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Islanders look to get off to better start under Weight

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

By VIN A. CHERWOO

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) After missing the playoffs by a point last season, the New York Islanders will be looking to get off to a better start as they begin their first full season under Doug Weight.

"Definitely want to get off on the right foot," captain John Tavares said. "We know we didn't last year."

A year ago, the Islanders had just six wins in their first 20 games and despite a strong second half in which they went 24-12-4 after Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano on Jan. 17, they were left out of the postseason. Missing by the slim margin after the slow start stuck with the players in the offseason and many pointed to it as a motivating force.

"You can't make the playoffs in the first 10 games but you can definitely put yourself in the position where it's difficult to get in there like we did last year," forward Cal Clutterbuck said. "You just have to make sure you start off well."

The Islanders had Tavares for the entire training camp this time after he missing the bulk of it a year ago while helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey. The team struggled to develop chemistry with newcomers Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, with line combinations being juggled through much of the first half of the season.

The Islanders return mostly the same team as last year, though defenseman Travis Hamonic and forward Ryan Strome are gone, but Jordan Eberle was acquired to join Tavares and Anders Lee - coming off a breakout season - on the top line.

After a slow start, Ladd finished his first season in New York with 23 goals and eight assists, his 12th straight season with at least 30 points and his seventh overall with at least 20 goals. For the Islanders to start off better, Ladd will need to produce immediately. Anthony Beauvillier (nine goals, 15 assists in 66 games as a rookie) should take a step forward, and the energetic Josh Ho-Sang (10 points in 21 games) should start the season in New York.

"He plays with no fear," Weight said of Ho-Sang, who had 10 points in 21 games after being called up from Bridgeport last season. "He battles in the corner, he goes to the puck, he comes out with it, he creates chances He plays hard and he wants to learn."

Some other things to know as the Islanders head into the new season:

CAPTAIN'S CONTRACT

Tavares has been the face of the franchise since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Heading into the final season of a six-year, $33 million deal, he has not ruled out ongoing talks between his agent and team management. Teammates don't believe his contract situation will be a distraction.

LINING UP

Eberle, who averaged 24.3 goals and 32.3 assists the last four years with Edmonton, has replaced Josh Bailey on the top line with Tavares and Lee, who is coming off career highs of 34 goals and 52 points. Bailey, also entering the final year of his contract, is now on the second line with Ladd and Mathew Barzal. Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Ho-Sang form the third line, with Casey Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Nikolay Kulemin on the fourth line as the only holdover combo from a year ago. Jason Chimera will provide veteran depth.

WHO'S IN GOAL?

Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak should give the Islanders a strong goaltending duo. Greiss went 26-18-5 with a 2.69 goals-against average while appearing in a career-high 51 games last season. He took over as starter when Halak was waived and sent to minors on Dec. 31, but struggled down the stretch. Halak was called up and went 6-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA as the Islanders made their late playoff push. Weight hasn't declared either the starter.

YOUTH ON D

Hamonic's departure opens the door for some youth on defense. Adam Pelech, who appeared in 44 games last season, will likely get more playing time, and Ryan Pulock, who played in 15 in 2015-16, also figures to get a chance to stick with the NHL club. Scott Mayfield will be in the mix, too.

"I think is just speaks to the organizational depth we have on defense that I think we can move on and pick up where Travis left off and elevate our play even more," defenseman Thomas Hickey said. "He was great for us but I think we got all the pieces to fill in and do the same things or better."

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Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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Updated September 27, 2017

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