Much like the Islanders’ furious third-period comeback that ultimately fell short in a 6-5 overtime loss Pittsburgh during the team’s regular season finale yesterday, Islanders owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow said they were disappointed about the outcome of the season but encouraged by the team’s potential.
“It’s unacceptable that we didn’t make the playoffs, but having said that, there are positives,” Snow said. “You look at the development of our young players and we have a great future.”
Even after erasing a three-goal deficit in the third period to gain a point in overtime, the Islanders dropped their third straight game and second in three days against Pittsburgh. Despite a disappointing end to the regular season, however, the Islanders finished 18 points ahead (79) of where they finished last season (61) and were not officially eliminated from the playoffs until the final week.
“I think we have been competitive,” Wang said. ”If you look at how close we were [this year] and where we were last year, that’s a great improvement. But more importantly, we’ve seen these group of kids grow up right before the eyes.”
From the owner’s suite at Nassau Coliseum, Wang got to witness both his Cinderella (Matt Moulson) and Prince Charming (John Tavares) of the season deliver fine performances. But while the Isles’ hidden gem Moulson scored his 30th goal of the season and prized rookie tallied twice, neither could compare to the dynamic tandem of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin finished with two goals and two assists, while Crosby scored a pair to tie with sophomore Steven Stamkos for the “Rocket” Richard trophy with 51 goals.
Even without the skill comparable to that talented duo, however, Snow said he believes this team will make the playoffs next season.
“Absolutely,” Snow said. “Everyone in that locker room who we bring back has to be better than they were this year.”
“With a young group and veterans to guide us it should be a fun time for us this time next year,” Tavares said.
Beyond an extra year of experience for the team’s emerging core of young players—namely Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey—the team will also have more flexibility heading into next season to add the type of players that can take them to the next level.
“We’re trying to get a forward who can put the puck in the net with more frequency and obviously there are some holes on defense. Either July 1 or via trade we’ll try to bring some help on the blue line,” Snow said of their off-season plans.
Are they willing to spend the type of money required to reel in a top-shelf player?
“I think we’ve demonstrated that in the past and we’ll continue to look at every opportunity,” Wang said. “We went after Ryan Smyth [in 2007] and he got us into the playoffs.”
And that’s right where the Islanders want to be.
“We grew up a lot over the past couple of years,” Okposo said. “So you know what? Next year, we’re looking to be a playoff team.”
Notes and Quotes: Bridgeport enforcer Joel Rechlicz was called up on an emergency basis to replace Sean Bergenheim, who left Saturday’s game against the Devils with an upper-body injury. Bridgeport captain Mark Wotton was honored for his 1,000th career game yesterday.