Islanders left winger Matt Martin didn't mince words at the team's NHL draft party at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night: last season wasn't a good one.
"The wheels fell off the wagon a little bit," Martin admitted with a smile that suggested he's used that exact phrasing too many times.
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A fall stretch of poor play and injuries -- most notably to captain John Tavares, who suffered a season-ending MCL and meniscus tear while playing for Canada at the Sochi Olympics -- quickly derailed hopes to earn a second consecutive playoff berth. The Islanders finished 34-37-11 and ended up with the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
But Martin believes improvements to the team have been made since last season, and he said it's time to look forward.
The Islanders used their No. 5 first-round pick Friday night to take Michael Dal Colle, a forward out of the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals (Tavares' alma mater). They also traded the 35th and 57th overall picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 28th overall pick, which they used to take Windsor forward Joshua Ho-Sang.
The Islanders addressed their goaltending need by signing Jaroslav Halak to a four-year deal last month and are expected to aggressively navigate the upcoming free-agency period.
"Your goaltender does have the ability to steal games," Martin said before highlighting the recent play of Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick, the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings netminders. Aside from talent, he said the health of a goaltender could add a few more wins per season to a club.
"But a majority of [the wins] have to come from the team and all of us playing together. The important thing is to stick together; when you have leads, don't blow them and take it one game at a time."
Forward Ryan Strome added that the team hasn't changed its on-ice mind-set heading into next year, but said there is added weight since it's the Islanders final season at the Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn.
"You want to leave a good taste in everyone's mouth," said Strome, who has been working out with Tavares in the offseason. "The team needs to find a way to win. Same team pretty much, added a few guys, so I think it's just a matter of pulling together."
The sentiment runs a little deeper for Martin, who was a consistent presence on an Islanders playoff team.
"You can expect us to have a lot better season," Martin said. "We need to get back in the playoffs. We want to be there, we know we can be there. We've got to keep staying focused. We can't be losing four, five games in a row because that's what ends up ruining your season.
"It would mean everything. It would mean a lot to us personally and I know the world to the fans. They're starving for another championship and I know it wasn't easy for them to watch the Rangers go far. I'd love to get back out there next season, go a long way and give the fans something to cheer about in the last year, and hopefully hoist the Cup."