The New York Islanders are on one of their best runs in franchise history. With a 14-game point streak after a 4-3 comeback win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, it’s hard to argue that there is a better team in the league right now.
The preseason nhl.com playoff predictions had 12 of the 20 writers pick the Islanders to miss the playoffs entirely. Four writers picked them for a wild card spot and four picked them for a top-three position in the division. Only two writers picked the Islanders to win the Metropolitan Division. Even though it’s only mid-November, the Islanders are firing on all cylinders right now and it’s hard to see the logic in betting against them.
One part of what’s made New York so dangerous is the offense. The forward group is not relying on just one or two players like it once did for so many years. There is a different hero every night like Anthony Beauvillier scoring two goals against both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers or Cal Clutterbuck registering two points against the Ottawa Senators.
In addition, all 12 forwards play a 200-foot game every night. Head coach Barry Trotz has taught them that backchecking is just as important as forechecking and it shows. When offensive-minded players like Mat Barzal backcheck as much as defensive forwards like Clutterbuck, it makes a big difference.
Once again, New York’s defense-first system has stimied top offenses around the league like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders are leading early in the season in total goals allowed with 42. The Isles are also tied with the Arizona Coyotes for goals-against-per-game but have three games in hand on the Coyotes.
Essentially, the Islanders’ defensive core, which doesn’t look all that good on paper, is playing the system strong and not allowing any team to intimidate them. Part of this confident play comes from the whole team benefiting from Trotz’s experience.
Using an advanced analytics category on Hockey-Reference, it is easy to see how certain players stack up against each other. Using the category “point shares” you can see how many “points” a player contributes to his team. These aren’t typical points like assists and goals. Instead, there are specific math formulas used to find defensive point shares (DPS).
Normally, the higher the DPS, the more expensive the contract is. Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech is the exception. He has a DPS of 1.5, which is higher than Norris Trophy-winning defensemen, Mark Giordano and Erik Karlsson, as well as other all-stars like Aaron Ekblad and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The difference between Pelech and those four defensemen is he makes $1.6 million and the others all make $6.75 million or more per year. Pelech outperforming these players at the money he’s making is a tremendous asset to the Islanders’ defensive core.
Perhaps the most stable part of the Islanders game this season has been their goaltending. Both Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have been excellent so far.
Thomas Griess especially has had an exceptional start to the season leading the league in save percentage (SV%) with a .938 and is second in goals against average (GAA) with a 1.98. Another facet to his game is that Greiss has only allowed four power play goals while stopping 36 short-handed shots. The German netminder was a key piece to the Islanders’ comeback in Philadelphia. After allowing three goals, he settled down and made some big saves.
However, Varlamov has been solid, too. He has a 6-2-1 record with a .917 SV% and a 2.56 GAA. With only 22 goals allowed and a shutout already under his belt, he looks to be enjoying his first season on Long Island.
The impressive part between the two is that they have constantly been rotating and both have been playing well. No one appears to be upset about the rotation and it’s proving to be a strong strategy for the team.
The time has finally come. The next game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Nov. 19 is the day New York can match its longest point streak of all time at 15, which is also the longest winning streak of all time. When all hope was lost at the beginning of the third period against the Flyers on Saturday, the Islanders rallied to keep the point streak alive and win it in the shootout.
To match and set a new record would require the Isles to beat or force overtime with the Penguins for the next two games in a row. One positive thing for the Islanders is that they will not have to face Sidney Crosby as he is rehabbing from a surgery to repair a core muscle that is expected to keep him out until late December. Crosby has dominated the Islanders throughout his career posting 1.68 points per game, the most against any one team since he entered the league.
The Islanders are finally at the mark they’ve been trying to set since this point streak started. They’ll have an opportunity to tie a franchise record on Tuesday and then best it on Thursday at the Barclays Center. The way they’ve been playing, expect them to come out strong against their division rivals.