The New York Islanders sit atop the Metropolitan division at the break. How well are they doing? Here are the numbers to show you the path that they have taken. First in Goals Against (122), 12-2-0 in back to back games, first place in the Metro with 63 points in 49 games.
Islanders Flying High
The statistics only tell a part of the New York Islanders story this season, to flesh it out you need the people. Flashback to July 1 for a moment. The New York Islanders watched their franchise player walk to his hometown with the Toronto Maple Leafs with a terrible open letter pouring salt into the wound of a betrayed fanbase. Sure the Islanders got Lou Lamoriello and later Stanley Cup Champion coach Barry Trotz, but after a 30-year rebuild, it was of little solace that they were able to land Lou, who is a Hall of Famer and potential future Hall of Famer coach.
First Moves Under Trotz
The first few moves by the new Islanders brass were met with a collective groan by the Islanders faithful. The jaded and skeptical fans looked at the acquisitions made during the summer as more of the same. Different year, different leadership, poor decision-making, and more future heartbreak.
John Ledecky promised a world-class organization and so far had only produced a world-class Northwell practice facility, an itinerant team set to play out of multiple “home” facilities and no measurable advances. The outlook for the team looked bleak. The change under Trotz was immediate. He won the cup with the Washington Capitals and didn’t even say goodbye after the celebrations. As anyone that follows Trotz knows he is a man of action. Keeping with that image Trotz signed with the Islanders and reported for duty. He began his input into shaping the Islanders future with the engraving on the cup still warm to the touch. His acceptance of the Islanders offer came a mere 3 days after his resignation.
No Tavares, On To Plan B
Job one, retain Tavares. Despite the hiring of Trotz, the Islanders lost out on their franchise player as he went to Toronto. Then began the process of retooling the Islanders dismal defense and goaltending. The Islanders had no problem scoring goals and in fact, often led the league in the 2017-18 season. The problem was at the opposite end of the ice. The tandem of poor goaltending and a defense that allowed opposing players into the zone as though they were escorting them allowed teams to score at will. So, those teams did just that.
Islanders Riding Momentum Atop the Metro
Wow, what a difference a year makes. The offseason pickups of Tom Kuhnhackl, Valtteri Filppula, and Leo Komarov give the Islanders a core of veteran additions. These players brought in have provided support to the Killer B’s, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey. The latter is the trio that has provided most of the Islanders offensive output this season. Filppula found the net often with 11 goals so far this season.
During the offseason, Trotz and the Islanders set about making the Islanders defense an effective and formidable unit. The addition of goalie Robin Lehner has thus far given the Islanders the world-class netminding that the Islanders have needed for years. Lehner opened his tenure with the Islanders with a shutout, a feat he has achieved 3 times this season. His 3 wins and the shutout last week earned him the first star of the NHL and boosted the Islanders into first place in the Metropolitan division. Lehner’s performance and his respect for the hard work of his team have become the talk of the NHL. For good reason.
Aside from the improved defense and and and the best GAA in the NHL the Islanders also possess the best record from December 13, 2018, to the All-Star break. The momentum has been with them as they went 15-4-0 during that stretch.
Playoffs Or Bust For Trotz And the Islanders
This team is aiming for the playoffs, by playing one game at a time. Looking for opportunities, pulling out gritty wins and keeping the opposing team on their heels. The Islanders, worst in the league GAA last year is now the best in the NHL, a complete 180 with largely the same players. The run and gun have been replaced by stay at home muscle and it is paying large dividends. A little extra muscle always has a place in the Trotz lineup. To that end, his additions of fan favorite Matt Martin, and Ross Johnston give the Islanders a couple of wingers that are unafraid to lay a hit on someone or throw punches if needed. Both have done so this season and look to do more in the future. Their ability to play is not in question, but the play for the badge on the front attitude they exhibit is one that Trotz has sold and this team has bought into. Look for this team to maintain the pace through the remainder of the season and into the first round of the playoffs. Barring injury, there is no reason that they will not be there this year.