Islanders looking to keep improving after move to Brooklyn
NEW YORK (AP) After taking a big step forward with their best regular season in 31 years, the New York Islanders hope to keep up their improved play as they move into a new home.
New York finished last season with 47 wins, its highest total since the 1983-84 club won 50 en route to its last Stanley Cup finals appearance. The Islanders appeared poised for a deep playoff run until stumbling down the stretch and finishing third in the Metropolitan Division - losing a tiebreaker with Washington.
In the team's second playoff appearance in three years, New York then dropped a tough series to the Capitals, losing Game 7 on the road.
''You could really feel the disappointment throughout our group over the summer,'' captain John Tavares said. ''It definitely adds to pushing ourselves to get back here. We realize how hard it is just to get where we got last year.''
Now the Islanders begin their inaugural season in Brooklyn after spending their first 43 years on Long Island. They return a team largely intact hoping for another chance at a deep playoff run.
''Every team, every year says they want to win the Stanley Cup,'' defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. ''We have a great team, we just have to prove it.''
With Tavares leading the way again, the Islanders will need to get big offensive production again from forwards Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee.
Okposo, who was second on the team in points despite missing 22 games in the middle of the season due to an eye injury, will be looking to get a full season to top his career highs (27 goals, 42 assists) set in 2013-14.
Here are some other things to know as the Islanders head into their first season in Brooklyn:
JOHNNY ON THE SPOT: Tavares is the key again as he enters his seventh season in the NHL after being selected No. 1 overall in 2009. He's coming off a brilliant season in his return from an MCL injury that cost him the final 22 games of 2013-14 as he set career highs for goals, power-play goals (13) and points (86) - one fewer than league-leader Jamie Benn.
CONTINUITY: Michael Grabner, Kevin Poulin, and Lubomir Visnovsky are gone, but the Islanders return largely the same roster. The departed trio was replaced by forward Steve Bernier, defenseman Marek Zidlicky with Thomas Greiss now backing up Jaroslav Halak. The Islanders will be counting on the familiarity to build on their success from last season.
''Everybody knows the system,'' Okposo said. ''That part is second nature to us. ... It's nice that we don't have to learn a new system, we don't have to learn anything.''
HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: The Islanders were one of the better home teams in the NHL for much of last season after going 17-4-0 in their first 21 home games. However, they struggled down the stretch, winning just twice in their last 10 regular season games (2-6-2) at the Coliseum, including an 0-6-1 stretch. That ended up costing them home-ice in the first round and they lost the deciding game at Washington. The players know they'll need to get off to a strong start at home again, both for their playoff aspirations and to court new fans in Brooklyn.
AVOIDING THE SOPHOMORE JINX: Anders Lee (25 goals, 16 assists) and Ryan Strome (17 goals, 33 assists) were among the team's top scorers in their first full NHL seasons. The Islanders will need both to continue their developments if they want to be a bona fide playoff team, and Capuano wasn't concerned about any slips in their production.
''How are you going to build off that?'' he said. ''Are you going to go through the motions or are you going to play harder? I expect those guys to play harder.''
LINES AND INJURIES: Capuano hoped to use the final week of training camp to finalize his lines, starting with the top line centered by Tavares. The coach was concerned by the lack of scoring as the Islanders totaled just 10 goals while losing their last five preseason games. One group that won't be changed is the fourth line consisting of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. The trio combined for 24 goals and 24 assists last season with eight game-winning goals. The defensemen will be tested with Thomas Hickey (2 goals, 20 assists last season) out about a month with an upper body injury.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Kevin Poulin as Craig Poulin.
Follow Vin Cherwoo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP