The Islanders were dealt a huge blow to their division hopes. Forward Kyle Okposo is expected to miss six to eight weeks due to an “upper body injury.” The 26-year old right wing has been one of their best players in what’s been a dream season. He leads the team in assists (30), shots-on-goal (154) and ranks second behind linemate John Tavares in points (44).
Most notably, Okposo recorded his first career four-goal game in a come from behind 6-3 home win over the Penguins on 1/16. In that contest, he scored three times in the third period as the Isles again proved that they’re for real. How good has the former 2006 first round pick been? He had seven points (5-2-7) over his last three games and 12 (6-6-12) in the last 10.
After establishing career bests in goals (27), assists (42) and points (69) in ’13-14, he was on his way to an even better season. Currently under a contract that averages a cap hit of $2.8 million through 2015-16, Okposo is a bargain. He is earning $3.5 million this season and will make $4.5 million in the final year of the deal. Obviously, he’ll be due a raise as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016.
With Okposo out, it’s up to other teammates to step up. The Isles boast improved depth in Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and rookie Anders Lee. They also possess arguably the best fourth line in hockey featuring bash brothers Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin along with Casey Cizikas. In his place, there should be room for penalty killing ace Michael Grabner to provide a lift.
With the season likely to resume later this week due to a blizzard which should cancel tomorrow’s Battle Of New York showdown against the Rangers, the Islanders will have to get by without Okposo. With 36 games left, they lead the Pens by three points, the Rangers by five and the Capitals by six.
In the hunt for the East’s top seed, they’re tied with the Red Wings for second trailing the Lightning by a point. Home ice would be huge for them. In the final year at historic Nassau Coliseum, they’ve dominated going 16-4-0 outscoring opponents 73-52. On the road, they’re 15-10-1 outscored 76-72.