Don't write the Isles off.
The Islanders tonight smoked the cross-state rival NJ Devils 5-1 in their final pre-season game of the year. The Isles finished the pre-season 7-0 defeating NJ twice, Philly twice, Pittsburgh twice and Boston. Now I realize that the pre-season doesn’t mean that much. In many instances, veterans are rested for youngsters. Goalies split their time. Line combinations are changed. However the Isles had a lot to work through after a disturbing finish to their season last year with the dismissal of coach Laviolette who brought them to the playoffs two years in a row. The Isles had to implement a new system and they have done extremely well. In 7 games, they only allowed 8 goals, 5 of those scored in man down situations. However they have killed off 41 of 46 penalties.
Reports are coming out that the Isles are loving Michael Peca again and Peca in return is producing. He is laying out opponents. He is scoring. He is killing penalties.
On top of that, the Isles are getting a ton of production out of youngsters Justin Papineau, Trent Hunter, Justin Mapletoft and Sean Bergenheim. It will be interesting to see which of the four make the team. Bergenheim either makes the team or has to be sent back to Finalnd as part of a previously arranged deal.
Finally, Mariusz Czerkawski and Alexei Yashin are starting to click. After a mostly unproductive camp for Czerkawski which forced the Islanders to put him up for the waiver draft, he has scored 3 goals in 2 games.
The goaltending has been very good with help from a very effective trap. Yes the trap. The Isles have abandoned the aggressive Laviolette skating style for the 1-2-2 trap.
Don’t get me wrong. The Isles won’t go to the cup this year. But most writers are saying the Isles will miss the playoffs or just sneak in. If they continue to play great defense which is very possible with Hamrlik, Aucoin, Jonsson and Niinimaa in the lineup and get scoring from Peca, Blake and Czerkawski in addition to Yashin, they could very well be the surprise of the East.
You heard it here first.