In writing this blog entry I'm going to take a few things for granted about the Islanders overall because these are things you could write about any club.
On the Isles it's slightly different going in because the trend on defense is the group overall is prone to injury. They also have forwards who are older and played out a season injured along with a goaltender who has had two surgeries the last two summers. In that regard we'll forecast less injuries overall for the team and hope for the best.
So what will it take to return to the playoffs?
1. Better survival skills to get stretches of games to overtime that produce long unbeaten in regulation streaks and pile up the points.
I always love those graphics in Islander games that they rarely if ever lose games they lead going into the third period, for me they are misleading.
Maybe Islander fans did not notice how last season ended but it took Boston ninety four points and twelve games over five hundred to secure the eighth seed. Carolina was ten games over and had ninety two points and did not qualify which used to be my personal barometer for a playoff seed. Two years ago the Islanders went on a second half run that saw them lose three times in twenty regulation games that got them to sixth place but last year this teams survival skills to force games to overtime and secure points was missing virtually the entire season.
In the Islanders seven games losing streak in January they only got the final game of the losing streak to overtime against Minnesota and were leading late. When they won six straight immediately afterward only one game did they win in overtime.
Down the stretch in March when things fell apart again losing six in a row they did not get a single game to overtime and secure one point.
That has to change for New York next season with a defense on paper that should be improved with better survival skills in games to secure points but it's about team defense, not just players on the backline.
2. Out with the old, in with the new...
Everyone is doing a lot of talk of rebuilding and youth movements in New York but if you have read this blog you know about how many veterans are here and will be key parts of this team to start next season.
For this to work out as intended and for the club to compete for a playoff spot someone like an Okposo, Comeau or a Jeff Tambellini have to step up and fill the production gap when a Bill Guerin, Doug Weight or Mike Sillinger slump or outright struggle. That is when the real youth movement/rebuilding begins as you'll see a Frans Nielsen or someone else get a prime slot.
My guess is this change will be more subtle as long as the club is in contention and producing but make no mistake for this to work these kids have to step in and score when they get their chance if this club wants to make the playoffs this season.
A general term but simply put Scott Gordon has to get another productive year out of some veterans past their prime and in many cases some players have to produce more goals. This club cannot have a roster where almost all the forwards have a twenty game plus goal scoring drought.
Isles lost about forty goals with Satan, Fedotenko and Vasicek's departure on a club that was at the bottom of the league in goals. Trent Hunter did not have a point production drop but he has to find the net along with Sillinger, Comrie, Weight and Guerin among the veterans. Among these players there is no dynamic offensive star who can carry the scoring unless Comrie has a career season.
Simply put all the talk means nothing, these guys have to find the net on a regular basis.
We all know the story with the powerplay, if your not a great scoring club at even strength you have to do damage with your powerplay and last season too many nights were giving up give up quality chances with the man advantage like no other Islander club I have even seen.
There is no Berard at this time and Bergeron is in Minnesota with Aaron Johnson off to Chicago. Satan's departure dramatically changes the look along with Weight's passing skills but still they have no sniper/finisher in this department and no doubt other clubs will key on the defenders knowing there is not a lot of speed among the forward down low to get the other club running around in their own end of the ice and keep them off balance.
That's how you wear down a team with the man advantage as we see Billy Jaffe say often when he sees a team tired killing a penalty. Too many nights Isles stayed on the perimeter with their powerplay and the other team sat in it's box and waited for a mistake and attacked them, only very early last year did a forward take a puck from the corner and drive the net forcing the defense down low.
Mark Streit will be the quarterback and the Isles will likely hope Campoli and another player step up but this club cannot give up another fifteen goals with it's powerplay and look like the team shorthanded when they get an advantage.
If Richard Park or Bill Guerin are on point, it's obviously time to give Jack Hillen a full time spot or make a trade to get someone in here because for this club to have any chance at getting games to overtime and securing points on a regular basis this has to change from day one of next season if they want to be a playoff team.
Cue the movie Rocky II where Burgess Meredith has Sylvester Stallone chasing chickens to get some speed in those legs because this team does not only lack greasy fast speed but a lot of players who simply do not react well to the other teams speed.
Scott Gordon says he has looked at films and felt he had a fast team and talked of pressure and attacking but I think he has a ton of work ahead in this area outside of a few individuals like Richard Park who have the speed, but not the finishing skills to play a top six or nine.
For this club to return to the playoffs they need not only improved team speed but the ability to react better and counter the oppositions speed to make up for what they lack in this area.
You go from one of the best clubs at even strength in the league to one of the worst with most of the roster deep in the red your not scoring enough or defending enough.
Isles cut their shots against by close to two hundred , it's a misleading stat at times but clearly this team did not score enough to offset it. This could have been filed under scoring (plus/minus does not count for powerplay) but I felt required a spot for itself because it will be another key in something that has to improve for this club to return to the playoffs.