanders and his skaters have grown with him. The milestone second-round ascent is part of the equation, but now Cappy has to demonstrate that there are better days ahead. For that new horizon to be discovered, the coach must somehow get Strome, Nelson and Lee to simultaneously power their respective games upward.

ROOKIES:

Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang. Any one of the three gifted forwards could crash the lineup if not now, then not far down the line.

CONCLUSION:

When three of the most popular and effective vets are subtracted from the roster, the gap-filling must be of extraordinary proportions. Garth Snow did well to obtain Ladd and Chimera.

Now, the onus is on Capuano to maintain the upward momentum.