Islanders’ season gets underway

Since the calendar flipped to 2016, the New York Islanders have had their fair share of both good and bad news.

The Isles’ first season playing in Brooklyn produced the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Playoffs series win in 23 years before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference semifinals. But the offseason that followed saw the departures of several longstanding contributors.

With coach Jack Capuano entering his sixth full season guiding the team and looking to build on last season’s progress, the Islanders will open Thursday night against the Big Apple rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Here are three keys to the Isles’ season as it gets underway.

Moving on

The writing had been on the wall for Kyle Okposo’s free-agent departure, so it came as no surprise when he joined the Buffalo Sabres. But also to lose Frans Nielsen, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings, combines for a major loss.

The pair had been two of the three longest-tenured Isles and were Nos. 2 and 3 on the team in points last season. They’ll be hard to replace.

But someone will have to try. The duty falls, in part, upon offseason signing Andrew Ladd, the former Winnipeg Jets captain and two-time Stanley Cup winner who recorded 25 goals and 21 assists last season.

Johnny on the spot

It’s not all doom and gloom as long as captain John Tavares is around.

The 26-year-old center is as consistent from year to year as they come, even if 2015-16 wasn’t his strongest campaign. He still led the Isles with 33 goals, and his 37 assists were five behind team leader Okposo.

Tavares is entering his physical prime, and he’s capable of putting the team on his back.

Between the pipes

Jaroslav Halak returns as the Isles’ top goaltender after a strong performance in the World Cup of Hockey this fall, but already he could miss time.

Halak, who was limited to 36 games last season, is questionable to play against the Rangers on Thursday due to illness. Even if it doesn’t linger, it’s not the best way to start the season.

Fortunately, the team should feel confident whenever it needs to turn to backup Thomas Greiss, who was just about as good as Halak while going 23-11 last season. On long or short relief, the Isles can feel secure with their goalies.


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