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Hard to Deny New York Islanders Injuries Had an Effect on Early Playoff Exit

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The Islanders were to blame for many things that went wrong in their first round loss to Washington. Injuries were beyond their control. And you sure can blame those injuries for part of the loss.

The loss of Travis Hamonic undoubtedly set the Islanders back this postseason.
The loss of Travis Hamonic undoubtedly set the Islanders back this postseason.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

By the time the playoffs roll around, all teams have various injuries that are affecting their roster.  Some are more severe than others, but after a grueling 82 game schedule, it's almost expected that NHL teams are going to have some kind of injury woes.

The Islanders woes started way before the playoffs and seemed to pile up as their first round series wore on.  The Islanders had many issues during their playoff series with the Capitals, but injuries did play a factor into the product on the ice, both personnel and playing style.

Here we will take a look at the five injuries that seemed to most affect the Islanders during their playoff series with Washington, in order of significance.

5. Michael Grabner

Is he hurt? I don't know.  I sure think he is.  Someone in Austria seems to think he is.  An injury would explain Grabner's absence in the second half of a series where the Islanders struggled to score goals.  But then again, Anders Lee wasn't hurt, so maybe I'm way off base.

Injuries plagued Grabner all year, and because of that we never got to see the real Michael Grabner in 2014-15.  He didn't seem as explosive in the 34 games he played this season as he did in the 383 games he played prior to this season.  Injuries became the only thing in this universe that could effectively slow the speedy gremlin down.

A healthy Grabner could have made a difference on the scoreboard.  But I only vaguely remember what a healthy Michael Grabner looks like these days.

4. Mikhail Grabovski

Mikhail Grabovski played in only three playoff games this season due to a concussion, and once he returned to the lineup, he showed how much he was missed.  Grabovski was held off the scoreboard but showed the offensive skill that the Islanders had been missing since Game 2.

Grabovski didn't play in the first four games of the first round, but the effects of his injury started way before Game 1.  Grabovski missed the final 23 games of the regular season , in which the Islanders record was 8-9-6.  It wouldn't be a stretch to say the loss of Grabovski was a big reason for the Islanders late season tailspin that cost them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Grabovski may not be a goal scoring machine, but he sure does know how to drive possession.  And the way he dominates the puck in the offensive and neutral zones was something the Islanders could have used in both Games 2 and 4.

3. Lubomir Visnovsky

Visnovsky was the victim of a huge hit from Capitals headhunter Tom Wilson.  It has been rumored that Visnovsky suffered the seventh concussion of his career, forcing him out of Game 4 and the rest of the series.

Visnovsky wasn't helping the Islanders power play, although I don't think anything could have helped that.  But Visnovsky was contributing offensively at even strength, something the Islanders could have used more of.

Besides offense, the Islanders also lost a veteran presence on the blue line that had 28 playoff games under his belt.  His voice and leadership in the locker room were not things that could be replaced.

Most importantly though, the loss of Visnovsky as an able body on the back line meant the Islanders had to dip way down the defensive depth charts to fill his spot in the lineup.  Using such inexperienced defenseman in Visnovsky's place meant limited minutes and strategy changes that could well have cost the Islanders a chance to move on to the second round.

2. Kyle Okposo

I almost listed Okposo's injury as number 1, but being he actually played in the entire series, I felt he didn't deserve the top spot.  But regardless of how many games and minutes Okposo logged in the postseason, let me explain why his eye injury way back in January was so detrimental to the Islanders playoff chances.

When it was announced during the All-Star break that Okposo would be out with a detatched retina, the Islanders were 31-14-1.  They had a 16-4-0 record at the Nassau Coliseum, a 15-2-0 record vs. the Metropolitan Division, and were riding a 12-4-1 streak into the break.  Okposo had 44 points in 45 games played and was cemented as one-third of the Islanders top line.

When Okposo finally returned in March, he wasn't the same player as before the injury.  It was to be expected, coming off a 22 game layoff and a serious eye injury.  But after 15 games, Okposo still hadn't seemed to shake off the rust.

In the playoffs it seemed to get worse.  Yes, he scored two goals (one a wristshot on an odd man break and the other a mere deflection of a Visnovsky point shot).  And yes he seemed to be skating hard.  But watching Okposo in the playoffs almost felt like I was watching Kyle Okposo from 2012.  There was a lot of skating down the boards over the opponent's blue line and then turning it over half way into the zone.  There were numerous shots that went wide of the net from an opportune location.  And there were a few pick ups of the puck and skate back towards the blue line only to attempt a weak turnaround wrister from no-man's land.

It seemed as though a symptom of Okposo's injury was amnesia, and he had forgotten the top line player he had developed into.  The loss of first line Okposo left the Islanders with only a first line center flanked by two wings of the day, as opposed to the 2/3 of a star line the Islanders had had prior to Okposo's injury.  In a series where every goal counted, the effects of Okposo's injury definitely cost the Islanders in the offensive zone.

1. Travis Hamonic

If the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky was detrimental to the Islanders success in the playoffs, than the Loss of Hamonic was down right catastrophic.

Hamonic was leading the Islanders in TOI when he went down with an MCL tear on April 10 against the Penguins.  A key penalty killer, losing Hamonic from the lineup seemed to put more of a defensive dependency on Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.  That in effect took them out of their offensive game a bit.

Hamonic's loss also meant increased time for Brian Strait and Calvin de Haan, a pairing that was frequently on the ice watching the Capitals celebrate after scoring a goal.

But the most important part of Hamonic's game that was missed was his physical play.  The Islanders were lacking a bruiser in front of the crease, and Hamonic proved in 2013 that come playoff time, he raises his nasty level.  That snarl in the defensive zone was needed to keep the Capitals honest, and his on ice leadership was also missed in a big way.

It's hard to replace one of your Top 3 defenseman, and it is even harder to do it during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  And that is what makes Travis Hamonic's injury the one that most impacted the Islanders this postseason.