Call it a tale of two offseasons. The New York Islanders seem determined to ensure their last year in Nassau Coliseum is a good one. They were one of the more active teams in the offseason, grabbing goaltender Jarsolav Halak, forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, and defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to improve all facets of their roster. The Carolina Hurricanes took the opposite approach, barely making a peep all summer, instead deciding to ride out this year with essentially the same roster they had last season. Tonight, the two teams begin their season, both hoping to bounce back from basement finishes last year.
The Islanders finished last year dead last in the Metropolitan division. Part of the reason was the extensive absence of their captain, John Tavares, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Sochi Olympics. Reports have Tavares fully recovered and ready to lead the team once again. Before his injury, Tavares was near the top of the league in points, so a recovered captain could lead to good things for the New York team. If the Islanders preseason is any indication of their performance in this upcoming year, New York could be a surprise team this year, going 4-2-1 in preseason play.
The Carolina Hurricanes did not fair much better than New York did last season. They finished only four points higher than the Islanders last year, well out of a playoff spot. However, like New York, their season was derailed by injuries, mostly to their goaltending position. Both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin spent large portions of last year either injured or recovering from injury. Both goaltenders have apparently recovered from their injuries, but neither played particularly well in the preseason. Cam Ward will be in net for Carolina tonight, though head coach Bill Peters has not yet named him as the team’s starter. The Hurricanes had a horrid preseason, going 2-5-0, but one of those victories was against the Islanders.
Neither team will be starting tonight’s game with their roster at full strength. The Hurricanes will be without the services of Jordan Staal (broken leg) and Jeff Skinner (concussion), while the Islanders are missing Lubomir Visnovsky (back). New York forward Michael Grabner is also a late addition to the Islanders’ injured reserve list after having sports hernia surgery on Thursday. Staal is expected to miss 4-6 months, while Skinner and Grabner are both out indefinitely.
Though the level of activity in the offseason may be quite different between the two teams, their goals remain the same. The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, and with an ever-decreasing attendance for every year that passes, Carolina is in desperate need for playoff hockey. The Islanders made the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, but they remain just as desperate as the Hurricanes. It is the last year the Islanders will be playing on Long Island, as the team moves to Brooklyn at the end of the year. New York wants to end their time on Long Island on a positive note, and a playoff appearance would certainly do that.
The journey begins tonight at 7:00 EST, as the New York Islanders visit the Carolina Hurricanes in the first half of a home-and-home series. Both teams will travel and face off in New York Saturday night at 7:00 EST.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner