Unbeaten in regulation under interim head coach Doug Weight, the New York Islanders look like a completely different team than that one many thought was dead in December. Getting balanced scoring, quality defense and some of the best goaltending in the NHL over the past month, the Isles look primed for a playoff run — but it’s so much more than that.
With their future in Brooklyn in jeopardy, the Islanders are playing their most complete hockey since reaching the second round of the NHL playoffs last season. Here are five reasons why they are the hottest team in the NHL.
John Tavares Playing Like a Captain
With eight goals and 14 points in January, Tavares has reestablished himself as the emotional leader of this team, both on and off the ice. His play has been dangerous with and away from the puck and his penalty killing has shored up the Islanders’ special teams. It also puts him in a situation to always contribute. To go from where he was before the new year to now, is a testament to his ability as a player and a leader. Where this team goes this season has everything to do with Tavares’ play. Right now, he’s playing like a Hart Trophy candidate.
Over the last seven games, the Islanders have gotten significant contributions from Josh Bailey and Anders Lee, thanks to Tavares, but the additional scoring from Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Alan Quine has come at exactly the right time. The reinvigorated play of Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier has proven to be a spark as well. While the results aren’t perfect ones yet, the Islanders are beginning to showcase depth on all four forward lines for the first time this season.
Depth on Defense
Injuries to Thomas Hickey and Travis Hamonic could have destroyed the Islanders defense. In their absence, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech have formed a decent bottom-six pairing that can be counted on to move the puck up the ice. There have been a few lapses in judgment along the way with Mayfield and Pelech, but with Dennis Seidenberg and Calvin de Haan playing wonderful shutdown defense, the Islanders have found a way. Add in improved offensive production from Nick Leddy and more inspired play from Johnny Boychuk and the Islanders are making it tough for opposing offenses to get through.
With the expansion draft on its way, the Islanders’ defense is in great hands, despite the fact that they could easily lose one of their regulars.
Greiss is Right
He’s the best goaltender in the NHL right now. That’s not a statement. It’s a fact. Greiss, almost by himself, has the Islanders back in the playoff picture, with a 6-2 record, a 1.99 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in January. With a new contract agreed upon on Monday, the Islanders net is safe for the next few seasons. Now, they just have to find a taker for Jaroslav Halak’s contract and bring Ilya Sorokin to the states.
Interim coach Weight hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this team. However, a small change, positioning the center lower in the defensive zone, has tightened up the Islanders on defense considerably. Ironically, it has also allowed them to catch defenses off-guard in the offensive zone as well. Scoring more goals, playing better defense and getting phenomenal goaltending, the Islanders look more like a playoff team every game.
Over the past ten years as a working journalist, Patrick Hickey Jr. has covered the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as well as the Brooklyn Aces of the former EPHL, contributing pieces and/or holding Editorial positions at NBC, New York Sports Day, NY Sportscene Magazine and the New York Times. During that time, he has interviewed NHL stars the likes of Brendan Shanahan, Bernie Nicholls, Bob Probert, Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. He is also the first winner of the New York Islanders Blog of the Year Award, for his work on TheDriveForFive.com in 2008.