After one of the best starts in franchise history with a 10-game winning streak and 17-game point streak, the New York Islanders have come back to life and are tied for second place in their division at the halfway point of the season. They have 55 points, which sets them up for 110 if they continue on pace, but they will need to play well down the stretch in the tough Metropolitan Division.
Leading the way is reigning Jack Adams coach of the year, Barry Trotz. He is off to another terrific start and getting the most out of his players. However, general manager Lou Lamoriello will need to step it up at the trade deadline. The Islanders could use another scorer, and Lamoriello will need to make that happen to ensure a long playoff run. Through 41 games, let’s hand out grades to the Islanders.
Mat Barzal: A
While Barzal hasn’t necessarily cemented himself as an MVP candidate just yet, he has become the face of the Islanders after the departure of John Tavares. He leads the team in all offensive categories with 16 goals and 33 points and is setting himself up nicely for a big contract down the road.
He consistently plays 20 minutes a night and, even with all his success, he has yet to really connect with Jordan Eberle, who has just three goals this season. When those two get going, they are among the best duos in the league, as they were last season in the playoffs. If he remains healthy, he will continue to grab the most attention from other teams’ coaching staffs.
Brock Nelson: A
Going into the summer of 2019 as an impending free agent, Brock Nelson seemed likely to sign elsewhere. To the Islanders’ credit, they were able to lock him up with a long-term contract and have been rewarded big time. A consistent 20-goal scorer, Nelson is well on his way to his fifth in the last six seasons and could reach the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Nelson plays an all-around game and has one of the best shots in the NHL. What has stood out this season has been his three overtime goals in 41 games. With Barzal getting most of the attention on the first line, Nelson is as good as almost any second line center in the league. He has also shown the ability to score in the playoffs and will remain a big part of the team in the second half.
Semyon Varlamov: A
It’s hard to ask much more of the Islanders’ net-minder. Coming over from the Colorado Avalanche, Semyon Varlamov had a couple of poor seasons after being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in the 2013-14 campaign. The Islanders rotated goaltenders through the first 33 games before Varlamov was given his first crack midway through December and he has not given it back. In his first game against his former team, he picked up a shutout with 32 saves.
He has started four games in a row and ranks in the top-10 in both save percentage and goals-against average. While he was not selected to the All-Star Game, Varlamov has turned his career around like Robin Lehner did last season working with director of goaltending Mitch Korn. He will likely see more time in the second half and could start in the playoffs.
Adam Pelech: A-
The statistics don’t always show it, but Adam Pelech turned himself into a shutdown defender before his season-ending injury last week. He was plus-4 and often played against the opposition’s top line. He also played on the penalty kill and is one of the best in the NHL at blocking shots. Before his off-ice pre-game warmup injury last Thursday, he ranked second on the team in ice time.
Ryan Pulock A-
When Ryan Pulock can get his lethal slap shot on net, he is one of the most dangerous players in the league. He has taken a leap forward playing with Pelech on the blue line and will need to find chemistry elsewhere without him. He has shown many improvements on defense and has the potential to be an All-Star in the future if he can stay healthy. He also had the overtime winner against the Vegas Golden Knights on the power play earlier this season, where he is most lethal on the top unit.
Anthony Beauvillier A-
After a strong season last year, Anthony Beauvillier has been one of the best Islanders so far. On pace for 20 goals, it would be his second time reaching that milestone. He routinely starts the extra period with Nelson and scored his first career overtime goal against the Buffalo Sabres last month, (from ‘Anthony Beauvillier’s OT winner keeps Islanders rolling at home,’ New York Post, 12/14/2019).
Until last weekend, Beauvillier had been playing on the second line, but he is back with Barzal on the first line after some success last season. While he never played in the old barn, he loves playing at the newly renovated Coliseum, scoring half his goals this season there. Still only 22 years old, the future is bright for the former first-round pick in 2015.
Casey Cizikas: A-
The Islanders would not be where they are if not for the work of Casey Cizikas. He is the hardest worker on the team and is turning himself into a real NHL goal-scorer. He sets the tone every night with the opening faceoff and has been spectacular scoring three shorthanded goals to lead the league. For a player who matches up against top centers, his team-high plus-10 is amazing. While he may not reach 20 goals like last season, he has become one of the team’s most important players night in and out.
Scott Mayfield: B+
Unlike some of the other defenders on the team, Scott Mayfield came into the league as a stay-at-home defenseman. However, he’s having his best offensive season, tying his career-high of four goals. Mayfield also has an impressive plus-10, like Cizikas, and is willing to throw the body and play extremely physical in front of the net on the penalty kill. While it’s tough to have him in the penalty box for five minutes, he is willing to drop the gloves and protect his teammates at any cost.
Devon Toews: B+
Since coming into the lineup to replace Thomas Hickey last December, Devon Toews has not been out. He brings offense and quarterbacks the power play. He also regularly starts the 3-on-3 overtime where the Islanders have been great, with six wins. He has the ability to join the rush and has been another great young Islander defender to come through their system.
Anders Lee: B
It has been a strange start for the Islanders captain, Anders Lee. He has 13 goals, but they haven’t been timely, until his goal Monday night against the Avalanche. He also has one goal on the power play which is starting to become a major issue for the Islanders. They are in a stretch of seven games without a goal with the man advantage.
