UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Islanders finally found their stride, it just came way too late to salvage this non-playoff season.
Roster shake-ups and injuries made the headlines, most notably the trade of popular forward Matt Moulson to Buffalo, and the loss of star captain John Tavares, who had his season wrecked by a torn knee ligament sustained in the Sochi Olympics.
And he wasn't the only one to go down. Fellow forward Kyle Okposo also missed time, along with defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Radek Martinek. By the time the Islanders surged down the stretch, they were featuring upward of 11 rookies in the lineup.
In all, they had over 250 man-games lost to injury in a disappointing season in which they failed to make a return trip to the playoffs. Only defenseman Thomas Hickey played in every game.
Okposo credited coach Jack Capuano for New York's strong finish even though the Islanders had only pride to play for. The Islanders said Monday that Capuano will return for his fifth season.
The team is 117-120-38 under Capuano, who has the second-most games coached and second-most wins in franchise history.
"Cappy's system worked really well at the end of the year," said Okposo, who finished with a team-high 27 goals and 69 points in 71 games. "We were outplaying teams, outworking them. Everybody was playing extremely structured and playing in the framework of our team.
"For whatever reason we got away from that at different times throughout the year."
The Islanders went 17-5-2 in their final 24 road games and were 8-2-2 overall in their last 12 games despite dressing at least nine rookies in each contest.
That provides optimism for the future in addition to the healthy returns of the 23-year-old Tavares and soon-to-be 26-year-old Okposo.
"I don't think we're far off at all," defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "I certainly believe in the group we have."
Tavares' injury was a blow both on and off the ice. The clear face of the franchise was missed as the Islanders tried to compensate for his absence. Losing him when he wasn't even playing for the club made it that much more difficult to stomach.
Tavares finished second to Okposo with 24 goals and 66 assists despite playing in only 59 games. He is on track to be fully healthy in time for next season.
"I'm feeling really good," Tavares said Monday as the Islanders packed up for the summer. "I saw the doctor this morning. The good news is I'll be starting on the ice at some point next week, so I'm looking forward to doing that but I'll start fairly slowly and progression the same as it has been off the ice.