Islanders ready to continue strides they made last season
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It wasn't exactly the most conventional of training camp opening days, what with the Islanders riding the Long Island Rail Road and taking a walk across a busy Brooklyn intersection to get to their first on-ice session of the 2013-14 season.
But the Isles, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007, were ready to get to work.
"The guys understand the goal we have,'' Evgeni Nabokov said after the first of two training camp groups finished its session at Barclays Center. "It's going to take hard work to have a good season, harder than it was last year."
Jack Capuano divided up the two groups along fairly distinct lines. The first group consisted of 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders, all with NHL experience. The remaining 29 players in camp, even including top prospects Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Matt Donovan, were in the second group, with Capuano evaluating from above rather than running drills on the ice.
"Just because guys are in their groups today, their play will dictate our decision-making," Capuano said. "Ever since I started here in this organization, young guys have been given a chance. There'll be a few spots there for guys who play well."
Capuano gave a little window into his thinking with some line combinations and defense pairs on this first day. Free-agent addition Pierre-Marc Bouchard skated with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Two lines that jelled well down the stretch last season -- Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Colin McDonald -- were together again.
On defense, Capuano had Travis Hamonic with Brian Strait instead of Andrew MacDonald, Hamonic's usual partner the last two seasons. Even though Donovan and former first-round pick Calvin de Haan were with a different group, Capuano might pair MacDonald with either of those two young players in preseason games as the Isles look to replace Mark Streit, their top-scoring defenseman four of the past five seasons.
Aside from two other newcomers, forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Peter Regin, this is the same team that made the postseason and threw a scare into the Penguins once there.
"We've always had a few new faces, but it's basically the same guys, the same core year after year," Martin said. "We're not trying to grow up anymore. We're trying to put the pieces together to compete for a Stanley Cup."