Tonight, the New York Islanders will open up their 2017-18 season in Columbus. The 23-man roster consists of 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies. The team, which missed a wild card spot by one point last season, made several changes to strengthen their offense in the off season. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle have joined New York up front, and Ryan Pulock has been moved up on the blueline. The team won six games in a row to end the regular season but it just was not enough to push them past Toronto to get into the playoffs.
Given that several teams, including Toronto, will be much better within the Eastern Conference, it will be even harder to make the playoffs this season. What the Islanders need is more offense while closing up some of the holes on the back end. They have taken steps to do so, whether it will be enough remains to be seen.
Thomas Greiss, who posted career highs in wins (26), games (51), starts (49) and shutouts (3) during the 2016-17 regular season, will start between the pipes against the Blue Jackets. According to Head Coach Doug Weight, he is looking for the Isles to “play a fast-paced game … hit him first, with confidence,” noting that the team is “not going to be successful on our heels.”
The number two (or more accurately) number 1B goaltender is Jaroslav Halak, who will start in the home opener tomorrow night against Buffalo. Halak finished last season on a five-game win streak and posted a 12-9-5 record with two shutouts during the season. Halak was also a member of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where he appeared in six games, and ranked second among goalies with a GAA of 2.15 and a 9.41 save percentage.
Among the forwards, 27-year old Anders Lee, who had the best season of his career last year, will start on the left side of John Tavares and newcomer Eberle. Lee can provide a big body at the net while Tavares and Eberle work their top-line magic.
To start the season top rookie Barzal will center the second line (“a great skater, a great puck possessor, sees the ice well,” according to Weight), while “experienced” rookie Josh Ho-Sang will sit upstairs tonight. Ho-Sang appeared in 21 NHL games last season and so is still considered a rookie by the league. When asked about his decision to sit Ho-/sang for the first game, Weight said, “he’s a good kid, he’s fearless, he’s got speed, he’s got skill, I want him to watch the game tonight. … He has earned his spot on this hockey team, he will be playing sooner rather than later and will be a big part of our success.”
Plus, the Islanders have what almost everyone in hockey agrees is the best fourth line in the game. Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck can win face offs, hit hard, and score. They are an expensive fourth line that is very talented and one fits in with the new philosophy of the Isles—skate hard and be hard to play against.
On defense, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk remain the top pairing, while Dennis Seidenberg will play on the right side of Calvin de Haan, despite the fact that he shoots from the left side. The 36-year-old Seidenberg is big, strong, and reliable, which will be needed against Columbus tonight. Also on the right side, on the third pairing tonight is Adam Pelech, another left handed shot. He will start there despite the fact that RH blueliner Pulock is available. The rookie Pulock will be sitting upstairs tonight, but expect him to get into a game over the next few days, probably against Buffalo in the home opener tomorrow. As for the other two defensemen on the roster, Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield, Hickey is in his last year of his three year contract and has a lot to prove, and Mayfiield is a big tough guy, who may spend quite a bit of time in the press box this season.
It will be hard to move up in the Eastern Conference, but the Isles have vowed to try. There is no question that their greatest hope of doing so is with young players. However, those young skaters will be sitting in the press box tonight. With all the off-ice uncertainties of this team, none will be more perplexing than if those young players—the future of the Islanders—continue to sit upstairs.