Photo from Flickr user adamlm
That’s the big question on my mind as the NHL season opens tonight. As I look over the new division and conference alignment I’m left with some questions as to how this season will play out. For the Islanders, in the Metropolitan Division, it won’t be as simple as finishing in the top 4. They’ll need to finish in the top 3, of a very competitive division, or finish 4-5th and hope they can beat out the 4-5th place teams from the Atlantic division.
Given that I happen to think 3 of the 4 worst teams in the Eastern Conference play in the Atlantic division (Buffalo, TB and Florida), that puts the teams in the Metropolitan Division at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to getting points in all those extra divisional games. On the other hand, I also happen to think 3 of the 4 best teams play in that division as well (Boston, Detroit and Ottawa), so that may even out.
This year though, more than in the past, the road to the playoffs leads through how the Isles do within their own division, and this is one packed division.
- Three point games within the division will end up deciding who makes the playoffs, I can just feel it. It makes rooting simpler actually, if a team from your division is playing anyone outside of it, root for that other team. When they are playing inside the division root against overtime.
- I do think Pittsburgh is the cream of the Metropolitan crop. Yes, I don’t like their goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs, but they simply have more skill and firepower than anyone else, by far, and the goaltending won’t be an issue until the playoffs.
- After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Any of Washington, the Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Blue Jackets, and Flyers could find themselves in second place realistically. Personally, I think Washington is the second best team in the division, and the Islanders are third.
- That doesn’t mean the Islanders will finish third. I think they will, but there are some huge question marks.
- I do not like the Isles goaltender tandem at all. In fact, looking at the division, there is a chance that the Islanders have the worst goaltending in the division. (Assuming Ray Emery pans out for the Flyers, but as always with the Flyers, that is a huge conclusion to jump to!)
- Finishing third means finishing ahead of teams with Lundqvist, Bobrovsky, Brodeur/Schneider, and Ward/Khoudobin at that position, who I like better than Nabakov/Poulin, by a wide margin. The Islanders are counting on Nabakov to keep them close, a strong, young, defense corps and some serious offensive power from their young core of stars. If any of those tail off from last season, forget it. Other teams will have goalies who can steal games, the Islanders won’t have the luxury often.
- Speaking of the defense corps. If Hamonic is out with a concussion for a lengthy amount of time, that’s going to hurt. It pushes other guys up into the top 2 and top 4 defense slots who haven’t really proven capable of it yet.
- The Islanders need the Josh Bailey from the last half of the season and playoffs, and the Kyle Okposo from the playoff series against Pittsburgh. These guys are in a position where they are being counted upon for goals. If they don’t provide them, the team doesn’t have the time to be patient. It might also finally have the depth to push them out as well, so that’s something to consider. Same goes for Michael Grabner and newcomers Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, as well.
In the end, a lot has to go right for this team to finish third in the division, but it is possible. I’m hopeful, if not also pessimistic, about the growth we need to see from this young team this season. Apparently, this is what you get after 35+ years of Islander fandom, hope everything goes right, but expect that it won’t. 😉
Here’s to a great season anyway you look at it! How do you see the division shaking out?