By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
The first decade of the twenty first century was not exactly ideal for the New York Islanders. Four playoff appearances in which they did not win a series and a less than modern arena in the Nassau Coliseum can leave any Islanders fan feeling nervous about the new decade. Fortunately, the 2010-11 Islanders seem to be on the right track to return to glory days' past.
The Islanders were able to improve from an NHL worst 61 points in 2008-09 to 79 points last season and a thirteenth place finish in the Eastern Conference after contending for a playoff spot for a majority of the year.
This season's team is not content on just contending for the playoffs though. "We want nothing else but the playoffs," said defenseman Bruno Gervais. "We want to have a good seed going into the playoffs and that's it."
With a plethora of bright young stars like center John Tavares (20 years old) and left wing Matt Moulson (26), combined with the valuable experience of talented veterans such as Doug Weight and Trent Hunter, the Islanders will be looking to reach the postseason in one of the toughest divisions in hockey, the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division.
The Islanders will not only be looking to Tavares and Moulson to keep the goals coming after the two combined for 54 last season, but they will also be putting their offense into the hands of 21-year-old center Josh Bailey and 18-year-old rookie right winger Nino Niederreiter to help support the offensive big guns.
Captaining this young side is the 39-year-old veteran Doug Weight who, after having last season cut short by a shoulder injury, is looking to come back and set the right example for his teammates, a task that head coach Scott Gordon knows Weight is up for. "You almost have to be more of a fatherly figure than you do a guy that has to put down the hammer," Gordon said. "And I think that in this day and age, you don't get more response from a captain who is like that all the time, you have to have that calm demeanor."
Unfortunately for the Islanders, the pre season has not been kind, as the injury bug has made its way through the locker room. Though goaltender Rick DiPietro is finally back and healthy after playing in only 13 games in the past two seasons, all-star defenseman Mark Streit has been lost for six months from a left shoulder injury during a team scrimmage last week, right winger Kyle Okposo underwent shoulder surgery and will be out for two to three months and center Rob Schremp will be gone for three to four weeks with a lower back strain.
The Islanders will definitely feel the loss of these key players, but the confidence that they can still succeed is apparent in the locker room. "Missing guys like Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, Rob Schremp, those are big pieces of the puzzle, but we have guys who can step up," said Gervais. "Growing as a hockey player, you get used to losing guys through a trade or injuries like that so we need guys to step up. We gained a lot of talent and experience over the summer so those guys are going to show what they have."
Gervais and company will be able show what they have left despite these major absences when the season begins on October 9, against the Dallas Stars. From there, the schedule does not get any easier as they take on the Rangers and then hit the road to take on the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
A chance to play the games elite teams is something that the entire team is looking forward to. "I'm just excited to get it going," says left-winger Trevor Gillies. "We're excited to play every team and test ourselves against the best."