Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey were instrumental in the Islanders' strong finish last season, and both forwards had a hand in some of the successes against the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs before the Isles lost in six games.
It's equally important that Okposo and Bailey start quickly this season. The Islanders have had slow starts each of the last three seasons; the last two 82-game seasons, those slow starts doomed any playoff hopes before December.
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And both of the former first-round picks have had slow starts, as well. Okposo changed his off-ice regimen toward the end of last season and tried some new things this summer. Bailey, who missed the first month last season with a knee injury suffered playing overseas during the lockout, hopes good health and confidence will lead to a change.
"You hope so," Jack Capuano said of the changes he wants to see from two of his top wingers. "You didn't really know what to expect with the shortened season last year, but guys had a good summer of training, they'll get some preseason games here, so you hope that the guys who play that role get off to a good start."
Okposo declined to get into specifics about his adjustments but said there was a noticeable difference in his game. After posting two goals and six assists in the first 21 games last season, he went 2-14-16 in the final 27 games, then was a force against the Penguins, scoring three goals and dropping the gloves for the first time in his NHL career in Game 2 to spark a rally.
"I was working hard, but maybe I wasn't working as smart as I could have been," said Okposo, who spent a week training with John Tavares in Toronto this summer and was also invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp last month. "Our hunger as a team has been amplified this offseason and mine has, as well."
Bailey, who had nine points in his first 25 games last season, then 10 points in his final 13 games, had his greatest success on a line with Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Capuano has kept that line together through the first few days of training camp and it will stay together into the first preseason games.
"We clicked pretty well last season and it feels good to still be with those guys," Bailey said. "As a team, we need to start the season well, so hopefully this will help."