It’s hockey time on Long Island.
Sunday's announcement that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement had been reached between the NHL and the NHLPA meant a return to normalcy for Islanders players, coaches and front office staff.
While many players are in the midst of a mass exodus from their respective European leagues, many Islanders players who chose to remain stateside practiced together at Iceworks for the first time Monday. Matt Moulson, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton, Marty Reasoner and Rick DiPietro went through an informal player-led bag skate Monday.
After practice, it didn’t take long for Moulson to start talking about the squad the Islanders will put on the ice once the season gets started.
“It was a good drive from Connecticut into Long Island today,” Moulson said. “I was anxious to get back and to see all the guys in practice and get together as a team. I know we’re excited about some of our offseason moves and the guys we added. We’ve got a real good group in here, so it’s definitely exciting.”
In addition to the 16 players from last season’s squad who are still in the organization, the Islanders acquired defenseman Matt Carkner, as well as forwards Eric Boulton and Brad Boyes during the offseason. While Head Coach Jack Capuano acknowledged that there are a lot of question marks as far as how the Islanders roster will look on opening night, he was optimistic about how quickly the returning roster should re-acclimate to the system.
“We made a few acquisitions in the offseason, but we’ve got a lot of the same guys,” Capuano said. “We’re not going to change a whole lot. Most of the guys know one another, and the guys who we’ve brought in are high-character guys. We brought in some physicality with Carkner and Boulton, so I like where we are right now. I’m looking forward to getting camp started.”
Between the handful of players competing in Europe and the prospects in AHL Bridgeport, there should be healthy competition for roster spots. Since the Sound Tigers are mid-season, Capuano and General Manager Garth Snow have decisions to make regarding which prospects will be pulled from their current squad for an Islanders tryout.
“Let’s face it, the guys who have been playing have a little bit of an edge,” Capuano said. “But there’s certain guys down in Bridgeport that we’ve targeted who we think can help our club. Garth and I will sit down with our staff here over the next week and see where we are with our health first, and see which guys can come up. I think we’re going to bring some guys up for training camp to give them a look.”
Moulson, who remained nearby during the work stoppage, has kept up with the Sound Tigers progress and echoed Capuano’s sentiments.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to go watch Bridgeport play because my brother-in-law, Sean Backman, plays there,” Moulson said. “Some guys are having real good seasons and it’ll be good for them to come in. Whoever comes in for camp – I don’t even know yet how it’s going to work – but hopefully they’ll bring that confidence and that jump that they’ve already gotten on the season into camp, and push other guys.”
The schedule has not yet been set for the 2012-13 season, but an abridged Training Camp is likely to commence within the next few days in anticipation of a mid-January regular season start. Carkner said the challenge for him, as one of the new players, is learning the Islanders system in such a short time.
“Something that I have to do is spend a little extra time working with the x’s and o’s, seeing what [Capuano] wants and what the defensemen here do,” Carkner said. “Every little thing on the ice, the 2-on-1’s, 3-on-2’s, penalty kill and everything – you have to take your time, go through the book, and make sure you’re educated before you go out there and do it.”
The regular season is expected to consist of 48-50 games compacted into a short window between January and April. Three-to-four day rest periods between games on a typical schedule will likely be replaced with a game every other night. Moulson said that the grueling pace and fewer games gives each contest added meaning.
“In a shortened season, every game is that much more important,” Moulson said. “We were excited in the summer to get on the ice and compete and see what we have this year. Nothing has changed from that standpoint.”
“It’s going be grueling,” Carkner added. “It’s going to be a game every other day on the schedule. We’re going to have to be professionals, monitor what we’re doing and take the time to take care of our bodies. We’re going to have to learn quick. It’s a fast league here and you don’t want to be left behind.”
With the shortened schedule, any team that goes through a slump has a higher hill to climb to get into the postseason picture. An optimistic DiPietro flipped the script on that scenario.
“Obviously that’s one of the things you have to be aware of, but at the same time, if you go on a hot streak, it puts you right where you need to be to set you up for the playoffs,” DiPietro said. “I think it only benefits us that we had a lot of guys playing, so we have a lot of guys coming into camp in shape. Maybe that’s what we’ve been missing. Maybe we’re a bunch of thoroughbred sprinters and this 48-game schedule will be good for us.”
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