Can Kyle Okposo maintain momentum from his breakout year?

9 Comments

John Tavares rightfully grabs the most attention as the New York Islanders’ best player in decades, but in an era where depth can make the difference between contending and just surviving, it’s crucial for others to step up. As much of a difference as the team’s impressive offseason moves might make, the team could be especially dangerous if the Kyle Okposo we saw in 2013-14 is the one who’s here to stay.

That’s not to say that Okposo was lackluster in other seasons, mind you.

A big leap

At 26, he’s one goal short of 100 in his NHL career. Including his career-high 27 from last season, he has two 20+ goal seasons and two others that were very close (18 in 2008-09, 19 in 2009-10) to boot.

The 2013-14 campaign stands out because of two reasons: 1) he fired more shots on net and 2) he generated more assists.

Okposo collected 42 assists in just 71 games, giving him almost a point-per-game overall (69 in 71). To give you an idea of how big of a jump that was, consider that his previous career-high for points was just 52.

No doubt about it, some of that stems from playing with Tavares, especially when the Islanders enjoyed the work of that blistering-but-short-lived trio that also included Thomas Vanek. It would be foolish to depict Okposo as a mere passenger, however.

Growing into his role

His work in the month of March is demonstrative enough, as Tavares was already out for the season and Vanek’s last game with the Isles took place on March 2. Even with those two stellar linemates out of the picture (for the most part), Okposo scored three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 11 games before suffering a season-ending ailment of his own.

There have been some measures taken to explain why, exactly, Okposo made such a big jump … but here’s a vote for the vague notion of “being more assertive.”

It’s a generalization to say that more shots translate to more confidence, but it might be a decent measure for a power forward like Okposo.

Okposo averaged 2.75 shots per game in 2013-14, second only to the 3.11 he managed in 2009-10. Most other seasons he leaned closer to two per contest.

That might not seem like much, yet 80-100 extra shots during the span of a season could mean something like 8-10 additional goals (based on his career 10.4 shooting percentage). To get dorky for a moment, Islanders fans should be excited to see that his shooting percentage was a fairly repeatable 13.8 last season, as that’s not the kind of “puck luck” that is often a red flag for a fluky year.

***

Of course, the big jump in assists is probably the easiest place to see the “Tavares effect.” But, really, is that such a bad thing? The ultimate message might be that the Islanders would be wise to keep Okposo with No. 91 and give him the green light to shoot.

Will he maybe slow down a bit in 2014-15? It’s plausible, but there are also plenty of reasons to believe that he’s going to be one of the league’s more productive power forwards.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
Getty
3 Comments

Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

***

Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
Getty
11 Comments

Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.