Arizona Coyotes 2014-2015 Season Preview: The New York Islanders

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Arizona Coyotes vs. New York Islanders: Year-to-Year Changes

Dec 12, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen (51) skates with the puck against Phoenix Coyotes defensemen Michael Stone (26) in the second period at Arena. The Coyotes defeated the Islanders 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

(All opinions expressed are those of Mike Hrankiwskyj and Catherine Silverman. Please excuse any references to partying Eastern Conference forwards or comparisons of team captains to Christian deities.)

Howlin Hockey: Let’s start with offense. Do you think that your team’s offense looks better this year, or worse? Why?

Mike Hrankiwskyj: The offense should be better- youngsters like Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson are expected to see more significant ice time and build off their success from last year. Additionally, the team added the happy duo of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, who should bring some much-needed balance to the top two lines. 

Of course, let’s not forget about “Jesus” Tavares at center. All he’s done since entering the league is improve his overall game and production every season and become a super star. Health permitting, this offense should be better than the 17th spot finisher. 

Catherine Silverman: I think that year-to-year improvements are sometimes relative. Do I think that the Coyotes did better than a lot of teams, offensively? Yes. They aren’t paying Dave Bolland $5.5 million/year. They didn’t scramble to make a trade for the negotiating rights to someone like… Jarome Iginla, which would be the offensive equivalent to the Dan Boyle trade. They remained cautiously optimistic, and made a few nice, well-paid acquisitions. That being said, though, do I think that Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale, and BJ Crombeen are going to make up for Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata? Not a chance. Unless the team brings in one more forward, I can’t be as optimistic about the new line-up. 

HH: What about defense? Did the season see improvements, or no? Why?

MH: Hmmmm… I don’t know? The defense lacks any true star-power, and is filled with questions. Is Lubomir Visnovsky going to stay healthy enough to give 70+ games? Probably not. Was Calvin deHaan‘s rookie season a harbinger of things to come, or is he still the same oft-injured defenseman with two bum shoulders? Hopefully, the former. Can rookie Griffin Reinhart be counted on to provide important minutes for a team that expects a playoff berth? Pretty please…. If everything breaks well, this defense should be better than last season. Of course, things never break well in Islander-land, and there’s just as good a chance that we’ll see eleven different bodies on defense throughout the season as not. Also, Matt Carkner figures to be prominently involved, which is never good. 

CS: Defense is pretty stagnant, unless Keith Yandle straightens up and Oliver Ekman-Larsson continues to improve. Possible, if not overly likely. That’s not to say the defense is badly stagnant, though… they weren’t going into the summer with a particularly shabby looking blue line. 

HH: What about in net? Both teams made changes over the summer- was this for better, or for worse? 

MH: The team went from a steaming platter of… well, Evgeni Nabakov, Kevin Poulin, and Anders Nilsson… to a Jaroslav Halak/Chad Johnson tandem. That’s like going from driving a Ford Taurus to a BMW. The first trio let up the third most goals in the league last year, and the three goalies collectively sported a save percentage under .900. Things were beyond ugly in net, and there’s no question that shoddy goaltending cost the team at least a dozen points last season. That’s right- I think that even with “average” goaltending, the team could have shot up the rankings. After eight years, General Manager Garth Snow finally realized that you need quality goaltending to win in this league and actually solidified the position. Better late than never, Garth.

“The team went from a steaming platter of… well, Evgeni Nabakov, Kevin Poulin, and Anders Nilsson… to a Jaroslav Halak/Chad Johnson tandem. That’s like going from driving a Ford Taurus to a BMW.”

CS: The Coyotes’ net was nowhere close to the train wreck coming out of Nassau Colosseum last year. To use the car analogy, though, I think that going from Mike Smith/Thomas Greiss to Mike Smith/Devan Dubnyk was the equivalent of adding a rearview camera to, say, your Toyota Prius. It’s safe, it’s reliable, it’s affordable, and now it’s keeping up with the times- but it’s still not exciting or spectacular. Your Prius won’t break down on the interstate, but it’s not going to win you any Grand Prix, either. 

HH:… Okay, then. How did your teams stack up against each other last year? Do you think the same will happen again in 2014-2015? Why, or why not?

MH: The teams actually split the season-series last year, each team winning at home (6-1 Isles, 6-3 Coyotes). My guess is that we’ll probably work you big time this year, being that we’re better and all. By some miracle it doesn’t happen, it’ll likely be due to Mike Smith playing on his head. Otherwise, expect something like two Islander wins by a combined total of 28-3 (estimates, of course).

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CS: Ah…. no comment, there. We may have split the series, but we finished a full ten points- and eight spots- ahead of you overall. I don’t think that either team will be as high-scoring in the upcoming season-series, but I have to say… I think that the ‘Yotes are going to pull ahead. 4-2, 2-1 OT. BRING IT.