|Well, why not us? You might find some answers here.|
Don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter about the loss. This season was a huge step in the right direction for the New York Islanders. For the first time in twenty years, the hope with this team goes beyond one season. Finally, we can expect even more from the Islanders for next season. They finally turned that corner - that very same corner that they tripped over since 2008.
Still, I miss Islanders' hockey. I know it's only been a few days, but it's hard to believe that it's over. I had a great time watching these guys, but I guess we have no choice but to gear up for next season; so, before we move forward, I have a few more things to cover here at Islanders Op-Timism.
As I have done all season, I still owe the New York Islanders one more report card. Rather than break it down based on the final quarter of the season, I'm going to review the Isles' season as a whole. Well, Isles fans: here it is. Final grades are in. Let's take a look at how the Islanders did in 2013.
Led by John Tavares, the Islanders' offense was majorly improved in 2013. The team's 139 goals was good for 8th in the entire NHL, and it was key for an Isles' team that only saw two of their twenty-four victories come when scoring 2 goals or less.
John Tavares was third in the NHL with 28 goals, setting him on pace to annihilate his career-mark in a complete 82-game season. He also added 3 goals in the playoffs during the team's match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders also received help from Michael Grabner (16 goals), Matt Moulson (15), and Josh Bailey (11). Brad Boyes also filled in just fine in PA Parenteau's former spot next to JT, scoring 35 points on the Islanders' top unit.
Not to mention, the Islanders saw production from the blue-line increase on a goals-per-game ratio (19 goals in 48 games, compared to 19 goals in 82 games last season). The insertion of Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald on the fourth-line also sparked an increase in production of over 500% for the Islanders' bottom line.
New York's offense was 7th in the NHL with 94 goals during 5-on-5 hockey. In 2011-12, they Islanders were 26th in the NHL.
Final Grade: A-: The Islanders' offense was the Islanders' driving force this season. When the offense went, the Islanders went. It was a much better showing than last season. There are still a few things that can be done to patch it up, though, including a top-line winger to play on Tavares' wing. Brad Boyes was invisible at times, and Kyle Okposo never clicked with JT on the top unit. KO did have a monster playoffs, though.
The defensive unit came into the season much improved on paper. Garth Snow went out and got his top-4 defenseman in Lubomir Visnovsky, and then added Thomas Hickey, Brian Strait, Radek Martinek, and Joe Finely during the off-season. Of course, when someone mentions "on paper" it's usually not a good thing.
During the first half of the season, the Islanders' defense was underachieving heavily. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald were not playing well together, hitting -13 each. Matt Carkner and Brian Strait went down to injury. Lubomir Visnovsky didn't report right away. It wasn't looking good on the Island, as the team was 29th in the NHL in goal-against-per-game.
Down the stretch, though, the Islanders' defensive unit improved. They dropped from a team 3.30 GAA to a 2.83 GAA by the end of the season, good for 21st in the NHL. The Isles settled down, and at one point allowed 2 goals or less in nine straight hockey games, the first time the Isles accomplished this since 2003.
The Isles were also 7th in the NHL in blocked shots, led by Andrew MacDonald's 123 blocked shots on the season. Clogging shooting lanes all season, the Isles finished with the 10th-least amount of shots against per game in 2013.
Lubomir Visnovsky finished the season +12, Thomas Hickey +9, and Andrew MacDonald -2. Travis Hamonic pushed back up to a -8. The numbers were all over, but improved big time down the stretch.
Final Grade: B-: Fortunately for the Isles, the defense began to click with enough time left on the season to make an impact. If the defense tightened up earlier in the year, the Isles could have been towards the top of the standings. Better late than never, and the Isles earned their first playoff berth since 2007 during the defense's best run of the season.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the defense, no? As the defense got better, Evgeni Nabokov got better. His over-3.00 GAA average and below-.900 save percentage improved to 2.50 and .910 by the season's end. He kept the Islanders in a lot of games during the final month and a half of the season, finishing 15-4-5 through March and April.
