I am a die-hard New York Islanders fan and have been waiting for this for 7 years. I sat in the Stanley Cup when I was 3 years old and have bled blue and orange ever since. We are no longer the laughingstock of the NHL and Rick DiPetro is not on the roster. So there will be no need for those kind of jokes anymore.
The New York Islanders shocked everyone covering the NHL this year except for TotalSportsBlog.com, and made the playoffs. Whoever at TSB picked them to finish 8th was a real smart guy.
The Isles will take on the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night. To give us an Islanders perspective of the series, we reached out to Kevin Schultz of IslandersPointBlank.com. Make sure to follow @IslandersPB and Kevin at @Schultz88 on Twitter.
1. There clearly is no love lost between these two organizations. There is a lot of history here. A few years ago there was the night at the Nassau Coliseum when the Isles were sick and tired of being pushed around and literally took matters into their own hands. Is that the type of hockey the Isles need to play to have a chance in this series?
I don’t know that the Islanders need to get into a street fight with the Penguins, as I don’t think that’s going to be either team’s strategy. I can see it getting edgy but it isn’t likely to start that way. That’s not how the Islanders have been winning, either. They’ve been winning with excellent passing, goals (7th in the NHL) and timely goaltending (Nabokov is stopping .928 in April).
2. With Sidney Crosby questionable to start the series, how important is it for the Isles, who have been an outstanding road team this year, to steal one of these first two games in Pittsburgh?
Huge. Coming back to Long Island 1-1, and the Islanders will have a heck of an opportunity to make something happen.
3. Isn’t it amazing that the two players who didn’t want to be here, have become two of the most important pieces to this amazing run to the playoffs for the New York Islanders?
It’s been a pretty amazing turnaround for Nabokov and Visnovsky, two guys who each for a brief time, looked like they wouldn’t even suit up for the Islanders let alone make an impact. The team hasn’t gotten nearly the credit they deserve not for being able to get them in uniform, but for being able to re-sign both and get them to buy into the program.
4. John Tavares rightfully gets all the attention from the media. But, which other players do fans need to know about heading into this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Aside from Nabokov and Visnovsky, the Isles’ second line has been another huge key to their playoff run. Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo have arguably been the team’s best line in recent weeks. Thomas Hickey has been a revelation on defense, second on the team in corsi relative (his D partner Visnovsky is first).
5. John Tavares has been thrown into the mix for the Hart Trophy this year. But I think an argument, albeit a small one, can be made that goaltender Evgeni Nabakov has been just as important to the Isles success. Do you agree?
Nabokov is responsible for the Isles’ recent success and getting them into the playoffs, but he hasn’t been there the whole season. His save percentage on the season is still only .910, below the league average. Tavares has been the one constant on this team — three games is his longest point-less streak. He’s been a bigger factor that the goaltender, coach or anyone else, in my opinion. I’d put Visnovsky’s impact second, then Nabokov.
6. Goalie Rick DiPietro was put on waivers and then sent to the minors on February 23rd. Do you think that was a turning point not only in the season, but for the organization?
It’s hard to say that the departure of DiPietro did anything inside the locker room. I’d bet it didn’t do a whole lot to the players psyche, he was only a backup after all. However, it’s certainly interesting to note the Islanders are 17-7-5, re-signed Visnovsky and went on a playoff clinching hot streak since DiPietro was demoted. I think it’s reflective of a change in culture of the organization and commitment to winning, rather than being directly related to DiPietro’s departure.
7. Something happened in the middle of the season that I just can’t explain. I watched Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo all of a sudden bloom into legit 2nd line NHL players. Did GM Garth Snow give them an ultimatum that if they didn’t pick up their play they were going to be traded, or something along those lines?
I’m just are clueless on that one as you are. Okposo has had slow starts in the past and Bailey has been a second half player before, so it could be that it takes them a while to get going for whatever reason. But it’s amazing that out of nowhere, they’ve been better and were a huge factor in getting into the playoffs. I think as they had some personal success and the team started winning, it only drove them more and their confidence and drive ballooned.
8. There is almost no playoff experience on this roster except for Nabakov and Visnovsky. How much do you think coach Jack Capuano is going to be relying on these two to be leaders?
Those two will definitely be looked upon to lead the team, as is Tavares who has led by example all season long. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t been in the playoffs before, if he plays hard and gets some good results, it’ll take pressure off everyone else.
9. If there is any weakness for the Penguins it’s the penalty kill. How important is it for the Isles to get that power play unit working again like earlier in the season?
That’s been one of the few downsides of the Islanders recent run, their penalty kill. It was clicking at 25% at the beginning of April and is now down to 20%. 25% was unsustainable to begin with, but the way the team has been playing, a hot power play would make them that much more dangerous.
10. Honestly, do we have a chance?
Yes, but it’s going to be tough.
11. Series Prediction?
Pens in 7. I think the Islanders will have a lot of fight in them, but it’s hard to argue with the lineup the Pens are icing. I’m going to get a lot of hate mail for that one.