Goaltending Here’s how little the Islanders thought about last year’s threeman goaltending rotation: Two of them are gone. The only one back, Kevin Poulin, posted a poor, 3.29 goals-against average in 26 games, so it’s reasonable to think that he will see limited time behind the two new arrivals. The Isles traded for the rights to Jaroslav Halak, who has represented Slovakia in the past two Olympics and helped Montreal to the 2010 Eastern Conference final. Last year, with three teams, he had a 2.25 GAA and a .921 save percentage, a definite improvement over everything New York had last year. With the Blues, he had a 2.23 average and a 24-9-4 record. New York hopes he can shore up the net. His backup is likely to be Chad Johnson, who posted a 2.10 GAA last year and a 17-4-3 record, with a .925 save percentage. Don’t be surprised if he gets a lot of work this season. Power Play Even though Tavares didn’t play after the Olympic break, he still managed eight power-play goals, so there can be no questioning his value on the advantage. Tavares can score well in those situations, but he is also valuable setting up his teammates, so a full year of health should allow him help bolster a unit whose 17.75% success rate last year wasn’t so hot. Okposo and Nielsen scored five times each on the power play last year, and Strome added four goals, but this is not a unit that puts a lot of fear into opponents, even when Tavares is completely healthy. Grabovski should be able to help here, since he scored 10 times on the man advantage in 2010-11. He wasn’t so productive on the power play last year, largely because the Washington unit was built around Alexander Ovechkin. Kulemin had five goals in 2010-11 on the advantage while with Toronto but hasn’t been much help there since. Penalty Kill The Islanders had the league’s secondworst penalty kill last year, something that was compounded by the team’s 26th-place finish in faceoff success. If you can’t control the puck, especially when you are a man or two down, things aren’t going to go well. The 78.11 percent kill rate was extremely poor, although at least it was substantially better than the 76.33 number in 2009-10. To fix things, the John Tavares Mike Stobe/NHL/Getty Images Islanders hired Greg Cronin as an assistant coach. Cronin spent the last three years in Toronto, and head man Jack Capuano thinks he’ll fit in well with the team’s defensive philosophy. There is no question from anyone on the staff that things don’t need to get better. It should help that the goaltending situation is expected to be better, but the Islander forwards must be more aggressive on the kill, and the defense has to be more stout, as well. Three Questions 1.Can the defense improve? The Islanders didn’t import anybody along the blue line to help in this pursuit, but by upgrading—they hope—their goaltending situation, they should have some improvement, if only because fewer soft goals will be surrendered. 2. Is there enough depth up front? The answer to this should be yes. Should. Tavares is healthy and can be counted on for a full year of production. The additions of Grabovski and Kulemin should help, provided they are closer to their 2010-11 forms than their most recent performance levels. 3. Can the penalty kill improve? Well, it can’t get much worse, can it? Can it? Bringing Cronin aboard was a good idea. He should help with the schemes and strategies of handling disadvantages. Better goalkeeping will also help. But the Isles have to get better on the face off and more aggressive on the kill, the better to prevent rivals from getting too comfortable. Prediction The Islanders would love to bid farewell to the building that saw so much success in the past with a big season, but the team just doesn’t have the talent to do that. The defense is still shaky, and there is not enough up front to allow New York to outscore people. There should be some improvement but not enough for real contention—or even a playoff berth.
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