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Three questions facing Arizona Coyotes

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes.

Can Antti Raanta put together a complete season as a starting NHL goalie?

Raanta’s numbers from last season look quite good at a first glance. On a poor Coyotes team, he posted a 21-17-6 record with a very solid .930 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average.

Truth be told, however, he was horrible in the first half of the season but rebounded in a huge way in the second half of the season, posting 13 wins in his final 17 starts.

His impressive run earned him a three-year, $12.75 million deal in April, and a renewed commitment from the goaltender to spend the offseason working at becoming a bona fide starter.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Questions of Raanta’s fitness heading into last year’s training camp were a concern of head coach Rick Tocchet.

“It’s going to be good for me to know what it takes to play lots of games and it’s going to be good for me to kind of see what I need to do more in the summertime, what I want to improve, and come back stronger next year,” Raanta told the Associated Press after he signed his contract.

A .930 starting goaltender playing 60-plus games will very likely put the Coyotes in the playoffs and would just as likely have Raanta in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy.

Can Dylan Strome build off the end of the season and make an impact as a full-time player?

Strome struggled to find a spot in the Coyotes’ roster last season.

Here’s a quick timeline:

Oct. 5-7 – plays the first two games of the season and is held pointless.

Oct. 9 – Sent down to Tucson of the American Hockey League.

Oct. 9 – Nov. 25 – tears up the AHL with 26 points in 15 games.

Nov. 26 – Earns recall back to Arizona

Nov. 27 – Dec. 18 – Scores his first NHL goal but that’s all in nine more games with the Coyote.

Dec. 19 – Sent back to Tucson

Mar. 20 – Called back up to Arizona, this time for the rest of the season.

From that point on, Strome seemed to find his stride, amassing three goals and five assists in 10 games to close out the year.

For everyone involved with the former third-overall pick, it was a sigh of relief.

“We’ve made him earn things, and playing a top-six center position as a 20-year-old is a very hard thing to do,” GM John Chayka told the team’s website in May. I think in his latest segment where he came up and played, I thought he showed a lot of improvement. I thought he proved a lot to himself and his teammates that he can handle that type of role and be productive. He’s been productive his whole life. It’s always good to see progression, and I think we’ve seen that with Dylan.”

A center by trade, Strome could make the jump to the wing.

Do the additions of Vinnie Hinostroza, Michael Grabner and Alex Galchenyuk put them into the playoff discussion, or do they need more?

Those moves certainly point Arizona in that direction.

That’s 53 goals being injected to the Coyotes forward group based on last year’s numbers, and based on that, it would move the Coyotes from 30th place in the league to near the top-10 in goals-for.

That’s an excellent upgrade.

Couple that with Strome turning into the player they franchise wants him to be and Keller taking another step forward (and Raanta playing at his best), and the Coyotes could very much be in the playoff discussion providing they can reduce their goals against from last season. They gave up 251 — 11th most in the NHL.

That issue gets partially fixed if Raanta doesn’t get off to a poor start.

A healthy Jakob Chychrun (knee) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (core) would certainly help matters. Both missed significant time last year as a result of injuries.

The simple truth here is that the Coyotes look better on paper this year.

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

New York Islanders ’15-16 Outlook

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After years of slumming it in an aging building, the New York Islanders are moving to the snazzy Barclays Center in Brooklyn … and they’re bringing a stylish team with them.

Indeed, the Isles may boast the ideal mix of talent to resonate in The Land of the Hipsters, especially if head coach Jack Capuano sports these glasses.

Jack Capuano, Michael Grabner
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

(Sure, they’re not as natural a fit for Brooklyn as Dan Bylsma’s lids, but you can’t win them all.)

The Islanders’ potential seems like a mystery, at least beyond the likelihood of the team being fun to watch.

Could a division title be a possibility? Maybe a deep run?

