Early Start Allows For Optimism On The Island

The 2014 season is only two games old for the New York Islanders, but there is already reason for cautious optimism.

Out of a possible four points, the Islanders have started off the year by taking three of them, tying them with the Carolina Hurricanes for second place in the Metropolitan Division and putting them good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference (Photo credit: spotboslow/Flickr).

A 1-0-1 start provides the Isles with an opportunity to continue a strong start to the season if they are able to find a way to beat the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow night at Nassau Coliseum.

So far, players such as Matt Donovan and Brock Nelson, who are rookies looking to maintain permanent roster spots, have looked promising.

On defense, Donovan has provided excellent outlet passes from his zone (most notably the one that led to Frans Nielsen's beautiful backhand goal on Martin Brodeur Friday night) and has looked eager to join in on the rush offensively.

Nelson took an undisciplined penalty in the game against the New Jersey Devils that eventually led to the game-tying goal that forced overtime. But prior to that play, Nelson was physical and visible with every shift. He can turn out to be a steady presence on the third line for the Islanders if he continues to play smart like he has been so far.

John Tavares continues to play with a purpose and not only looks great with his individual efforts, but is continuing to make those around him better.

Kyle Okposo looks like he fits well on that top line with the way he has gelled with Matt Moulson and Tavares. He has the tools to be the perfect fit on a line that lacks a physical power forward that can win one-on-one battles along the wall. If he consistently keeps up with his line-mates, the Isles may finally see the player that showed up for last year's playoff series with the Penguins during the regular season.

However, players such as Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard still seem to be searching for a niche on this team. Luckily, as stated above, the season is still young with plenty of time for them to discover their role with the club. 

With that being said, the offensive side of the Islanders has looked strong. But there continues to be concerns with their defensive play in front of their net.

There were many occasions last year where the Islanders would struggle to move loose pucks away from the front of Evgeni Nabokov's crease, and it appears that the same problem has yet to be resolved.

The two goals that were scored by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night are evidence of that. Perhaps Jack Capuano might want to consider dressing Matt Carkner to see if he can bring that crease clearing presence that is apparently missing in the Islanders line-up.

Behind the defense has been Nabokov, who after a shaky start to the Devils game Friday night has looked like his regular season self, stopping pucks in key situations and providing his team a chance to win both games.

One would have to think that Kevin Poulin will get a start between the pipes for either of two road games next weekend between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks. The Isles lacked a legitimate back-up goaltender behind Nabokov all of last year and will need Poulin to be a solid 1A net-minder when Nabokov needs a night off.

A 1-0-1 record is only an early start, but it is one of the best starts this team has had in years. They were far from flawless, but have not disappointed with their performances after inspiring the Isles fan base to believe again after the conclusion of last season.

Had the Isles come out and dropped two straight, it would have been doom and gloom on Long Island all over again.

Instead, there is hope for this team. For once the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are in the rearview mirror at the start of the year. Again, it has only been two games, but the Islanders were usually looking up at the teams ahead of them before the puck was even dropped in past October months.

This time it is the other way around. And each player will have to continue to raise the bar higher for their individual expectations if they are to continue to improve and win more hockey games.

But at the very least, there is legitimate reason to be optimistic.

-Rob McGowan