The Islanders added a bevy of NHL-experienced players during the summer. At times during training camp, it seemed like overkill; rookies and young players weren't sure of their roles and the Islanders broke camp with only one rookie, Griffin Reinhart, on the roster. And he's since gone down to Bridgeport.
But that depth is coming in handy now. When a stretch of eight straight games against Western Conference opponents begins Saturday night at the Coliseum against the Stars, the Islanders will begin it without Josh Bailey, who suffered a broken hand in Thursday night's 3-2 win over the Bruins. Travis Hamonic, still day-to-day with an upper-body injury, will miss his second straight game.
"We're being tested, that's for sure," Jack Capuano told Newsday after practice on Friday. "It seems like we get someone back and someone else goes down. We have that depth in our organization now and we need it."
Lubomir Visnovsky played his first game of the season in Boston, stepping in for Hamonic. Mikhail Grabovski, who has missed the last three games with a concussion, practiced fully on Friday and will come off injured reserve to play Saturday night if he makes it through the morning skate.
In recent seasons, losing a key cog like Hamonic on defense would have gutted the Islanders. One need only look to last season, when Hamonic missed 12 games because of a concussion. The Islanders were 4-7-1 in that stretch heading into the Olympic break, the beginning of the end of their 2013-14 season.
This year, however, the pieces moving around are more prepared for such situations.
"You can definitely see the difference, especially on the back end," Capuano said. "I'm not saying some of the younger guys aren't ready. Those kids will be a big part of this club going forward. But we're just better prepared for certain situations."
Capuano also sees a different mentality permeating his 5-2-0 team. Whether it's the goaltending, the added attitude and experience of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, the leadership of John Tavares or a combination of all those things, the coach believes his team has turned a corner from its fragile past.
That will come in handy on the five-game road trip that begins in Denver on Thursday. After that are stops in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix, all places the Islanders have had horror show games under Capuano.
"We're just a lot stronger mentally," Capuano said. "When we were winning the first four games, our penalty kill wasn't good and we didn't know what would happen when we were down a man. But it didn't affect the rest of our game and no one was hanging their heads, regardless of what was happening."