John Tavares and Matt Moulson provided a combined 34% of the Isles' entire goal production this season. (Photo: Bridget Samuels/flickr)
Let’s start off with the bad news: the Islanders were second-worst in the league in goals forced with 196. That’s 29 fewer than last season, which means that Michael Grabner’s bust of a sophomore season made much more of a difference than some might have originally thought.
Now, the good news. The Isles still had four 20+-goal scorers, including two 30-goal scorers in John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey helped out in the back half of the season as well, but the fact remains that this offense is wildly inconsistent. Let’s go through it player by player and see where things even out.
Josh Bailey, C/LW: This guy is definitely better at the wing than at center, and it should have been evident since last season. This year, he scored 18 points in the final 20 games, playing with Frans Nielsen. He also found his chemistry with good buddy Okposo for part of the year. For much of the beginning of the year, he played a bit lazy (though maybe that’s more accounted to his assertion that center was tiring him out) and he held onto the puck too long; he slowly began hitting his stride, and though sometimes his cutesy-ness with the puck wasn’t warranted, he managed to score three lovely shorthanded goals. Grade: C+
Michael Grabner, LW/RW: Oh, boy. Opposing teams found him out quick. His slump is mainly due to a mix of savvy D staying back on him and his own hands failing to catch up with his skates. Either way, he got to 20 goals, but that’s 14 fewer than last season. We needed him to be stellar, and unfortunately that did not happen. Credit to him for still making the 20-mark, though. He needs to work on finishing his chances, particularly on the breakaway. Grade: D
Matt Martin, LW: Not a goalscorer by any means this year, the 22-year-old still managed to win the Bob Nystrom Award, and for good reason: he racked up 121 PIM and led the NHL (and broke records) with over 360 hits. He’s hustled and worked hard, and you rarely see him take a shift off. Would we like to see some scoring? Sure, since we know he can do it, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing now, that’s okay too. Grade: A-
Matt Moulson, LW: What more can we say about Matty Moulson? Three straight 30+-goal seasons, a durable and consistent presence in the lineup, and definitely a Lady Byng candidate- and STILL no All-Star nod? That had better change next season. But this guy is everything we could have asked for and more. Never afraid to provide the dirty work for John Tavares, either. Just solid. Grade: A
Nino Niederreiter, RW: This should have been a breakout year for Nino according to most people, but after a groin injury and then being stuck on the fourth line for most of the season, that didn’t exactly happen. I’d suggest a year in the A to get him going. Grade: D
Frans Nielsen, C: A career year in goals (17) and points (47), and solid two-way play as usual- the Danish Prince rarely if ever falters. He wasn’t as flashy as far as shorthanded scoring went, and he also was a minus on the year (-3), but that’s still decent compared to some of the ratings on the roster. Plus, only 6 PIM this year (tied with Moulson for fewest on the team). Grade: B+
Kyle Okposo, RW: It was a tale of two KOs this year- sluggish in the first half, strong in the second, scoring 20 of his 45 points in the span following the All-Star break (and the bulk of his goals). His hustle and defensive play improved over that time as well, and you have to give him points for finally getting to that 20-goal mark. Grade: C+/B-
Jay Pandolfo, LW: Obviously in the twilight of his career, Pando nonetheless provided some decent PK and defensive hockey. Three points all season, however (1 G/2 A) doesn’t really do anything for a goal-starved offense. Grade: C
PA Parenteau, RW: An ankle sprain cut his season at 80 games, but up until that point Pierre-Alexandre had proven to be durable and dependable. He covers the ice well and works hard every shift, and had 67 points this season (49 of them assists). Some explain away his recent success as a result of being on a line with John Tavares, but he’s a good player in his own right, scoring on the second line as well during a stretch in which Kyle Okposo played alongside Moulson and Tavares. Grade: A-
Marty Reasoner, C: It took 77 games into the season for the man to score a goal (against Pittsburgh, no less). It also took him a while to get situated as a fourth-line center, and while he did as well as he could in the faceoff circle (see last column), I feel like he had bigger shoes to fill than everyone expected (ahem, Zenon Konopka’s, I mean). He does decent defensive work, but after ZK’s season on the Island I feel like anyone else in the fourth-line center position is just a notch below. Maybe that’s just me. Grade: D+/C-
John Tavares, C: Best for last? Maybe so. His first 30-goal season, his first 80-point year and his first All-Star nod- all of it well-deserved. He’s also emerging as a leader on the team, which is encouraging. Seven PPGs (which can be better), eight game-winners (which is just splendid) and a new edge to his game, including better skating and tons more confidence. And the best part is that he’s still not satisfied. I look forward to seeing what JT will bring next year, and I know other Isles fans out there are, too. Grade: A
Overall Offensive Grade: C+/B-
Too much inconsistency, even with the few bright spots. The top line can’t do it all.
Stay tuned for some thoughts on the defensive end and how it can (and should definitely) improve for next year.