Surging Islanders Have More Reason For Optimism As Visnovsky Starts Skating
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — After two and a half months of misery, the Islanders are finally playing like their season matters.
Winners of seven straight on the road, the Islanders will look to equal a franchise record for consecutive road wins when they take on the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. New York won eight straight away from Nassau Coliseum from Feb. 27-March 29, 1981.
The Islanders (18-22-7) still have a lot of work to do if they want to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight season, but have won nine of 12 overall to climb within seven points of a wild card and eight of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Head coach Jack Capuano’s team has been getting good news on just about every front. John Tavares may be the hottest player in the NHL right now, registering 18 points in his last nine games, pushing his season total to 56, which is tied with Chicago’s Patrick Kane for second in the league, behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (67).
Linemates Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo have also benefited as each are in the top 25 in scoring. Vanek has 30 points in 31 games since coming over to the Islanders in the trade that sent Matt Moulson and draft picks to Buffalo. Okposo is currently 14th in the NHL in scoring with 44 points and is on pace to shatter his previous career high of 52, set during the 2009-10 season.
The Isles have also gotten better defensively, allowing 23 goals in their last 10 games. When you consider they have allowed the most goals in the Eastern Conference and second-most in the NHL overall, 152, or 3.23 per game, that’s quite an improvement.
And they may be getting closer to improving even more. Veteran Lubomir Visnovsky, who has missed all but eight games this season due to a concussion, has been skating on Long Island while the team has been on its current six-game road trip, Newsday reported Tuesday. Visnovsky, 37, is in the first year of a two-year $9.5 million deal and has been greatly missed as the Islanders have been forced to rely on three rookies on their blue line over much of the first 47 games.
There’s no immediate timetable on when Visnovsky could return, but Islanders general manager Garth Snow has said many times this team, as currently constituted, would be at its best defensively with both Visnovsky and Brian Strait along the blue line. Strait has missed 23 games this season, but since his return on Dec. 12, the Islanders are 9-4-2.
One player who has been forced to play a ton in Visnovsky’s absence has been Andrew MacDonald. The 27-year-old defenseman, who is in the final year of his extremely cap-friendly four-year, $2.2 million contract, is currently fifth on the team in scoring with 22 points, including 19 assists.
According to several reports, the Islanders have had preliminary discussions with MacDonald on a contract extension. It is believed if he hits the open market this offseason he could command more money than the $4.75 million Visnovsky makes on average.
After the Islanders complete their swing through Florida, which will include a game at Tampa Bay on Thursday, they will head to Philadelphia on Saturday for the front end of a pivotal home-and-home set.
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