Islanders want to avoid another ‘terrible’ start to season

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) The New York Islanders got off to a slow start last season and, despite a strong second half that followed a midyear coaching change, finished a point out of a playoff spot.

Now, Doug Weight has promised a hard camp as he heads into his first full season at the helm, hoping that will help the team get off to a better start.

“We know camp is going to be tough,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “Dougie’s been telling us that from the get go. … We gave away a lot of games last year where we could have got points and that’s what kind of impaired us at the end.”

The Islanders had just six wins in their first 20 games, and had stretches of improved play but struggled with consistency when Weight replaced Jack Capuano on Jan. 17 with the team last in the Eastern Conference at 17-17-8. The Islanders closed the season with six straight wins to finish 24-12-4 under Weight, who was hired on a permanent basis days after the season ended.

Missing the postseason by a point after the slow start stuck with the players in the offseason and many pointed to it as a motivating force.

“You think about it all summer,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “Our start last year, it was terrible and we know that, and that’s why we weren’t in the playoffs.”

Captain John Tavares was looking forward to a full training camp after missing out last year while helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey. With the departure of several longtime teammates and the additions of free agents Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, the team struggled to develop chemistry and was juggling lines combinations through much of the first half of the season.

With the addition of forward Jordan Eberle in a trade with Edmonton, Tavares is looking forward to having the extra time to develop chemistry with his new teammate this year.

“Certainly it’s great to be here with your teammates that you’re going to be with all year from Day 1,” Tavares said. “Start the grind and build the camaraderie, that closeness you need to have success.”

Some other things to know as the Islanders head into their first day of practice Friday:

CAPTAIN’S CONTRACT: Tavares is still not signed beyond this season, but said he has not ruled out ongoing talks between agent Pat Brisson and team management during the season.

“I’m open to anything,” he said. “Communications are great. We’ll continue to keep that open, let the process continue to move along.”

The face of the franchise since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Tavares is heading into the final season of a six-year, $33 million deal. He has averaged 33 goals and 41 assists the last three seasons, and his goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of the first round against Florida in March 2016 gave the franchise its only postseason series win since 1993.

LINING UP: Much of the focus in the offseason was on adding offense around Tavares. Though General Manager Garth Snow was unable to pry Matt Duchene from the Avalanche, Eberle should provide a big boost. The 27-year-old right wing has averaged 24.3 goals and 32.3 assists the last four years.

Though Weight hasn’t given any indication, the expectation is Eberle could replace Josh Bailey on the top line with Tavares and Anders Lee, who is coming off career highs of 34 goals and 52 points. The trickle-down effect will result in other lines being shuffled as well.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak should give the Islanders a strong goaltending duo. Greiss took over as starter when Halak was waived and sent to minors on Dec. 31, but struggled down the stretch. Halak was called up and finished 6-1-0 with a 1.58 goals-against average as the Islanders made their late playoff push.

It’s unclear if Weight will name either the starter.

“Depends, too, on whoever plays good will play, I guess,” said Greiss, who was 26-18-5 with a 2.69 GAA while appearing in a career-high 51 games. “So just make sure you play well.”

YOUTH ON D: After trading longtime defensive stalwart Travis Hamonic to Calgary in the offseason, the Islanders will be turning to their farm system to fill the void. Adam Pelech, who appeared in 44 games last season, will likely get more playing time, and Ryan Pulock, who played in 15 in 2015-16, will get an extended look.

Scott Mayfield will be in the mix, too.

HOME SWEET HOME: The Islanders’ long-term arena situation remains unclear as they head into the third year at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center while eyeing the possibility of building a new home near Belmont Park.

However, they will be returning to their former home – the Nassau Coliseum, where they spent the franchise’s first 43 years – for the preseason opener Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen so many veterans say they want to play the first preseason game,” forward Cal Clutterbuck said.

Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

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Oh, Sidney.

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

And another angle:

Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

Remember this from John Tavares?

It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Bruins at Blues

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[Puck drop at 8 p.m. ET, CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.]


Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand / Riley Nash / David Pastrnak

Ryan Donato / David Krejci / Danton Heinen

Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Jordan Szwarz / Noel Acciari / Brian Gionta

Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk / Kevan Miller

Nick Holden / Adam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

[Bruins – Blues preview]

St. Louis Blues

Jaden Schwartz / Brayden Schenn / Alexander Steen

Patrik Berglund / Kyle Brodziak / Vladimir Sobotka

Dmitrij Jaskin / Ivan Barbashev / Tage Thompson

Nikita Soshnikov / Oskar Sundqvist / Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson / Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn / Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson / Robert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

Will Coyotes give Dylan Strome a real shot?


Aside from seeing who can tank harder, it might be tough to sell the Arizona Coyotes’ game against the Buffalo Sabres tonight. There is one interesting storyline, though: will Dylan Strome finally gain some traction? And will the Coyotes give him a solid chance to actually do so?

A failure at one level

Take a look at the top 10 picks of the 2015 NHL Draft, and you’ll see that nine of those prospects have played in at least 106 regular-season games.

The lone exception is Strome, the third selection by the Arizona Coyotes, who’s only appeared in 18 games at the highest level so far during his fledgling NHL career.

Strome’s development has been a frustrating process, as the book on Strome seems to be that he can dominate at lower levels, yet his strength and especially foot speed just isn’t there. This season backs up that even with Strome slowing down a bit at times in the AHL, as Strome generated 50 points in 47 games for the Tucson Roadrunners.

No doubt, it’s distressing to see Strome struggle, especially with Mitch Marner (fourth overall), Noah Hanifin (fifth), Ivan Provorov (seventh), Zach Werenski (eighth), and Mikko Rantanen (10th) all looking like studs who were selected behind him.

Sink or swim

No doubt about it, that stings. Allow some advice, then: the Coyotes should give him a better chance to prove himself than Strome has been afforded thus far.

Look, there’s no denying that his scant production (one goal, one assist in 18 games spread between last season and this one) is troubling. A can’t-miss prospect would probably be able to make every moment count, and you can’t really make that argument for Strome.

Still, with very little to lose – in fact, with plenty of incentive to lose – why not really set the table for him? That hasn’t exactly been the case at the NHL level; Strome averaged a measly 12:26 TOI per game during that 11-game span this season, and that was slightly down from his seven games in 2016-17. Strome averaged 1:23 power-play time on ice per night.

To Arizona’s credit, they’ve given him quality linemates during his brief window of action this season. According to Natural Stat Trick, his most frequent forward linemates have been Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer. Not too shabby, especially by the standards of Coyotes forwards.

It’s unclear who the Coyotes will line Strome up with during tonight’s game, but it could be very helpful for them to get a better read on him by really rolling him out. Ideally, they’ll give him more reps on the man advantage, strong linemates, and more opportunities in general.

Ten games won’t answer every question or solve any riddle.

For a team that’s shown signs of growing impatience with a slow rebuild, it sure would be nice to find out if Strome has a better chance of helping them out in 2018-19. What better time to find out than now?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.