A few Islanders notes from the past couple weeks, including some odds and ends from conversations with John Tavares and Jack Capuano:
Tavares makes some changes
Tavares told me he changed his offseason workout schedule after perhaps his strangest season as a pro. Tavares’ 2015-16 went something like this: A strong start, with five goals and six assists in the first eight games; a mysterious illness that knocked him from the lineup for three games at the beginning of November followed by an intermittent slump through the next three months, with one December stretch of just one goal and no assists in eight games.
And then, the finish: 12 points in seven games to help secure a playoff berth, nine points and the most important goal in the last 23 years to secure a playoff series win and then no points in the final four games, all losses to the Lightning in the second round.
“I got sick really early in the season and I felt like I was overcoming some fatigue a little bit still after that,” Tavares said. “I just tried to manage this summer a little differently, making sure I got some really good recovery, some really good rest. I actually started training pretty early but I didn’t kick it into high gear for a little while. I tried to be on the ice a bit more, but just tried to make sure my quality was really high, that I didn’t try to do too much. So just to change up some things, stay fresh, stay healthy, work on some things you want to improve on in your game.”
There’s also the World Cup to factor in. Tavares hits the ice for Team Canada on Sept. 4, and he could be gone from Isles training camp until Oct. 2, which is 11 days away from opening night. No one has any worries about Tavares, but he’s going to have new linemates in all likelihood to start this season, even if one of them, PA Parenteau, is an old friend.
We’ll see how Tavares integrates this prestigious tournament and his heavy workload with the Isles to start the season. He is clearly mindful that anything like the bad illness that felled him last season or a slow start could hurt the team badly, so he changed his very structured offseason routine a bit.
Points on defense
On-ice changes may be coming to the Isles at the outset of camp as well. Tavares described the difference between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Isles this way:
“We earned the same amount of points (as 2014-15), but we really had to do it a different way. We were overcoming a lot of hurdles. We weren’t as dynamic, as dominant as we were the year before. But that’s what happens year to year, you have different challenges as a team, personally, and we really overcame a lot last year.”
Capuano harped on a topic he accentuated last season -- needing more points from his defensemen.
That group didn’t generate the same flow from zone to zone that it did in 2014-15, though the total even-strength points from defensemen only went down from 123 two seasons ago to 117 last season.
Perhaps having Nick Leddy, the Isles’ top puck-carrier among the defensemen, on the top power-play unit all season overburdened him at even strength. Perhaps Ryan Pulock can fill that PP1 point spot and free up Leddy and his great wheels. Perhaps Leddy will be a candidate to be the mail-carrier on the power play now that Frans Nielsen is gone to the Wings.
In any event, Capuano didn’t see that his team’s style changed much from two seasons ago to last season. Just the results of fewer plays off the rush and less offensive-zone time.
“Players have to execute in a certain way for you to exit the zone, to create turnovers, to get extended [offensive] zone time,” Capuano said. “Last year, we dropped in points from our D-men from the previous year and that’s an area we have to utilize our D offensively more. Those are all things we’ve talked about that I definitely want to see done and we’ll be working on some of those things in camp.
“So there will be some tweaks, but there won’t be many tweaks.”
It’s not all on the defensemen, either. The Isles forwards must also be accountable for circling lower in the defensive zone on breakouts and avoid one-and-done forechecking situations to keep the pressure off the defense.
Settling in to travel routine
Tavares isn’t too concerned with the Barclays Center setup anymore. Between the commute, the midseason change in gameday routine and the oft-discussed ice, it seemed like there was more talk of off-ice situations than on-ice in the dressing room.
“I think some things get a little blown out of proportion,” Tavares said. “The ice obviously was a challenge, no question, but it was the best that it had been all year during the playoffs. So I think that’s a positive note. You just want to see progress and see it continue to improve, make it as good as possible.
“And really, once the second half hit and we made the adjustment to have the morning skates at Syosset, plus being in a beautiful new facility going forward that’s a better location for guys to get to, it’s only going to improve things. The second half of the year, guys got into a better routine and it really started to feel normal again. I think that settled in the second half, guys enjoyed it more and were able to get more time at home. And going into the new facility will only improve that.”
The Isles’ front office staff is not yet in Northwell Health Ice Center but should be by the time training camp rolls around in a month.
With a few more veteran names off the free-agent board, as Jiri Hudler signed with the Stars and Brandon Pirri signed with the Rangers, it doesn’t appear as though the Isles will be adding anyone else to the roster.
Ryan Strome is still unsigned, but Garth Snow and Strome’s agents are talking, likely about a two-year contract for the restricted free agent. Once he signs, the Isles will have 14 forwards on one-way deals, leaving little room for another veteran.
With a set defense and plenty of goaltending depth, it’s hard to see where the Isles would add someone either on a short-term deal or a tryout. It’s also hard to see why a veteran would choose a PTO with the Isles without much chance to make the squad.
So we’ll see what the days leading up to the Sept. 21 report date bring, but it’s not likely to be much.