Same faces, new hopes as Islanders ready for season opener
The easy knock on the Islanders is that this year's team is basically the same as last year's team.
The Islanders didn't make any big offseason trades. They did not spend a lot on free agents. But while some people see that as a bad thing, Islanders head coach Lane Lambert sees it as a positive.
"We have guys who know how to play and play a certain way. The benefit is we have a pretty good team," Lambert told News 12 after Thursday's practice.
It also means the Islanders will be one of the oldest teams in the league and in pro sports "older" doesn't always translate into "better." (See: this year's Mets)
Last season, the Islanders suffered through a brutal January when they lost 11 out of 15 games. But they bounced back to make the playoffs by earning at least a point in 22 of their last 31 games.
The mid-season additions of top-six forwards Bo Horvat and Pierre Engvall helped.
The Islanders hope having their talents for an entire season will be a big boost, especially if Horvat can team with Mat Barzal, who will move to left wing, to give the Islanders a deadly one-two punch on their top line.
"I think it's good. I think the full training camp together and the fact that Mathew has moved to the left side is going to be for them to get that chemistry. I think they'll see each other really well," said Lambert.
"I think we're both excited," said Barzal about working with Horvat, who the Isles got last season in a trade with the Canucks. "I don't think we're putting too much pressure on ourselves like 'We have to do this. We have to do that.' Let's just go out, work hard. If we do that the goals will come and the wins will come."
The Isles will also need to boost their power play which was ranked 30th in the NHL last season and were seen working on that unit at times during Thursday's practice at the Northwell Health Ice Complex in East Meadow.
One area that's not a concern is goaltending. The Isles have arguably the best combination in the league in starter Ilya Sorokin and backup Semyon Varlamov.
Both were signed to multi-year contracts in the offseason.
Sorokin was runner-up for the NHL's goalie of the year award. Lambert said watching the players take on both goalies in practice is fun and because they are so talented it makes "the games feel more natural."
No one in the locker room is guaranteeing a trip to the conference finals like the Islanders made in 2020 and 2021. But they are guaranteeing that this will not be the same Islanders as last season. The season opener is Saturday against the Sabres at UBS Arena.
"It never gets old," said Islanders captain Anders Lee as he enters his 11th season with the team. "Opening night or any other night it means a lot."
KEVIN MAHER'S SEASON PREDICTION: The Isles still don't have the talent to be one of the Top-5 teams in the Eastern Conference. Their goaltending can steal them some wins and Horvat must regain his goal scoring form, or else his trade will be a bust. I think they'll have to win games in the final two weeks to clinch a wildcard spot. Final record: 44-31-7.