After dropping their opener the New York Islanders finished the first week of the season with a 3-1-0 record. It’s easy to get excited about a young team getting off to a quick start, but staying healthy and starting the season like this were two things the team talked about this off-season. Lets not forget they started 4-1-2 last season before dropping 20 of their next 21 games, essentially ending any playoff aspirations. This years team looks very different from the team that suffered through that awful stretch last year, to me the big changes are a healthy Mark Streit, a matured John Tavares, and stability at the goaltending position.
With that being said lets take a look at the Islanders three stars after a week of play:
***The 3rd star goes to the entire Penalty Kill unit who has started the season about as good as anyone would’ve hoped for, killing 18 out of 19 penalties (94.7%). The old saying is a teams best penalty killer is their goalie, spoiler alert: his name will appear later on, but the skaters deserve a ton of credit here. Last year the unit had two of the top short-handed goal scorers in Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner, they have yet to score a short-handed goal thus far but have created their share of chances. The group has done a great job getting their sticks in the way of passing lanes and disrupting the oppositions chances. Two new faces Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo have been the catalysts for the group’s success blocking shots and bringing toughness to a team that in the past has been soft at times (don’t tell that to the Penguins). The teams two young defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have improved their skills to the point where they are trusted to be the units top defensive pair. Ideally this unit will see less ice time, currently the Islanders are averaging 12.25 penalty minutes per game, the 17th most in the league, I’d like to see them get this to 10 minutes or under.
**The 2nd star goes to the NHL’s leading scorer John Tavares, who has scored five goals – including a hat trick v.s. the rival New York Rangers - and a total of eight points. This could be the year the Islanders and their fans have waited for Tavares to have since he became the #1 overall selection in 2009 NHL Draft, he looks much faster, stronger, and confident than he has in his first two seasons. He was named the NHL’s second star of this past week and at the rate he’s going it will not be the last time the NHL honors him this season. Tavares has also shown the ability to make those around him better, evidenced by P.A. Parenteau being second on the team with 7 points and Matt Moulson second in goals with 4. It appears that the time is now for Tavares to put up numbers among the NHL’s elite players, I see no reason he can’t score 40 goals this year, be an All-Star, and get this in the playoff hunt.
*The 1st star of the Islanders after the first week is goaltender Al Montoya. The surprise starter for the teams first 3 games responded with 2 wins, a93.5 save percentage, and 1.35 goals against average including a dominating performance in the teams win over the Minnesota Wild. The “Big Cubano”, as he’s often referred to, has been a steal for the Islanders since they acquired him for a 6th round pick last February, and has made fans forget about the other goaltender drafted in the 1st round that is on the roster (Rick DiPietro…Who?). Montoya did not get the chance to face his former team, the New York Rangers, on Saturday night but his backup Evgeni Nabokov earned the win in his first NHL start since May 23, 2010. If Montoya can continue his career resurgence with the Islanders he could be the difference-maker for whether the team is playing meaningful games come Spring time.
Montoya and Tavares are essentially 1 and 1A with the way they performed this past week, but to me a goaltender is more important which is why Montoya gets the nod. Feel free to leave any comments on whether you agree/disagree below.
The Islanders have created a bit of a buzz about following this hot start, and with two sell outs already the team can expect more if they can maintain this level of play. This week they go on a road trip in Florida for a game on Thursday at the Tampa Bay Lightning, then play at the Florida Panthers on Saturday.