Loss of Kyle Okposo will tell us a lot about NY Islanders

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Loss of Kyle Okposo will tell us a lot about NY Islanders
Loss of Kyle Okposo will tell us a lot about NY Islanders

John Tavares warned people not to let the New York Islanders’ 31-14-1 record at the All-Star Break obscure how much hard work it took to get there. 

“There have been some ups and downs.  But that is part of the process, part of the journey. It's still important to remind ourselves as a team with our group to remind ourselves there is still much we haven't accomplished,” he said.

And now, a down: Kyle Okposo, the team’s second-leading scorer, will miss up to two months with an upper body injury of an undisclosed nature.

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"We had an idea something was bothering him before the break, but when you get the news, it's tough," said coach Jack Capuano to Newsday on Monday. "Kyle was leading the team in a lot more ways than just his production on the ice. His enthusiasm on the plane, in the room, he's been terrific in that regard."

In other words, he does everything, and does everything consistently well. He’s second among Islanders forwards in even strength and power-play ice time. He’s scored 29 points in their 31 wins, and 15 points in their 15 losses. He’s about a point-per-game against each division. He’ll he score 11 points in October, 11 in November, 11 in December and 12 in January.

He’s been as steady a hand at the wheel as a team can have, and had been established during his tenure with the Islanders, a leader behind the scenes.

So can the Islanders maintain their success through this injury?

Yes, and much like the rest of their success this season, they have Garth Snow to thank for it.

The Islanders will first turn to Mikhail Grabovski, acquired by Snow in the offseason, to replace Okposo on their most important line, and Lighthouse Hockey makes the point that while he might not be able to match Okposo’s production he’s a better possession player:

Well, they're probably going to get less goals from the right wing position than they would with Kyle Okposo there. That's plain. All that said, Grabovski's better possession play is likely to make up for it and then some in two ways:

1. Increasing the time Tavares and Bailey spend in the offensive zone, increasing THEIR goal totals (even if Grabovski isn't getting an assist on each of those points.

2. More significantly, decreasing the amount of time Tavares is caught in the defensive zone defending play.

In short, having Grabovski there instead of Okposo means the first line -- which is not a particularly great defensive line -- should spend less time defending, and thus give up less shots and goals. So even if the goals-for go down, opponents' scoring should drop by a greater amount.

That obviously has to be seen, but the combination of Grabovski on the top line and Ryan Strome taking Okposo’s spot on the power play, the Islanders can probably maintain for the next 6-8 weeks. And that's because Snow went out and got himself a veteran scorer that, in a pinch, can move up the lineup. 

But like Tavares said, it’s a season of ups and downs. And adversity hitting the Islanders now is a good test for a young contender to prove itself. 


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