The Islanders have quietly gone about their business this preseason. In their second to last tuneup, they went to Buffalo and defeated the Sabres 3-1.
They have yet to lose in regulation improving to 5-0-2. The odd question is why play so many games in exhibition. Their eighth and final game comes Oct. 1 against the Flyers. It is a lot to play when there’s still a full 82-game slate.
To be honest, I feel that preseason is too long. It’s dragged out. The Rangers wrapped up the other night. Other teams are still playing. What for? To risk injuries to key players. That is why I’m on record as suggesting they should cut the preseason. It shouldn’t last more than six games.
With the NBA caving to their spoiled superstars by moving the season up and having no four games over five days, why can’t the the NHL have that kind of forward thinking? Instead, they’re busy adding more rules that confuse players, coaches and fans. It’s high time the league considers starting sooner. Maybe that would reduce so many back-to-backs and three in four days.
Theres no reason the playoffs can’t start earlier. The NHL is its own worst enemy going against the NBA. If they ended in late May around Memorial Day weekend, it would be better. But that’ll never happen under the current regime.
As for the game, it was a snooze fest. Aside from the four goals, it seemed like it was in slow motion. At least the parts I caught between the Hurricanes beating Duke. I was more locked in on that. Even though there were stretches where that was boring.
Mathew Barzal has been a bright spot for the Islanders. He does things at a very high level. The former 2015 first round pick taken sixth overall is ready. Only 20, he is that center who can support John Tavares. A blazing fast skater with tremendous vision and hockey instincts, he deserves to center the center the second line.
It’s where Islanders coach Doug Weight has him. Barzal rewarded him by setting up all three goals. He assisted on linemates’ Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle’s markers. He also got the primary helper on Nikolay Kulemin’s empty netter.
He’s performed well throughout camp. With just two NHL games of experience last season, that shouldn’t be a problem for ’17-18. Even with a roster that includes Brock Nelson, Lee, Eberle, Josh Bailey and Andrew Ladd to go with Tavares, Barzal belongs. At the very least, he’s in the top nine getting power play time.
If he works out, you could be looking at a 50-point rookie who could contend for the Calder. He has the skill set. His talent should improve a offense that at times was non-existent under former coach Jack Capuano. They were much better under Weight. Weight knows a thing or two about offense having been a similar playmaking pivot throughout a superb NHL career.
After the Isles and Sabres traded goals with Lee and Sam Reinhart sniping, Barzal and Lee combined to set up a beauty from Eberle. The ex-Oiler acquired by GM Garth Snow during the summer for Ryan Strome, scored on a nice backhand upstairs. He has that kinda skill. Perhaps a fresh start is exactly what Eberle needs after getting run out of Edmonton following a disappointing postseason. It was their first in a decade and he got abused by Western Canada. The media can be a nightmare.
A combo of Lee, Barzal and Eberle could do damage. That would mean Tavares starts with Ladd and Nelson. A solid top six which would leave a potential third line of Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. The fourth line likely could be a combination of Casey Cizikas, Nikolay Kulemin, Jason Chimera with Cal Clutterbuck, Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, Alan Quine and Shane Prince competing for two spots.
Jaro Halak looks like he’ll retain the starter job over Thomas Greiss.
The Isles still have 18 forwards and eight defensemen in camp. The blueline competition is between Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. The starters should likely be Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan, Dennis Seidenberg, Thomas Hickey with Mayfield ahead of Pulock and Pelech.
With still 28 players left, the Islanders must cut five to get down to 23 by next week. There should be some hard decisions.
If Barzal sticks and Ho-Sang produces, the Isles should improve offensively. It’s wait and see.