John Tavares

2011-2012 season preview: New York Islanders

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2010-2011 record: 30-39-13, 73 points; 5th in Atlantic, 14th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Things are looking up for the Islanders. While their record was dismal last season, the signs of a turnaround were there. Now with their bevy of young players gaining experience and getting a little older and rounding into form, some believe the Isles rise to glory is coming soon. At a minimum now, they’ll figure to be a tough team to deal with in the East.

Offense

It’s safe to say that this is John Tavares’ team now. Tavares enters his third season in the league and he’s improved in each of the previous two. He led the Isles in points (67) last season and was a goal shy of getting 30.  Getting consistent scoring from Matt Moulson helps pace the team and the rise of Michael Grabner as an offensive weapon gives the Isles a dangerous offensive team. A healthy Kyle Okposo will be interesting to watch as will all-around forward Frans Nielsen, who will get more minutes as the second-line center. If Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey can improve, the Islanders’ ability to score goals (15th in the NHL last year) should only improve, especially if Nino Niederreiter joins the team this season and Brian Rolston can rediscover his old ways.

Defense

The defense was decimated by injury last season, but they enter this season with everyone healthy. Captain Mark Streit leads the way, Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau are back from injury and they’ll they join up with the likes of Andrew MacDonald, Milan Jurcina, and Travis Hamonic along the blue line. It’s a bit of a motley crew with some youth in the mix as well (Ty Wishart, Calvin de Haan). How well they play and come together will hinge upon the success of their goaltending. File that under, “duh.” You can add tryout Steve Staios to the mix as well as the team signed him to a one-year deal.

source: APGoalies

The question here is always, “How long will Rick DiPietro last before injury strikes?” Last season DiPietro led the Islanders in games played. That’s normal for a guy who is the starter, but playing in just 26 games made life hard again on Isles goalies. This season, DiPietro has a host of insurance in Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. One of those two guys will start the year on Long Island and give the Islanders some hope that they’ll have a competent guy in net no matter what happens. DiPietro is the best guy they have, but if/when his health comes into play is always the problem.

Coach

Jack Capuano took over for Scott Gordon last season and after a rocky stretch solidified his position with the Isles. New York under Capuano has been an aggressive team that doesn’t back down from opponents, turning the once-pushover Islanders into a team that will bite back when attacked. With the team removing his interim tag in the offseason, they’re standing firm behind him. How he handles his first full season with the Isles as they’re ready to start making the jump to being a good team will be his test this season.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

After having a couple of surprise players last season (Grabner, P.A. Parenteau), it shows that things can be sneaky when it comes to proving one’s self. This time we’ll look at the blue line and focus on Hamonic, who was thrown to the wolves last season thanks to injuries and played well in 62 games getting five goals and 21 assists as well as 103 penalty minutes. A guy with offensive ability and a nasty streak? We’re sold. He’ll be able to show more of his skills full-time this season and get noticed for good and bad reasons by opponents.

Best-case scenario

Tavares continues to blossom, becoming an 80-point player while Moulson turns into a 40-goal scorer. Their top line with Okposo becomes one of the best scoring lines in the league while Grabner continues to make Vancouver and Florida look silly for giving up on him, recording another 30-plus goal season. DiPietro plays in 60 games and shows that, yes, he can stay healthy and prove why he was a No. 1 overall draft pick.

Reality

The Isles will be a fun team to watch and a dangerous one for teams in the Atlantic to deal with. Tavares is a superstar waiting to bust out and his linemates will reap the benefits. Staying healthy is going to be a very big deal for the Isles. If they can do that reasonably well, they’ll challenge for a playoff spot. If they get solid seasons from Comeau, Bailey, and Rolston while Parenteau and Grabner continue to stay strong, they can roll three very good lines. If the goaltending is also good, they’ll surprise a lot of teams.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.

Video: Mika Zibanejad’s check to Tyler Bozak’s head

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Saturday’s been unkind to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not just on the scoreboard (where it’s 3-0 early on against the Ottawa Senators).

The Maple Leafs lost Tyler Bozak to an apparent upper-body injury thanks to a questionable hit by Sens forward Mika Zibanejad.

You can judge that check (which drew a minor penalty for illegal check to the head) in the video above. Again, Bozak will not return to tonight’s game.

It’s unclear if Bozak will miss time beyond this contest.

Update: It didn’t get much better going forward; the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 6-1.