Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Injuries to Streit and Okposo challenge Islanders once again

Call it deja vu. The regular season hasn't even started and already the Islanders are facing an uphill battle. A couple of days after learning top defender Mark Streit likely will miss six months with a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff suffered in a collision with Matt Moulson during a team practice, third-year right wing Kyle Okposo will also be on the mend also due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder which will require surgery, keeping him out two months.

Hard to believe how much bad luck the club has as last year wasn't too kind either, placing in the top 10 in man-games lost to injury with 256- just ahead of the Devils (249). The biggest setbacks last season were to captain Doug Weight (46) and franchise netminder Rick DiPietro (74). Now, Scott Gordon's young club is faced with another challenge having lost its best defenseman and a top six forward 10 days before 2010-11 gets underway at home against Dallas October 9. GM Garth Snow already added ex-Devil Mike Mottau to the blueline with the vet inking a two-way deal per Newsday's Katie Strang

For Okposo, it was expected to be a big Year Three but now he'll have to wait. Last year, he caught a lethal Dion Phaneuf open ice hit which concussed him yet somehow missed only two games. Not surprisingly, it took a while for the former Islander '06 seventh overall selection to get untracked. But the 22 year-old from St. Paul finished his second season strong, attaining new career highs in games (80), goals (19), assists (33), points (52) and shots (249). He never takes a shift off, always finishing every check. It'll be hard to replace that skillset.

More pressure's on John Tavares, who'll need Moulson to duplicate last year while teammates Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau and Rob Schremp all are vital to the club's success. Weight and vet Trent Hunter will be the unquestioned leaders but is JT91 ready to assume a role as well?

As for losing Streit who's their best scorer from the back end while logging the most minutes, offseason pickup James Wisniewski becomes even more important. He's capable of stepping up and should have something to prove on his third team in less than three years (Chi, Ana, NYI). The Wiz is a solid puckmover who plays a ferocious style that got him into trouble last season due to this late cheapshot on former Chicago 'mate Brent Seabrook. He must stay on the ice and help anchor a corps that allowed 40 more goals (254 GA) than the club scored (214). Blocked shot machine Mark Eaton should also provide help as well as experience. He helped the Pens win Lord Stanley.

It'll take a collective effort. Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald are solid skaters who could provide a lift. Adding Mottau to the mix can't hurt as he fared respectively in the Garden State, reviving his career. There's also former Cap Milan Jurcina who plays physical but lacks mobility. Figure him to be used sparingly. Does Bruno Gervais get back in Gordon's good graces? The third-year Islander coach must also decide if either Travis Harmonic or Calvin de Haan are ready. It might be worth taking a look.

Gordon also thinks DiPietro can start 60 games but it's hard to take seriously. Besides, vet Dwayne Roloson did an admirable job last year. So, they shouldn't have to rush DP back. Our advice is simple. Work him in slowly. That way his body can recover.

For a team that finished 13th in the East with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points, they hung tough most of last season. They were excellent at home posting a 23-14-4 mark while struggling on the road (11-23-7), which must change. This group is being asked to once again defy the odds. We'll see if they're up to the challenge.

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