You’d think that the group GM Garth Snow assembled should at least win a playoff series for the first time since 1993. The Isles boast a little of everything: an outstanding offense featuring John Tavares, a solid defense including Johnny Boychuk and steady goaltending.

If nothing else, maybe more casual hockey fans will realize just how special Tavares is. In the meantime, we have accounts like the one Jonathan Quick shared with The Players’ Tribune:

Just like with [Sidney] Crosby, Tavares doesn’t kill you with one thing, he kills you with how insanely balanced his game is in all aspects. Tavares can deke you, or roof a shot, or make a great pass, or if nothing is there, he’ll do the smartest thing and chip it in deep to live another day. He’s similar to Crosby in another way, too. He’s one of the most tenacious guys I’ve ever played against. A lot of guys that skilled might choose to work the perimeter and wait for their linemates to open up space for them. Tavares gets right into the dirty areas and mucks it up. You’ll see him score just as many greasy goals as pretty ones.

He could help the Islanders be a trendy choice in 2015-16.

Snow says Isles will stick with Capuano

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New York Islanders GM Garth Snow ended any offseason suspense about head coach Jack Capuano’s future on Thursday, telling New York Newsday that they’ll keep him around heading into 2015-16.

Going further, Snow confirmed that other staff members will return, from assistants Doug Weight, Greg Cronin and Bob Corkum to goalie coach Mike Dunham.

“Our coaches did a great job, whether it was preparing our players or with the communication between coaches and players, which was outstanding,” Snow said. “There were some aspects of our game, whether it was with our penalty-kill that struggled early on and became a strength for us by the end, or our power play, which was a strength at times early on and we didn’t have one in the playoffs. That’s an area of concern. We’ll analyze all different areas of our team and try to get better.”

Assuming everything goes as Snow says it will, Capuano would enter his sixth season as the head coach of the Islanders. In that time, the Isles have made the playoffs twice, falling in the first round each time.

To his credit, the Islanders battled the Capitals hard even as their defense corps was decimated by injuries.

While the old regime seems like it will stay in place, it won’t all be familiar for the Islanders, as they’ll play their first season in Brooklyn next season.

Burning question: are these sufficient hipster glasses?

Jack Capuano, Michael Grabner
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Is Grabner among the Isles’ walking wounded?

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The Islanders came into their Round 1 series against Washington without the services of defenseman Travis Hamonic, and have since lost Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan to injuries.

Now, Michael Grabner could be on the shelf as well.

After appearing in the first two games of the series, Grabner was dropped from the lineup for Game 3 and reported as a healthy scratch — but, according to a report from Austrian news outlet Laola 1, Grabner suffered a groin injury, possibly a hernia, that may require offseason surgery.

The speedy winger has a history of these problems. He underwent sports hernia surgery at the beginning of this year, a procedure that sidelined him for all of October and November (it’s worth noting, however, that surgery was done on Grabner’s left side; the Laola 1 report says this latest injury is on the right.)

The 27-year-old returned to the Isles early December and went on to score eight goals and 13 points in 34 games, and had an assist in his first playoff appearance — a 4-1 Game 1 victory in which Grabner played nearly 13 minutes.

New York is back in action on Saturday at Nassau, trailing the Caps 3-2 in the series and facing elimination for the first time. It seems highly unlikely that Grabner will draw back into the lineup.

Watch Live: Capitals at Islanders

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The Islanders will look to retake the lead in their matchup with the Washington Capitals as the series shifts to New York this afternoon.

The Caps evened the series at one with a 4-3 win on Friday night.

Braden Holtby returns to the Caps net after missing Game 2 due to an illness. Tyler Kennedy replaces Michael Grabner in the Islanders lineup for Game 3.

Puck drop is at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can also stream it using NBCSports.com’s Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some relevant linkage for today’s affair:

Goalie Update: Hiller and Holtby expected to start Sunday

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoff TV schedule for today

Agent: Grabovski is ‘very close’ to returning