The New York Islanders regular season resumes tonight following the mid-season NHL All-Star Break. To date, it has been largely inconsistent. Through 52 games played, they boast a record of 25-22-5, good for 55 points. They currently sit two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild card position and five points behind the Washington Capitals, who sit in the first wild card position with 60 points. The remainder of the Islanders’ regular season will be exciting to watch unfold. Bo Horvat will debut with the club, and they may not be done adding pieces as they push for a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today we make five predictions for the rest of the Islanders season.
1. Islanders’ Struggling Power Play Shows Major Improvement
Currently ranked near the bottom of the league, the Islanders hold the 31st-ranked powerplay. They convert at a 15.5% success rate while on the man advantage, well below the league average of 21.83%. This is not good enough for a team with high playoff ambitions. Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the way with five power play markers, while Mathew Barzal leads the team in power play points with 16.
Enter Horvat. The newest Islander has scored 11 goals and seven assists for 18 power play points this season. His 11 power play goals ranked first on the Vancouver Canucks, who have the 14th ranked power play. The addition of Horvat provides the Islanders with a new threat on the powerplay. The former Canucks captain often played the bumper position for Vancouver and can be expected to do the same for his new club.
The healthy status of Kyle Palmieri will also be beneficial for the Islanders’ power play moving forward. Palmieri returned to action on Jan. 23 against the Toronto Maple Leafs after being sidelined since Dec. 16. The 32-year-old right wing has put up five assists in four games since returning to the lineup.
2. Islanders Finally Get More Consistent Results
The Islanders entered the All-Star Break by winning their last two games. The two wins marked the end of a lengthy six-game losing streak. There is no better time than the present for the club to string together a winning streak. In their next five games, they play four teams outside the current playoff picture and sit below them in the standings. A miserable 4-8-3 January record will be a distant memory if the club can go on a nice run through the first two weeks in February.
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Expect a significant boost in offensive production to be enough for the stout defensive play and elite goaltending tandem to lead to more wins on a more consistent basis. Once again, Horvat’s arrival should boast immediate results for the Islanders. Not only has Horvat been money with the man advantage, but he has also scored 17 even-strength goals this season, including four game-winners. As a result, the 27-year-old will play a huge role in the team’s success as the season winds down.
3. Ilya Sorokin Finishes Season as Vezina and Hart Trophy Candidate
With a 2.38 goals-against average (GAA) that ranks seventh amongst all NHL goaltenders and a .923 save percentage (SV%) ranking second, it is no secret that Ilya Sorokin is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season. Sorokin has also posted four shutouts to this point in the season, which also ranks second. His play is, without a doubt, deserving of being nominated as a Vezina candidate for the first time in his career.
The more surprising prediction is that Sorokin will be a Hart Memorial Trophy candidate by the season’s end. The Russian goaltender has dramatically helped the Islanders keep within reach of a postseason berth up to this point. The key factor here will be whether the team can clinch a playoff spot at the end of the season. Should the Islanders return to the playoffs, it will be mainly due to Sorokin shouldering the weight of their offensive woes through the first half of the season. By keeping the Islanders within striking range, his play has helped persuade Lou Lamoriello to go out and get the type of offensive support the franchise has needed since the departure of John Tavares.
Connor McDavid sits atop the list when looking across the NHL at other potential Hart Trophy candidates. The best player in the world is having an unbelievable season with a league-leading 41 goals and 51 assists for 92 points in 50 games played. David Pastrnak could be another candidate. However, the Boston Bruins are getting their results through a total team effort, and it can be argued that Pastrnak’s impact is less than what Sorokin provides for the Islanders. A prime example is in the 2017-18 season when Taylor Hall won the award after nearly single-handedly carrying the New Jersey Devils into the playoffs.
No goaltender has won the Hart since the 2014-15 season when Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens took home the hardware. Furthermore, a goaltender has only won the award seven times in the 98 years it has been handed out. Don’t expect that to change this season, but the Islanders netminder has a realistic chance of being named a finalist as his cross-state friend Igor Shesterkin was last season.
4. Islanders Land a New No. 91
Despite already landing one of the biggest names available in Horvat, don’t expect Lamoriello to stop there. The Islanders adding one more top-six forward would go a long way for the franchise, which has struggled in recent years to bring in big-name stars. When looking at the roster, the group still lacks a bonafide left-shooting winger, and a couple of big-name players fit the bill. Vladimir Tarasenko fits the bill and has been linked to the Islanders for some time now.
Lamoriello should pull the trigger on whatever it takes to land the Russian sniper, as the mid-season retool would make the Islanders a serious threat in the Metropolitan Division. Imagine a new-look top line of Barzal, Horvat, and Tarasenko, followed by a second line of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Palmieri. Providing the Islanders GM can lock up Horvat and Tarasenko long-term, the team would open a 3-5 year window where they would be perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference.
5. Islanders Clinch Playoff Spot
The last of our mid-season predictions is one that many fans may have counted out following the six-game losing streak in January. However, I predict the Islanders will put together a solid finish to the season and clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s right, folks, the Islanders are making the playoffs, and what happens once they get there? Who knows? Fans can thank highly criticized Lamoriello for addressing his teams’ most significant need early and landing Horvat well ahead of the trade deadline.