The title of this post has a double meaning. While the Islanders are on the cusp of playoff elimination for the 2010-2011 season (one point gained by Buffalo or lost by the Islanders will seal their fate), they are also nearing a better, happier fate.
While I believed the Islanders were going to be a playoff team this season, it just didn't happen. A combination off injuries, inconsistent play, and some bad luck doomed them. And though by now I sound like a broken record, seemingly saying it at the end of every season, I really think next year they're going to be the story of the year.
Let me put it this way: For years I have bemoaned the Islanders' lack of scoring punch. That argument no longer has legs. I don't think we need to keep saying that for the first time in a long time the Isles have a legitimate top two lines. The team is on pace to score 229 goals this season, and that's without full years from Kyle Okposo and blue-liner Mark Streit. And I'll throw another name into the mix that I think will help the team next season: Nino Niederreiter.
Nino, who had a trial with the Isles at the start of the season, is having a terrific season in the Western Hockey League. He has 41 goals in 55 games, which prorated over a full season makes him one of that league's top goal scorers. Naysayers will mention that he hasn't done anything in the NHL yet, and they have a point, but I'm pretty high on him.
Now add a defense with some burgeoning young stars (Hamonic, MacDonald, and likely DeHaan) and veterans like Mark Streit to the mix, plus presumably another top 5 draft talent (who the Isles always seem to rush right to the NHL), and it starts to come together. If Garth Snow signs a free agent over the summer, even better. Which leaves only one remaining question mark: goaltending.
I'm not going to pretend to know what the goalie situation next season will be. I'm pretty sure Rick will be given a shot. ;) I'd like to see Kevin Poulin establish his career. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.
As for the game at hand, the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers came to town on Saturday (3/26) night. Head Coach Jack Capuano liked the way his Islanders competed, but they didn't finish their chances. Young Philadelphia forward James van Reimsdyk netted a hat trick, the first of his career, and the Islanders fell 4-1.
But the theme in the dressing room after the loss was all about the future. Rick DiPietro, the losing goalie, sounded a very positive tone for next season.
"I'd like to get everyone healthy here, " he began. "I wish we had a time machine to get to October and start the new season." On the other hand, he noted that the slew of injuries allowed some younger players to assume leadership roles and sped up their maturity. He viewed that as a positive outcome in a bad situation.
He lamented that the team never really had a chance to play as a full unit, even in training camp. They lead the league in man-games lost, with well over 500.
But he, like this author, certainly feels that the Islanders are on the cusp of very good things next season.
News and notes:
- The Islanders were eliminated when Buffalo defeated New Jersey before the Isles fell to Philadephia.
- Earlier in the week, defensemen Mark Streit and Andy MacDonald were declared out for the remainder of the season.
-Kyle Okposo had several chances to score, including a pretty 2-on-1 with line mate Michael Grabner. Kyle did not record a point, though.
- The attendance at Nassau Coliseum was 15,458.