With the holiday season upon us, that treasured routine of gift-giving is in full swing. All around the world, families are coming together to foster good cheer, celebrate good health, bask in good company…and exchange presents that no one really wants. Socks from Grandma, a sweater from Mom, an old book from Dad that he promises you’re really going to like, and, well, you know the rest. All of this could be avoided, though, if everyone simply made wish lists.
In light of this, here is a carefully-crafted wish list for the New York Islanders as they head into the second half of the season.
Goaltending Excellence (cont’d)
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Islanders thus far has been the superb play of goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Both rank in the top 10 in 5-on-5 adjusted save percentage, Greiss 6th at .941 and Halak 9th at .937. The team in front of them hasn’t been exceptional in limiting scoring chances for the opposition, so the fact that the Isles rank third in the NHL in goals against per game is a huge tribute to their goalies.
The biggest question mark facing both Halak and Greiss is whether they can sustain this high level of play. A glance at their respective resumes suggests regression may be on the horizon, so the Isles have to hope their two goalies have the wherewithal to finish as they’ve started. Continued rest will be key – a factor that’s contingent, of course, on both Halak and Greiss maintaining a high standard of play.
Better Possession Numbers
Despite their strong start to the season, the Islanders haven’t been a model team in terms of puck possession. Their 5-on-5 Corsi-For – a great indicator of future performance – is just 49.8 percent, meaning the Isles direct less shots toward goal than their opponents at even strength. Strong goaltending and timely scoring can make up for this – and at 49.8 percent, the gap between their opponents is minor – but for a team with serious playoff aspirations, you’d like to see the Isles dictate play with more regularity.
We took an in-depth look at the Islanders’ attendance numbers here, but suffice to say the early returns in Brooklyn haven’t been promising. The Isles rank second to last in average attendance and have generally struggled to gain traction in their new home. After a terrific 2014-15 season that helped trigger a (modest) resurgence in the team’s fanbase, hopes were that the Isles were past their days of playing in front of sparse crowds.
But last year’s momentum just hasn’t carried over – not yet, at least. Of all teams at the bottom of the league’s attendance reports, the Isles are the most likely to climb out of the basement as the season progresses. Unlike, say, the Hurricanes or the Coyotes, who offer little in the way of hope moving forward, the Islanders will give their fans plenty to cheer about in 2016. And as they near the playoffs, Barclays Center will inevitably fill up.
Resolution to the Travis Hamonic situation
The one dark cloud lingering over this Islanders team is the potential loss – dare we say impending loss? – of defenseman Travis Hamonic. Word leaked in November that Hamonic had requested a trade from the Isles, citing an unspecified family matter and his desire to be closer to his home in Manitoba. GM Garth Snow has since done his due diligence in exploring the trade market, but with Hamonic’s request now public knowledge Snow has lost considerable leverage in negotiations.
It’s an interesting dilemma for Snow. On one hand, he wants to do right by Hamonic; on the other, he has to do right by the Islanders. And thus the only way this gets resolved peacefully is if Snow can find a trading partner – suitable to Hamonic – who’s willing to offer the Isles commensurate NHL talent. In the meantime, Isles fans simply have to hope Hamonic’s issues off the ice don’t affect his play on it.
Ryan Strome Rebirth
The Isles, it’s fair to say, have climbed to third place in the Eastern Conference in spite of Ryan Strome. Such a scenario certainly would’ve raised eyebrows back in October, first because Strome figured to be a key cog on this team, and second because Strome seemed poised for a big year. Amazingly, the Islanders sit near the top of the league and Strome has hardly made a dent on the season.
So imagine the heights this team can reach if Strome wakes up in the second half. It’s no guarantee, of course, but the takeaway for the Isles is promising nonetheless. They’ve proven to themselves – first in the case of Strome’s season-long struggles and again in the case of Tavares’ early-December slump – that they can weather the various storms in an NHL season.
Playoff Series vs. Rangers
Okay, so this might reflect the fans’ wishes more than those of the players, but we’re taking some leeway here regardless. The Islanders and Rangers haven’t met in the playoffs in over 20 years, and the NHL – no, the hockey world – is a lesser place for it.
Every time these two teams clash in the regular season, the game has the earmarks of the playoffs: fast-paced, hard-hitting, high-energy action that fuels, and is fueled by, a raucous bi-partisan crowd. Imagine that spread out over two weeks, night after night, game after game, the tension mounting like magma in a volcano.
What better path is there to hockey supremacy in NYC than one that runs directly through it? And what better time is there than now, the Isles and Rags true cross-city rivals for the first time?
Will Burchfield covers all things ‘New York Islanders’ for thehockeywriters.com. A 2014 graduate of Boston College, he has extensive writing experience both online and in print.