The New York Islanders continue to torture its fan base with its lack of consistency. For many it’s the old cliché of one step forward two steps back this season. With the standings getting tighter and tighter by the day, many want Islanders general manager Garth Snow to get that forward or defenseman and not have to worry about consistency issues and to make a legit run past the first round of the playoffs. However, I’m going to give the fans some insight about why the Islanders are not as inconsistent as they seem and shed some light on a troubling issue that may linger into the playoffs if the Islanders do not make a trade or two in the upcoming weeks leading to the February 29th trade deadline.
Through the first 41 games of last year the Islanders were on pace to finish the season with 110 points. They ended up finishing the second half going 20-15-6 which was good for a 92 point pace and finished with 101 total points. That minus 18 point pace differential is very significant in that the Islanders went from dominating the NHL to just 3 points ahead of the 8th place Pittsburgh Penguins. This year the Islanders finished the first 41 games on pace for 98 points and despite this still the early part of the second half the Islanders are 7-5-1 and on pace for 95 points. They are on pace to finish the season with 97. That point pace differential of a minus 3 would show that the Islanders are indeed more of a consistent team this year than last. Does this mean they are a better team?
What Islanders fans want is that 110 point pace feeling from the first half of last season. They missed all that winning and winning a lot meant not having to be concerned about if their team will make the playoffs. They want what Washington, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and even Detroit have had for years, but 110 points is a lofty goal and I’m not sure anybody in the media expected the Isles to do that, including myself. So why haven’t the Islanders kept pace with last years squad? They’re the same group of players, right? Heck, even the penalty kill is not an excuse this year and the powerplay is a goal away from being back in the league’s top 10 again. Is it the coach? What about the goaltending? Is Brian Strait really a cause to the Isles loses? What I’m about to write may surprise you.
So what I did was that I’ve taken a look at the last nine teams to beat the Islanders. Some them (Detroit, Washington) have beaten the Islanders twice in the last 11 losing games. The teams are as follows: Carolina, Detroit, Washington, Flyers, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Colorado, and Florida. These were the records of each team during a 10 game stretch before they played the Islanders: (*Quick note: Detroit and Washington’s record are from the first time they played the Isles)
Carolina: 4-3-2; Detroit: 6-3-1; Washington: 9-1-1; Pittsburgh is a weird case as they played around NHL .500 but have gone 6-2-3 including the Islanders; Flyers: 6-2-2; Toronto: 6-2-3; Arizona: 3-6-1; Colorado: 7-3-0; Florida: 6-4-0. So as fans can read, save for Arizona, when the Isles were facing each of these teams, their opponents were on a hot streak or in Pittsburgh’s case got on a hot streak. Say what you want about Carolina, but when you only lose 3 games in 10 recently, you’ve got momentum. So the Islanders faced a tough challenge already heading into these games. Unfortunately it gets worse. The total amount of goals allowed by the Islanders in each game is as follows:
Carolina: 6; Detroit: 4,5; Washington: 4,3; Flyers: 4; Pittsburgh: 5; Maple Leafs: 3; Arizona: 1; Colorado: 2; Florida: 5. So If you were to read this and say ok, the Isles really coughed up that one game against Arizona and Colorado you could be content with that because they were a hot team, but when you look at the rest of those games and you see that your team is giving up 3 goals or more 9 times, you begin to wonder if the team even showed up for that night. That’s where I took it a step further. Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak started in 8 of those 11 losses. The Islanders gave up 28 goals in those 8 games for a goals against average of 3.5. Thomas Greiss started the other three and did not fare any better. The Islanders gave up 10 goals for an average of 3.33. So can we put this step back of a season all on the goaltending? No, especially when we’ve seen and heard the phrase “We let our goaltender out to dry” a few times this year. I’m sure the Islanders staff were aware of their opponents recent streaks, but I don’t think it hit the players until it was too late. I could not go on and not do a small research to see if Brian Strait was indeed a catalyst to the losing. In those 11 losses, he played in only 6 of them and was a minus 1, so everyone’s favorite whipping boy cannot be solely blamed for the Isles not doing as well as last year.
So What can we say about this years Islanders? For now, they are more consistent than last years team, but not yet the better one. In their recent loses, they’ve encountered teams with very good winning streaks, or at least have momentum on their sides. With opposing team already on a momentum rush they make the Islanders players seem to forget to show up to the game and that tends to leave their goalies out to dry. It’s not just Brian Strait or Jaro Halak alone. Yes there have been injuries to this team, and yes they’re basically the same team from last year so preparing for them should be easier for their opponents, but when you let other teams coming in with momentum and the Isles don’t know how to counteract that, only to have the opposing team score 3,4,5 and now 6 goals, they’re asking for trouble. When you reach 101 points the year before and are now top 10 in the NHL (play the %) in most categories, it doesn’t seem to be a coaching issue. Is it a players issue? Do they have to get their work ethic together? Do They have to look in the mirror? They certainly have to be ready to play, but the Islanders must figure out how to take away momentum when playing a team on a good, current streak before they try to beat them. Will getting another player at the deadline help the Isles psyche? That better be one heck of a player.