Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Patrick Hickey Jr. is a freelance journalist that writes for and has been published in the Brooklyn Papers, The Wave of Long Island, The Brooklyn Free Press, Bay Currents, Mets Inside Pitch NY SportScene Magazine, NYSportsday.com and GothamBaseball.com. Hickey Jr. is also the Editor-In-Chief of Brooklyn College’s award winning student Newspaper, the Kingsman and is the former EIC of Kingsborough Community College’s newspaper, Scepter. He also has his own Islanders blog, TheDriveForFive.com, which is the only daily updated Isles blog on the net during the season.
Isles Season Preview
By Patrick Hickey Jr
After making the playoffs in the last day of the season despite a plethora of injuries, the New York Islanders were one of the feel-good stories of the NHL last year. Powered by career years by Rick DiPietro, Tom Poti and Jason Blake and the energy of new head coach Ted Nolan, the Isles looked to continue to winning ways into the new season.
However, after the departure of Blake, Poti, Ryan Smyth and important role players like Viktor Kozlov, Arron Asham and Sean Hill, New York will feature an almost completely new lineup in an attempt to show the rest of the NHL that they’re not the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the league anymore.
The length of these lists may startle most hockey fans, but Islander fan shouldn’t be worried. Losing Smyth and Blake was extremely damaging at first to the organization, but after the signings of Comrie and Guerin, the Isles have effectively replaced the losses of their two biggest offensive catalysis from last season and may even be in better shape than they were before.
The reason being is upside.
Guerin is a lock for at least 25 goals, regardless of who he plays with and with considerable playing time, Fedotenko and Sim can blossom into consistent 20-goal scorers, while Comrie might even be able to break the 70-point mark after flirting with it a few times in his career. Add in the big European Josef Vasicek, who is primed for a breakout season after looking like Oleg Kvasha last season and it’s easy to see that the Isles will have four strong lines that are capable of producing offense.
Last season, the team had 11 players [Ryan Smyth not included] that lit the lamp more than 10 times. That number may not be two impressive, but it does show that a team can make the playoffs in the NHL with a balanced attack on offense, rather than a sniper or two. If the Isles do make the playoffs this year, it will be because they have more than a few guys that have to be watched, rather than one 40-goal scorer and some spare parts that inconsistently contribute.
However, in order to really be dangerous on offense, the Isles will need their youngsters like Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim to challenge guys like Andy Hilbert, Richard Park and Chris Simon for spots on the fourth line, while Miroslav Satan needs to bounce back from a mediocre 27 goal season last year, or the Isles won’t be able to give goaltender Rick DiPietro any support.
The only problem with their forward lines is that their missing one more center that can play minutes and add depth to the power play and score some points. Shawn Bates will need to bounce back quickly after an injury-plagued season last year or Petteri Nokalainen may get a shot eventually. However with rumors circulating all summer about Jason Allison coming to the Island[cement skates included], the Isles may have a pretty solid group of centers that can all play in a variety of different situations and may have enough firepower to hold their own in a very dangerous Eastern Conference.
Despite losing minute-munchers like Hill and Poti in the offseason, the Isles acquired two promising young D-men in Spiller and Johnson and signed the behemoth shot-blocker extraordinaire Sutton, while inviting the offensive-minded Berard to camp. These changes may not seem like very big ones, but in reality, they’re quite huge.
If Berard’s back and eye are in good enough shape, the Isles may have one of the best offensive bluelines on the powerplay in the NHL, as he and Marc-Andre Bergeron could easily rack up 45 points a piece. In addition, Sutton gives the Isles many of the same things that Hill did, but is young and much faster skater, even with his size and could prove to be an even bigger cog in the Isles defensive game plan as assistant captain Brendan Witt is.
With the loss of Poti and Hill, both youngsters Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli will be asked to contribute more and after solid second seasons that saw both of them grow mean streaks and a quiet versatility to their games, you’d have to think they’ll be up to the challenge. Gervais seems to be the better defensive player of the two, but Campoli has the shot, skating ability and aggressiveness to be a very solid defenseman in the NHL for years to come. If both of these kids bring their A-game to the Island this year, the Isles may have one of the better defenses in the league.
Barring any significant injuries from Witt, Sutton and Bergeron, the Isles defensive will surprise a lot of people in the NHL this year. Witt and Sutton will have to play a significant role in the physicality department, while Bergeron will have to make sure that his 21 points in 23 games on the Island last season were no fluke. The reemergence of the injured Radek Martinek during the season could also play an influential role in the team’s play down the stretch.
When Rick DiPietro has his head screwed on right, he is a force to be reckoned with. However, when the charismatic goaltender decides to go skating out of the net, he destroys his team’s momentum and hurts his team more than anything else could. When Ted Nolan took over as Isles head coach, he went to a meeting by the team’s booster club where he was given a pair of bungee chords by a concerned fan that wanted to keep the enigmatic goaltender in the net.
However unlike last season, when Dunham looked absolutely atrocious and forced the team to play DP even after bad outings, the Isles now have a more than competent goaltender in Wade “Yoda” Dubielewicz that helped guide the team into the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
If DP can stay on top of his game and Dubielewicz can spell him from time to time, the Isles will have a more than competent duo in the net and will challenge with the last two playoff spots in the division.
If not, expect a long winter in Naasau.
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