Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:
For the final 17 games of the regular season plus six playoff games, this was a completely different team. One that couldn’t hold a lead and seemed to fold in the clutch for much of the first two months (and previous seasons) all of a sudden pulled a 180-degree turn. Early on, the coach didn’t have the answers, certain players didn’t appear to have the heart and then all of a sudden they were a strong-willed team that had guts, determination and a killer instinct.
Kyle Okposo showed up almost out of nowhere, scoring three goals in this playoff series and entering beast mode, after only four goals during the regular season. The whole rest of the offense stepped up, too. Josh Bailey, Colin McDonald, Michael Grabner, Casey Cizikas and more, they were all impressiev down the stretch and into the playoffs. That’s not to mention the Hart Trophy nominee.
John Tavares had been on his game the whole season, plugging away and scoring goals at an even higher clip that last season. But all of a sudden the offense was gelling around him and new contributors were lightening his load. This was the 7th best offense in the league during the regular season, and it’s amazing to think they’ll have even more help next year with guys like Brock Nelson, Nino Niederretier, Anders Lee and more having a shot at making the team out of training camp. This team is going to score a lot of goals for a long time.
The defense was above average and played well, and even had a nine-game stretch in April where they allowed two goals or fewer in each game. The Penguins were an offensive powerhouse and were shutdown in this series for long stretches. Those shutdowns were quite a feat. At other times, some players got exposed in this series by the Penguins’ speed, especially last night. On the whole the defense did well but modifications, and maybe an infusion of youth, will be needed. The team still lacks a top-flight defender to round out the top four. That was blatantly evident when others were thrust into action in light of Andrew MacDonald’s injury.
In net, what more can you ask for from the 37-year old veteran? Nabokov played 47 games in just over four months and was a key component of the Isles run in April. During the playoffs, he didn’t have the same magic. It was a combination of his skill set and the elite skills that he was trying to stop, but he didn’t steal a game in this series for the Islanders. To make any kind of run in the playoffs, your goalie has to step up and bail out the team once or twice, and that did not happen. The team has a looming question in net that will need to be addressed in the summer. But Nabokov gave his all for the Islanders, and helped to get them into the dance and should be credited for doing that.
It was a heck of an experience for this team and a hell of a ride. Extra credit to the fans who rocked the Coliseum down the stretch and for three games in the playoffs. The way this team played, it had better not be the last time the Coliseum gets to do that. Expectations are officially raised for 2013-14.
From all of us at Point Blank, thank you again for another great season and for helping to make this a great place to talk hockey. The passion this fanbase shows when things are going poorly on the ice was always tremendous. When things turned around over the last month, that was magnified ten-fold and was amazing to be able to see first hand.
From myself personally, thank you to everyone out there reading everyday. The passion this fanbase shows is unbelievable and we wouldn’t be here writing and working hard if it wasn’t for you.
Thank you to all involved this year, especially Keith and Christian, whose contributions have been invaluable. Thanks also to everyone at SNY behind the scenes. I can’t say I remember working on a website that literally never had technical difficulties and also had such an unbelievably responsible and responsive team on board. Also thank you to the Islanders, who have been very accommodating to all our media requests.
We’ll be here all summer plugging away, so stay tuned. There’s a non-Top 15 draft pick to be selected, free agency and more. The volume of the posts will slow down compared to what you saw in the last few weeks. Hey, we need a breather. But stay tuned all summer long for complete Islanders coverage here at Point Blank.