By: Doug Forhecz
With the NHL all-star break having come and gone, the New York Islanders will begin the final 34 games of their regular season schedule Tuesday night in Raleigh. Lone all-star representative John Tavares, who record a goal and an assist in the weekend showcase, will be counted on heavily to lead the team in the final two months of the season.
The Islanders will face 23 current playoff teams over the course of those 34 games. 11 of those games will be against Atlantic division opponents, including a 3 game stretch against the New Jersey Devils form March 4th through the tenth. Six of the outstanding 11 games against non playoff teams include teams higher in the standings than the Islanders. It is a schedule that would seem to indicate a higher draft pick later in the summer.
The Islanders top line of Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo has accounted for 53 of the teams 112 goals, and they will be counted on heavily to continue to produce offense as the season progresses. Tavares leads all scorers with 20 goals and 29 assists for 49 points with a +2 rating. The 112 markers are tied for 27th in the league. The offense only stands to become more anemic if General Manager Garth Snow receives a trade deadline offer for Okposo, Moulson, or Brian Rolston, whose five million dollar contract expires at the end of the season. Forwards Frans Nielsen and P.A. Parenteau are also scheduled to come off of the books. The offense may also face more pressure to produce if goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is moved to a contender before the deadline.
If Nabokov is dealt, Al Montoya would likely receive the bulk of the workload over the season’s final month. Montoya, a former 6th overall pick of the rival New York Rangers, has posted a respectable 6-5-4 record while backing up Nabokov and missing a month due to a concussion. He has a 2.54 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. If he were to receive an opportunity to play a significant role for the remainder of the season, a strong performance could be enough to convince team executives that Montoya deserves to be the starter going into training camp next fall.
It was recently announced that goaltender Rick DiPietro would likely miss the remainder of the season due to sports hernia surgery. DiPietro, whose 15 year contract signed in 2006 will pay him 4.5 million per season through 2021, has appeared in a total of 47 games since 2008, compiling a 14-24 record.
With Tavares, Okposo, Moulson, Michael Grabner, and Nino Niederrieter all under contract through at least the 2013-2014 season, the rebuilding process looks to continue on Long Island through the end of year. However, for the first time five years since 4-1 Quaterfinals loss to the Buffalo Sabres, and a 4-1 Quarterfinals loss to Tampa Bay three years before the that, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Next year.