It has been pretty incredible to see what the New York Islanders have done throughout the opening month-plus of the season, but to think they did this with all the injuries they have had, is even more remarkable. They currently rank third in the NHL in points as the team heads on the road following their best start to a season in over 40 years.
Despite their 10-game winning streak coming to an end against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime last week, the Isles have recorded a point in each of the past 13 games.
Who’s Been Hurt?
So far this season, the Islanders have lost five players that participated in their season-opening game against the Washington Capitals, in Casey Cizikas, Jordan Eberle, Matt Martin, Nick Leddy, and Leo Komarov. That list does not include Tom Kuhnhackl, who also got hurt this season, but was scratched on opening night as well as Andrew Ladd. He has been out since last year recovering from a torn ACL.
The Islanders were hoping to get Ladd back soon, but in a surprising move, they placed the veteran on waivers Thursday morning. Ladd recently completed his stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League though the Islanders felt he wasn’t ready yet. It would be surprising to see Ladd get picked up by another team with the contract he has.
However, none of these obstacles have hurt the Islanders. Guys such as Cole Bardreau, Ross Johnston, and former first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom have all stepped up in their absence.
Bardreau had numerous breakaways and converted a penalty shot for the game-winning goal against the Ottawa Senators. Wahlstrom saw lots of action on the power play and had plenty of chances for his first career goal, and Johnston remains in the lineup.
Shaping out the Lines
We got a good look at what the Islanders will do as the team gets healthy after their game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. They started off the game with their normal first line of Anders Lee, Mat Barzal and Eberle.
However, they moved Derick Brassard off the second line to play where he started off the season as the third line center with Komarov and Michael Dal Colle. New York’s second line is featuring Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. It would be no surprise to see Brassard move back to the wing at some point after the way he played during the streak as well as Dal Colle moving back to the fourth line.
Head coach Barry Trotz has loved the way Dal Colle has performed, playing with two of the best fourth-liners in the NHL.
“With guys getting healthy, it gives us a little internal motivation, because everyone is trying to stay in the lineup” said Trotz. “Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie because there is only so many pieces to go around.”
Also, the Islanders’ power play scored two goals against Toronto after struggling late in the month of October. Leading one of those units has been Barzal, who is off to the best start of his career. He did not have a point prior to the winning streak, but set up a gorgeous power-play goal to Brassard and seems to be playing with as much confidence as ever.
They also have Nick Leddy back on the point on the power play after he missed time with an injury. He has been used with the man advantage with Devon Toews. Ryan Pulock is the lone defensemen on the other power play
Defensively, the Islanders seem to have their six defenders locked in. Toews and Scott Mayfield have quickly developed a strong connection with each other along with Adam Pelech and Pulock together. The final pair of defenders have been together basically since the day they were both acquired,in Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, as to provide leadership for a young group.
While Dobson is available, it is hard to get him consistent playing time when he is healthy. He saw some time when Leddy was out and played well, but will likely only get in on back-to-backs. One reason the Islanders have been so successful in those types of games has been their ability to use both goaltenders and rested players.
Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss have alternated every game this season and are both came into Wednesday night in the top-ten in goals-against average and save percentage. Greiss happens to lead both with a .942 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average.
The Islanders will play in Philadelphia against the Flyers on Saturday. Following that, they will begin a home-and-home with the Penguins before making their annual trip out west to face the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.