Islanders-Hurricanes Preview

The New York Islanders are a team on the move, leaving Long Island and heading to Brooklyn after this season.

They hope to be a team on the rise, as well. With John Tavares back at full strength, that wish seems realistic.

Tavares returns Friday night when the visiting Islanders open their season against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tavares had the third-most points in the NHL last February when he severely hurt his knee playing for Canada at the Sochi Olympics and missed the final quarter of the season. The 24-year-old still finished second on the Islanders (34-37-11) with 66 points - including 24 goals - despite playing in 59 games.

''I had a normal offseason, and the injury has been put behind me for a good three months now," Tavares said.

''I'm really anxious to dive right back into it. The nerves and energy getting ready for the season were there. If I ever lose that feeling, I shouldn't be playing. This is what I love to do. I couldn't be more excited.''

Tavares rejoins an offense that finished 17th in the NHL with 2.63 goals per game, led by Kyle Okposo's 69 points and Frans Nielsen, who netted 25 goals. But after the top three scorers, the Islanders return only three other players who managed double-digit goal totals last season.

Adding depth to New York's top-heavy offense, the Islanders signed Mikhail Grabovski to a four-year, $20 million contract. The veteran center scored 13 goals in 58 games for Washington last season.

The solidified offense could possibly start the season on a high note in facing one of the more uncertain goalie situations in the NHL.

Cam Ward will start the year in net for Carolina (36-35-11), but his starting job over Anton Khudobin is anything but secure. Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe winner, posted the fifth-worst goals against average (3.06) among goalies with 25 or more starts, and was supplanted by Khudobin late in the season.

Ward, though, has typically found success against the Islanders, going 17-3-3 with a 2.52 GAA in all-time matchups.

The Hurricanes suffered a 5-4 loss in their last meeting March 25, snapping a six-game win streak in the series.

Despite the continuity in net from Carolina's 2006 championship season to the present, title dreams for the Hurricanes seem as distant as ever. That's something new coach Bill Peters looks to change in his first season.

Peters replaced Kirk Muller, who was fired after failing to qualify for the postseason in his three-year tenure. The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since 2009.

''When I did my due diligence and went to look at rosters ... we're not far off,'' Peters said. ''I think there's lots of pieces here and it's up to us and our coaching staff ... to max our group out.''

Peters and the Hurricanes front office backed up that confidence by largely standing pat. They enter the season with essentially the same roster that finished 22nd in goals and had the NHL's third-worst power play in 2013-14.

That roster took a hit this preseason when Jordan Staal broke his right fibula. Staal, who scored 15 goals last season, will be out until at least January.

Carolina will also be without leading goal scorer Jeff Skinner, who suffered a concussion Sunday. Skinner, who has missed time due to concussions twice before, finished tied for 11th in the league last season with 33 goals.

The depleted Hurricanes oppose an Islanders' defense boosted by the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk from Boston and Nick Leddy from Chicago.

"This is going to be a great team and people shouldn't take us lightly anymore," Boychuk said. "They've done some good things and I think it's going to be a good challenge for every team to come in and play us."

Boychuk and Leddy will play in front of fellow newcomer, Jaroslav Halak, whose 2.25 GAA with St. Louis and Washington last season was the NHL's eighth-best mark. He shores up a position that allowed the NHL's third-most goals in 2013-14.

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