After a prolonged involuntary hiatus caused by the National Hockey League's labor dispute, New York Islanders hockey is almost back. The abbreviated 2012 (?) - 2013 season begins Saturday (1/19) night at Nassau Coliseum, but we were afforded a sneak peak last night. In attendance for the annual Blue and White Scrimmage, along with 3,000 or so loyal fans, we had a chance to reconnect with Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, and Matt Moulson. We also had our first look at some newcomers, such as Ryan Strome and Matt Carkner.
Make no mistake, the roster is still in flux. Strome and Griffin Reinhart were returned to their junior teams today, while the Isles added veteran center Keith Aucoin this morning.
The 48-game format will be a "sprint" to the playoffs with some added challenges thrown in. Games will be played more frequently than in a normal season and the travel burden will be heavier. One of the pressing concerns Head Coach Jack Capuano expressed last night was the recovery time for his players, especially his veteran goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. He said that the team's conditioning staff will have to be especially vigilant maintaining tabs on the hydration and nutrition of his players.
"Cappy" was pleased with what he saw during the split squad exhibition game, noting that the players have been skating and eager to play meaningful games since September.
With seven regular season games before January ends, they'll get plenty of opportunity.
As for Kyle, Capuano has him playing on the top line with Moulson and Tavares. While Okposo wasn't available for comment, Moulson noted that the trio are familiar with playing together even though they "need to work on some things." He didn't further elaborate.
Realistically, how this team fares over the season should depend on the defensive corps, special teams, and goal tending. It will be interesting to watch how Capuano and his staff distributes the playing time among his forwards.
The team should get deeper and have some defensive relief if and when Lubomir Visnofsky reports to the team and if Mark Streit remains healthy.
We should see a leap forward in production from the young forwards once again, though in hockey as in life nothing is certain.
Our fingers are crossed and we are cautiously optimistic that, as Matt Moulson predicted yesterday, the New York Islanders will be a playoff team in 2013.