Every team wants to get off to a fast start, but some teams need to more than others.
The New York Islanders fit into that category. While the team may carry quiet confidence about their chances to return to the post-season after GM Lou Lamoriello double-downed on the roster, there is stubborn skepticism amongst a fanbase that wonders whether last year was truly an aberration.
Looking at the October schedule, there is a 5-game stretch from October 22-29 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Colorado Avalanche. The Islanders' combined record against those teams was 3-11-1 in 2021-22. With the bottom of the Eastern Conference improved, a repeat performance against some of the league's top teams is necessary to compete for a playoff spot.
A good start 'critical' for the NY Islanders and their new head coach
The Islanders didn't make excuses for last season, but they had plenty to choose from. But as much as you can point to the 13-game road trip, COVID, and the multiple pauses, there was also a lot of mediocre hockey with uncharacteristic defensive lapses and all too familiar stretches without sustained offense.
The Islanders never got into a rhythm and played three-quarters of the season with no margin of error. The writing was on the wall as early as December despite the players doing their best to say the right things and stay positive. Their caliber of play after the calendar turned to 2022 would have had them closer to playoff contention but still short of cracking the Top-8 in a conference where all playoff teams reached the 100-point mark.
Then there's the unknown known quantity of Lane Lambert behind the bench. Whoever replaced Barry Trotz would have been unfairly compared to a coach third all-time in wins, but due to the stunning nature of dismissal and the extent of Lamoriello's calculated gamble, a fast start would go long way in calming fans that remain unconvinced that a 'new voice' was needed.
"For us this year, we really need to focus on the start because we were five, six games below .500 early in the season, maybe even more than that. Now you're chasing, now every game is desperate, you can't afford to go on a little two, three-game slide. We were in that space really early last year, so it's going to be really critical for us to have a good start."- Mathew Barzal on 32 Thoughts Podcast
Without the benefit of a track record, a minimally changed roster, and an underwhelming season still fresh in minds, the Islanders will be ripe for doubters to proclaim "I told you so" if the expected subtle changes in how the team plays don't materialize into wins during the season's first month.
The players, their coach, and GM are planning to be the ones saying "I told you so" as they retake the familiar position of being perceived by those outside their room as a team with an underwhelming aging roster that is a tier below the Stanley Cup contenders. They'll aim to people wrong with a start that doesn't resemble the one that unraveled their season a year ago.