Monday, April 13, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Long Island's Final Quest To Revel In June


47-28-7 (101 points)
3rd Metropolitan Division

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Long Island's final NHL journey begins Wednesday in Washington, in the revisited Drive for Cup Number Five.

That's a wrap.  The 42nd, and final regular season of NHL hockey in Long Island is done.  Come October, the next Islanders regular season home game will be played in Brooklyn.

The last regular season home game at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum was a deflating shoot-out loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets that prevented the Isles from hosting a first round play-off series.  That, however, didn't stop the party atmosphere in Uniondale Saturday night, nor did it diminish an otherwise great season, and the John Tavares led renaissance in Islanders hockey.

The task of marching Long Island hockey fans through to one last month of June begins Wednesday and Friday night against the Capitals in Washington.  The Barn will get its next chance to rock when the series shifts to Uniondale on Sunday for Game Three.

Before the playoffs even start, the 2014-15 regular season should not go under spoken.

The Islanders posted 101 points this season - breaking the century mark for the 8th time in their history, but, for the first time since the 1983-1984 regular season when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers snapped Long Island's "Drive For Five" Stanley Cup run.

That was over three decades and a full generation ago.  Many Isles fans weren't even born yet, or most of those who lived through, and remember the good old days are nearing retirement age or drawing social security by now.

The Isles seemingly had something going with some furious hockey against the Penguins in the 2012-13 playoffs, and looked forward to the following season with great anticipation.  In 2013-14 however, they got off to a brutal start which, despite a gamely effort down the stretch, they were unable to overcome.  They posted a disappointing 34-37-11 record, and finished 8th in the Metropolitan Division.

There were obvious issues that needed addressing in the off-season, with none more pressing than the situation between the pipes.

If you remember, last season's 3-headed monster featured 38-year old Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson, and Kevin Poulin.  The three combined on an .898 SV%, and a 3.00 GAA.  Nabokov led the pack with 38 starts, and posted a 15-14-8 record with a .905 SV%, and a 2.74 GAA.  Poulin made 26 starts, and posted an 11-16-1 record, with an .891 SV%, and a lofty 3.29 GAA.

General manager Garth Snow acquired Jaroslav Halak in the off-season for a 4th round pick, then signed him to a 4-year, $18 million dollar pact.  The stability Halak has brought between the pipes alone, has so far made him worth every cent.

Yes, he experienced a somewhat alarming finish.  Allowing a ponderous game-winning goal against the Flyers, and a let-down against the Blue Jackets in the Barn's regular season finale were not ideal ways to inspire playoff confidence.

What Jaroslav Halak needs at this very moment is rest.  Halak started 57 games this season.  It was said recently on the NHL Network that goalies whom start in excess of 60 games fair quite poorly in the playoffs.   Halak's workload puts him at the edge.

However, any discussion regarding Halak's defects must account for the porous defense being played in front of him, and a particularly poor penalty kill.  They respectively share responsibility for Halak's .914 SV% and a 2.43 GAA.

Otherwise, Jaroslav posted a 38-17-4 record, and greatly outperformed the previous situation in net.   In fact, Halak posted an 11-game winning streak that eclipsed the franchise mark set in 1982 by Billy Smith.

Garth Snow's two other key acquisitions addressed the defense.  In a pair of heralded acquisitions, he secured blue liners Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.  Offensively, they combined to score 19 goals, 53 assists, and 72 points.

However, they were brought here to bolster the defense.  Last season, the Islanders finished 28th in the league with a 3.18 goals against average.  This season, they finished 23rd in the league.  They finished last season with a 78.1% penalty kill rate; this season, 78% for 26th in the league.

Despite what can be viewed as marginal results, Garth Snow still deserves as much credit today as he did when he first secured these three players.

The Islanders started the season on a roll.  They posted a 25-11-1 record during the 2014 portion of the schedule, and on January 13th, they defeated the New York Rangers at MSG to put them 15 games over the .500 mark for the first time since the Cup era.

Exactly half way through the regular season, the Islanders were in first place of the Metropolitan Division with a 27-13-1 record; one point ahead of the Penguins.  With 55 points, they trailed only Tampa for the Eastern Conference lead.
  • The 1989-90 season was the last time the Islanders found themselves in 1st place by the all-star break.
Other teams got the message - the Islanders were good, 4-lines deep, and tough.  Of course, the hard part was finishing.

Scoring was never an issue.  At even strength, they were the 4th most potent offense in league.  John Tavares missed out on the NHL scoring title by one point.  He finished the regular season with 38 goals and 48 assists for 86 points, and is a leading MVP candidate.

The Islanders stumbled down the stretch, posting a troublesome 7-9-4 record in their final 20 games.   They slipped in the standings, finishing the regular season 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, and 5th in the Eastern Conference.

So, how long this run lasts is anyone's guess at this point.

Long Island's last journey begins Wednesday in Washington in the revisited Drive for Cup Number Five.


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