Earlier in the season the Islanders were not drawing any penalties, however, they have started to draw more though the power play has yet to click. This was a similar issue last season, but the Islanders were able to turn it around in the playoffs. Lee continues to get top minutes and has played in overtime for the first time in his career. With three games coming up against the New York Rangers, now would be a great time for Lee to get hot.
Thomas Greiss: B
At times, Thomas Greiss has looked like the one who shared the Jennings Trophy with Lehner last season. Other times, he’s been pulled early in games after putting his team in a hole. His numbers are still pretty good for a player splitting time in net. With the Islanders getting much time off to start the year, Greiss will need to be ready for back-to-back games as the schedule starts to pick up.
Nick Leddy: B-
With the emergence of Toews and Pulock, Nick Leddy has become an afterthought on defense. That may be best for him, as he plays the point on the second power-play unit and still has three goals and 17 points. When Leddy is skating well, he is a threat to join the rush especially in overtime. With the injury to Pelech and the lack of left-handed defensemen, his ice-time will likely increase, and he has played over 20 minutes in all three games Pelech has missed.
Derick Brassard: B-
Coming to the Islanders after a couple of poor seasons with many different teams, Derick Brassard has been a nice replacement for Valtteri Filppula. He got off to a red-hot start scoring goals, but was playing on the wing despite being brought in as the third line center.
While the Islanders will take any secondary scoring they can get from outside their top players, Brassard needs to be playing center given the team’s lack of depth. If the Islanders can acquire a center before the trade deadline, Brassard can hopefully produce on the wing, as he did when he played with Beauvillier and Nelson.
Johnny Boychuk: C+
With all the success of the Islanders’ young defensemen, Johnny Boychuk has seen much less ice time this season. Other than his two-point game against the Boston Bruins, he has played pretty average most of the season. At times, he looks like his old self now that he’s healthy, but he has been playing around 17 minutes a game the past few weeks. He is always there to throw a big hit and is one of the most well-respected players in the league.
Ross Johnston: C+
It was a surprise when the Islanders signed Ross Johnston to a four-year extension. However, after all the injuries, Johnston not only found himself in the lineup regularly, but has played on the top two lines. He has three goals this season which is more than expected in 28 games from a player like him who is there mainly to protect his teammates. Despite that fighting is down, he can go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in the league.
Cal Clutterbuck: C
Cal Clutterbuck was playing some of his best hockey of the season before he was cut by a skate by Patrice Bergeron. For a fourth-liner, Clutterbuck’s minutes are a lot higher than expected. He plays well on the penalty kill and has a very underrated shot. Sometimes people don’t realize the impact of a player until he is not playing. His absence has hurt the Islanders on the ice as well as in the locker room.
Josh Bailey: C-
There are many games where Josh Bailey looks like a superstar. There are also times when he is hardly noticed. For the past month, it has been the latter. His last goal was on Dec. 9 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and he only has eight goals and 23 points. At this rate, Bailey will have a hard time getting anywhere close to his career-high of 71 points or even last year’s total of 56.
Bailey has seen plenty of time on different lines, but hasn’t found much chemistry with anyone. He could use a sniper on his line come the trade deadline. Like Lee, he only has one goal on the power play. As the longest tenured Islander, Bailey has been through many tough times, but hopefully can break out in the second half.
Matt Martin: C-
If not for Matt Martin’s two game-winning goals, he would not be in the “C” range. He hasn’t been the same as he was in recent seasons. With Clutterbuck out, he is playing with new players for the first time since he was brought back to the Islanders for the 2017-18 season. Other than a misconduct, his penalty minutes are very low as Johnston has taken over as the team’s enforcer. As a fan favorite, too much is expected of a fourth-line player now that the Islanders are going through a scoring drought.
Jordan Eberle: D+
After his incredible first-round performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s playoffs, Eberle has really struggled. He was hampered by an injury this season and has only scored three goals, two of them were scored in the same game against the Detroit Red Wings.
However, he has been strong in the shootout. At some point, Eberle will need to get back on a line with Barzal to carry the team for a bit. He has shown that when he does score, he can do it in in bunches. Lately, he has been getting more chances despite not converting.
Michael Dal Colle: D
Anytime a player is drafted in the first round, the pressure is going to be on. Michael Dal Colle has had a hard time settling into a permanent role with the Islanders. For a goal-scorer who spent much of his Ontario Hockey League career with the Oshawa Generals, he only has five career goals and two this season. He played his best on the fourth line with Cizikas and Clutterbuck, but the Islanders are hoping they have a top-six forward in him and have not seen it yet.
Leo Komarov: D
This season has not been a success for Leo Komarov. Like Eberle, he missed significant time with an injury. He has yet to score this season and is routinely scratched. The Islanders’ penalty kill has been better of late and Komarov is relied on as one of their top killers. If not for a couple couple of nice passes that led to goals, Komarov would be in the “F” range.
Noah Dobson: Incomplete
Noah Dobson is one of the toughest Islanders to grade. At 19 years old, he is in an extremely difficulty spot of not being eligible to play for the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He was also the seventh defenseman for most of the season until Pelech’s injury.
Dobson was not sent to the World Juniors, but that falls on the front office. When he has been in the lineup, he has shown improvements. The rookie has yet to generate much offense, but his ice time is limited and he will hopefully find that elusive first goal soon.
Up next, the Islanders will play the second half of a back-to-back in a showdown with the New Jersey Devils before taking on the Bruins in a potential playoff matchup this Saturday. After a sweep in the first round against the Penguins, New York will hope to build on last season’s playoffs in April with a long playoff run.