When the NHL schedule was released way back in June, no one knew the type of offseason Islanders General Manager Garth Snow was going to have. Up until that point, only starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak had been signed but there were still many, many holes to fill on this hockey team. But no matter what moves the Islanders were going to make, every fan, including myself looked at one part of the schedule, one deadly combination that could lead to the Isles demise: November and a west coast road trip.
At this stage in the history of the NHL, a west coast road trip which includes a three game swing through California can really hurt your hockey team. But luckily for the Islanders, they’ve put themselves in a position where this trip will not hurt themselves nearly as much as it could should they falter. That is because through eight games the Islanders are 6-2 and sit in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. Before they depart on their five game trip, the Islanders will play a home game against the lowly Winnipeg Jets. A game that could be crucial for the team as they depart on what could be their most difficult road trip of the young season.
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With Islanders teams of the past, this trip would frighten me greatly, but with this Isles team, it doesn’t nearly as much. There are two reasons for this; one being the much improved overall quality of this roster as compared to teams of the past and the other being a much different attitude. The first reason explains itself but I would like to talk about the second reason and that is a much improved attitude. Head Coach Jack Capuano went to great lengths in his post game press conference following Saturday Nights 7-5 win to discuss the much improved, much more confident attitude of his hockey club.
"“I just think that its the room. We started during training camp with the mentality that we need that mental durability. We need to make sure that we’re going to face adversity but how are we going to handle that adversity. We talked to the guys and it needs to stay in that room about what we need to do and the focus that we need to have game in and game out with these players.”"
To me, this quote from Capuano is very telling of how he feels regarding the mental makeup of his hockey club, something that has been quite poor in past years. It is pretty clear that this attitude and mental fortitude is something that the coaching staff harped on during training camp and they received great assistance when Garth Snow pulled off two blockbuster deals for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. The knowledge and big game experience that guys like Boychuk and Leddy bring to the table for this young hockey team are quite invaluable. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts to any first test of real adversity, but so far so good.
The Islanders kick off that west coast road trip with a matchup against the struggling but dangerous Colorado Avalanche followed by a three game swing through California and one last west coast game against the Arizona Coyotes. This trip will really show us what this Islanders team is made of. Like I said, it is crucial that the Islanders depart from Nassau Coliseum with a good win on Tuesday.