Today we learn that the Towering Giants on the Ice are the Eastern Conference, while the Islanders are those kids about to be pushed into the ice like the punks they are.
I can't be the only one who wants to punch the next person who says that. It sounds even more ridiculous when you look at the standings last season. If the Rangers, the 8th seed in the East, had played in the West, the Stars and Flames would have both finished above them. So technically the 8th seed in the East last year wasn't even the 16th best team in the league by standings points. With Montreal and Buffalo both finishing with 96 points, Dallas (95 points) and Calgary (94) both could have been within reach of the 6th seed in the East.
Last year in the East the Islanders were 7th in goals scored. They were 12th in Shots on Goal (only 45 behind the Rangers). Their shooting percentage was 9.3%, tied for 2nd in the East with Tampa Bay. Only the Thrashers gave up more goals then the Islanders in the East last year. Only 4 teams gave up more shots in the East than the Isles, including the Bruins and Canes. At 17.2% the Isles PP was 7th in the East. At 83.2% the Isles PK was 8th in the East, and with 15 shorthanded goals led the league.
Some stats are even more drastic if you split them at the All-Star break.
The Islanders played 49 games before the break and 33 after. Before the break the Isles scored 118 goals and gave up 158, the -40 differential only surpassed by the Senators and Devils. After the break the Islanders and Sabres were the only teams in the East to break 100 goals, both hitting 107. Of course the Isles (100) and Thrashers (102) were the only teams to give up 100 goals post break. The Isles also went 25-21-8 over the last 54 games of the season.
The biggest problems with last year's team was the defense and the goaltending. No matter what you think of Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau, both of them going down didn't help things. When Eaton went down he was only a -2 over 20 games. When you consider that both injuries led to the door being opened for Bruno Gervais (-14 in 53 GP) and Dylan Reese (-12 in 27 GP) to get on the ice, the only bright side was that it gave Travis Hamonic a chance. Someone around here said it best though when they said last night that the return of Mark Streit is better than anyone the Isles could have signed.
With Streit out for the year, a lot of non-Islander fans forgot how good he was. In 08-09 he led the team in points (56) and assists (40) but what's usually missed is that he was +5 on a team that finished the year with a -79 goal differential. In 09-10 he finished with 49 points, but once again led the team in assists (38) and finished the season with an even +/-. When you consider that last season the Islanders had 4 players with over 50 points and 2 players over 40 points, the addition of another 50 points from the blueline is a big deal. Streit hasn't played on an Islander team yet that he wasn't considered one of the top offensive threats. With his return, it's another chance to cause mismatches on the ice.
For all the talk of the Islanders needing one more premier defenseman, Streit can make just about anyone look good. In 09-10 his top five partners were Bruno Gervais (33%), Andrew MacDonald (20%), Radek Martinek (7%), Jack Hillen (5%) and Freddy Meyer (4%). Only MacDonald is still with the team, and it's not expected that he needs his hand held by Streit anymore. Ty Wishart and Milan Jurcina would most likely be the front runners to be paired with him, as both have their deficiencies, but both have size and and usefulness in the right situation.
When it comes to the Islanders goaltenders, we've beaten that subject into the ground. But it should be considered as solid as going into last season with a 40-year old Dwayne Roloson was. If Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya falter, we aren't going to fall back to an unknown in Nathan Lawson, but either Kevin Poulin, Evgeni Nabokov or even Anders Nilsson.
The idea that the East is some monster that is going to chew the Islanders up and spit them out seems a bit much to me at least. No matter how hard you try, you can never predict how a team will do until you start playing games. You can't even tell in December how a team will do by the time the playoffs come around. There's no reason to believe that all 8 teams that made the playoffs will make them again next year. There's also no saying that the teams which were close (9/10/11th seeds) are going to be there again.
As I was writing this, news came up that Travis Zajac will be missing 8-10 weeks. When your a team that struggled to scored goals (174 GF last year) losing someone who put up 44 points for any amount of time hurts. That's why you play the game.