By Mike Carver
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The Islanders enter this season with some high expectations for the first time in a long time. They are a team that finished last season strong and have a talented, young nucleus filled with potential future stars in the NHL. Many feel this team will contend for the playoffs, some even feel they’ll be there. I’ve thought since March that they will be the 6th seed in the Eastern conference this season. Ok, so maybe my expectations are a little higher than others. The bottom line is that the bar has been raised and if the Islanders opening home stand is any indication, it will continue to rise.
Now, it definitely did not get off to a rousing start. With a sellout crowd at the Coliseum for opening night against Florida, the Isles just flat out did not show up. It actually was pretty embarrassing the way the Isles were lifeless against what I feel was an inferior opponent and with a crowd that was as fired up as I’ve ever seen it. They took terrible penalties, generated hardly any scoring chances, and if not for Al Montoya, would have been blown out. Let’s chalk it up to opening night jitters…
In a Columbus Day matinee against the Minnesota Wild, the Isles won the type of game they often lost last year. After a great first period that saw the Islanders grab a 2-0 lead, they played on their heels for pretty much the entire second and third. Saving the day and securing the win was some sparkling goaltending from Al Montoya and an outstanding penalty kill unit led by newcomers Brian Rolston and Jay Pandolfo. I have to admit, I had no idea why the Isles held on to Pandolfo after training camp, but it’s clear why he’s here. The guy can flat out kill penalties with the best of them. In the past, no way the Isles win a game like this. The old Islanders would’ve surrendered the tying goal, but not this group.
After winning a defensive battle, next up the Islanders put a beating on the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s the same Tampa Bay team that was a goal away from the Stanley Cup final last year and the Isles outplayed them all night. The first line finally got going as John Tavares, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau all lit the lamp and Montoya continued his sharp play in a decisive 5-1 victory over one of the best teams in the east. Then just when you thought the opening home stand couldn’t get any better, it did.
The exclamation point came against the cross-town rival Rangers. It’s always a big game when the Rangers come to the Coliseum. When you are trying to establish yourself as a big time team early in the season, it takes on more relevance. The Islanders were up for the challenge. Every time the Rangers pulled even, the Islanders had an answer. And the answer most of the night was the best player in NY, John Tavares. Tavares led the Isles with the hat trick and Evgeni Nabokov shut down the Rangers offense in his first start as an Islander to complete a very successful first week with a 4-2 victory and a 3-1 record.
Now is it too early to say the team will play this way all season??
Of course it is. The team has not even played a road game yet. But for the first time in long time, there is plenty of hope and optimism on Long Island and they have the team to make it happen. Get on board Islander fans, this is a playoff caliber team, and it’s going to be a fun ride.
3 Stars of the Week
3rd Star – Jay Pandolfo – Well, really it should go to the entire penalty kill unit, but Pandolfo has been the guy I’ve noticed most. The PK has started by killing almost 95% of power plays so far, good for 2nd in the NHL and Pandolfo has made a HUGE difference in the early going showing a real veteran presence on special teams and the 4th line. Let’s hope father time keeps on ticking.
2nd Star – Al Montoya – Montoya got the starting nod from coach Jack Capuano for the first 3 games and did not disappoint in any. 2 wins and an NHL leading 1.35 GAA gave the Islanders exactly what they needed to get this season started…some tremendous starting goaltending. It’s up to Montoya now to keep the ball rolling.
1st Star – John Tavares – After 2 sub-par performances to start the year, Tavares stepped up against Tampa and the Rangers. Back to back 4 point games and a hat trick to cap the home stand against the hated rivals could be a sign of great things to come for JT.
How do you think the Islanders’ goaltending situation will shake out? Leave a comment below.