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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Ready for Playoff Run?

Sports Illustrated has mentioned the New York Islanders twice in recent weeks but only one of those articles can be found on the Islanders’ official website.

The SI story the Islanders understandably posted was from an SI online columnist who argued the Isles could make the National Hockey League’s (NHL) playoffs this season. You have to subscribe to SI’s print edition to know the magazine called the Islanders’ newly-announced business relationship with a tattoo parlor ‘a sign of the apocalypse.’

Let’s focus on the positive, and assess whether the Islanders are good enough to finish among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference and return to the NHL’s playoffs for the first time since 2007. We’ll know soon because the Islanders open their 2011-2012 regular season at home on Saturday evening, Oct. 8 against the Florida Panthers. Their second game of the year will be played two days later, on Monday afternoon, Oct. 10. The Minnesota Wild is coming to the Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 10 for what’s billed as Kids’ Opening Day, an annual matinee that takes advantage of the schools being closed for Columbus Day.

The Islanders made big news last week by announcing they’d signed star forward John Tavares, who just turned 21, to a six-year, multi-million dollar contract extension. This was great news for Islanders fans because Tavares, the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, has in his first two seasons become one of the team’s most productive offensive players. Now that the Islanders have signed multi-year deals with Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, and Michael Grabner, who should have been named the NHL’s rookie of the year for the 2010-2011 season, they have a number of formidable scoring threats that opposing defenses will have to pay attention to.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the fall of 2011, and the fall of 2010, is that defensemen Mark Streit and Okposo are healthy. Streit, the Islanders lone selection to the NHL All-Star team in 2009-2010, missed all of last season because of a shoulder injury, a huge blow to the team. Yet there was a silver lining to Streit’s absence. The Islanders learned that two of its up and coming defensemen, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, were ready for prime time. Okposo returned to action in late January 2011 but his presence was definitely missed early in the 2010-2011 campaign.

The Islanders’ goaltending depth chart is one that will evolve throughout the season. Head Coach Jack Capuano can call upon Rick DiPietro, Evgeni Nabokov, or Al Montoya for any given game. DiPietro has battled injuries, and Nabokov, a former San Jose Shark, is an established NHL goaltender. Montoya, a former New York Rangers prospect who once played for the Phoenix Coyotes, was brought to the Nassau Coliseum last year because the Islanders were going through goalies the way CNN goes through prime-time anchors.

Different subject: I need to brag on myself. ‘Everybody’ supposedly thought the Republican candidate had no chance of winning the Sept. 13 special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District. Not so; check out my July 15, 2011 column, which is archived at antonnews.com.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net