It would have been nice if Nabby could have stolen a game for the Islanders here and there, though. He won 23 of the Islanders' 24 games, but only two of those wins came when the Islanders' scored 2 goals or less.
OK, so he played lights out when the Islanders lost to the Rangers 1-0 in overtime. He played very well in the Islanders' 2-0 loss to the Penguins at the end of March. It would have been nice if he could have played as well as he did during these games in games where the Isles lost 3-2.
To his credit, Nabby made the saves when he needed to, though. Without Nabby, I don't know if the Isles made the playoffs. His performance in the playoffs was bad, though.
Final Grade: B-: I expected more from Nabokov, but it also has to be noted that he was a big reason why the Islanders got to where they were. Backup goaltending was reliable in April, although Poulin only got two starts. The Isles would have been better served if Poulin started the season on the Island, but hey, we knew that.
At the beginning of the season, special teams became the Islanders' bread 'n butter. John Tavares was turning the power-play into one of the best units in the NHL. The penalty-kill was unbeatable. Both units saw time at #1 during the opening stretch of the season, and both units stayed in the top-5 for a good portion of the year.
Well, both units were not all that.
Personally, I think the Isles collapse on the power-play during the playoffs was bad, but it should have been expected. The power-play unit finished outside of the top-10, largely due to a huge drop-off in production through the month of April. The penalty-kill, albeit very good on some nights, couldn't handle the Rangers power-play unit on some nights. It was that bad.
During the final three games to end the season, immediately after the Islanders clinched a playoff spot, the power-play unit went 0/7 against three non-playoff teams. All three games were lost by one goal. One win could have been the difference between 8th and 6th. The Isles followed that up with a 2-for-20 performance in six games against Pittsburgh, losing two games by one goal.
Final Grade: C: It's back to the drawing board for the Islanders in the off-season. Both units were very good early on, but they absolutely cost the Islanders down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Give coach Capuano all the credit that he deserves. He's not perfect, but he knows his players very well. He knows when they're tired. Heknows when they're struggling. Perhaps it's because he's seen them struggle over the years, but that's fine. It just shows that he's learning.
Is he the best coach in the NHL? No. Will some credit Doug Weight or Brent Thompson? Sure, and they deserve some credit for the way the team played, especially down the stretch. Capuano is the coach of this team, though. He does make the decisions. The team battled hahhhd, and the fans appreciated it (and the hashtag #battlelevel).
He will be back for next season. If the team falls apart in November, I'd say he's done, but Cappy deserves another go. He has the second most wins in Islanders' franchise history.
Final Grade: B: Early on, Cappy made some head-scratching decisions. I mean, he continued to do so all the way through the playoffs. The team came to play every night, though, and by March, their bad habits were kicked. Everyone blamed Cappy when the Isles blew leads, didn't skate hard, or gave up early goals. The same has to be said about holding leads down the stretch, battle level, and scoring first. No, it's not just "the players played well in spite of Cappy." Simple Jack prepared these guys every night.
What can I say? The Isles actually didn't reach my expectations of a 7th-place finish, but they sure made it fun. This was my favorite season as an Islanders' fan. Making the playoffs as an underdog truly brought everyone together again.
This is a growing team. The Isles took huge steps. They made the playoffs, John Tavares is a Hart finalist...the Isles can go into the offseason with fewer holes in the line-up. The Isles finally have something more than just prospects to build off of.
Final Grade: B+: The Islanders season was a success. No one had them in the postseason. Nobody even had them out of the bottom of the Atlantic. The Isles shocked the world this year, and earned a ton of respect around the NHL by taking the Penguins to overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. We will be back to rock the barn next season. This time, we have 82 games to do it.
School is over. Report cards will be brought back next season. Later today, or tomorrow, I will give out regular season awards and some fake awards out to the New York Islanders for their efforts in 2013.
Thanks for reading! What do you think of these grades? Let me see what you thought of the Isles in 2013!
I'm Chris Triants, and this is my blog.
Let's go Islanders!