TORONTO – The New York Islanders are focused on starting the abbreviated NHL season the right way.
New York has won two of its first three games as the Islanders fight to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and is now on a five-game road trip to start the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign.
“We need to get off to a quick start if we want to make the playoffs,” said left-winger Matt Moulson, who scored his first two goals of the season as the Isles defeated the host Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4 on Thursday night. “There’s not much time to catch up (in the standings), and we want to get off to a good start in the first five games and go from there.”
After losing their home opener to the New Jersey Devils 2-1 on Jan. 19, the Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in another home game on Monday.
Not only did Thursday’s victory at Toronto improve New York’s record to 2-1-0, it was a successful start to a challenging five-game road trip that will see the Islanders visit the Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins and Devils.
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and entered this season as one the favourites in the East; the Jets were a very good home team last season; the superstar-powered Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; and, the Devils advanced to the Cup final last spring.
It’s an intimidating lineup of opponents, and the Isles should have a better idea of where they stand in the Eastern Conference after running that gauntlet.
“We’re working on (becoming a playoff team),” said Brad Boyes, who signed with the Islanders last summer as an unrestricted free agent and scored his first goal of the season—and added a pair of assists—against Toronto.
Added Boyes: “We’ve got a lot of young guys who have been together for a while, they’ve grown and developed together, and now it’s about trying to take the next step.…Changing to a winning mindset and making the playoffs.”
The Islanders boast several skilled young forwards, led by 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick John Tavares, plus burgeoning power winger Kyle Okposo, slippery sniper Michael Grabner and two-way talent Frans Nielsen (and with more promising youngsters in the prospect pipeline).
But New York has recorded five consecutive sub-.500 seasons and missed the playoffs 13 times since 1994. The last time the Islanders won a playoff round was in ’93. After capturing four straight Stanley Cups in the dynasty days of the early 1980s, the franchise has been crumbling for the past quarter-century.
As the young guns get older and with stability in net with veteran Evgeni Nabokov, perhaps the Isles are ready to turn the corner and become relevant again.
At the very least, there’s hope—and a growing expectation—that New York can greatly improve upon their position in the league standings. In the past five seasons, the Isles have finished no higher than 26th overall in the 30-team NHL.
“On the first day of training camp, we said we’ve got to expect to win,” said coach Jack Capuano. “Guys have to take ownership of that, and be more vocal on how we need to play.”