The New York Islanders ended their 2015-16 season yesterday with a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, but still managed to accumulate 100 points. For most who like to predict a season’s outcome like myself, I had the Isles finishing between 98-103 points and one of my “Core” teams that even with injuries should have made the playoffs. Mission accomplished. During the season however, we witnessed teams like Tampa Bay and Montreal drop in the standings for various reasons and it was an opportunity of sorts for the Islanders to improve in their own standings, yet they ended up 5th in the Conference and 4th in the Metro Division. The Conference part I got right, but 4th in the Division would’ve been the Pittsburgh Penguins. First let’s take a look at the Islanders themselves and then see what happened and maybe this will give you some more info before picking your playoff bracket.
Last year the Islanders raced out of the first half gait and were on pace for 110 points. Then as many will remember they started to slump and staggered into the playoffs and finished the season with 101 points. This year was completely different, but more consistent. At the end of the first 41 games, the Islanders were on pace for 98 points. Many thought the Isles had regressed due to the hot start of last year, but in reality, they were on a decent pace. After the next 41 games the Islanders were on a 102 point pace. Indeed, in the last 11 games of this season the Isles finished with a 7-3-1 record, including the final game that saw many of its starters out of the lineup in that third loss. So heading into the playoffs, the Islanders should have a momentum and confidence when they face the Panthers on Thursday. So what was different this year compared to last year? Simple: Thomas Greiss.
The offensive numbers went down for some of the players but what I have found is that there was a lot of over achieving last year. If you were to take each players total goals and take each average from the past three seasons and total it all up as a team, the Islanders should have scored 229 goals this season. Sure enough, the Islanders ended with 227. Last years squad scored 245 goals which is a difference of 18 goals. I’m sure many can distribute those goals around certain players, but the point here is that the offense played to the team average of the last two-three years. Islanders regular starting goalie Jaroslav Halak also had similar numbers behind the net, in fact, his save percentage went up to .919 from .914 and his goals allowed was also better at 2.30 from 2.43. His issue was that he was not winning as he did the previous year, nor did he play in as many games due to injuries. He was only winning half of his games this season compared to almost 65 percent the previous year. Enter Greiss. Greiss saw the most action of his career appearing in 41 games and winning 23 of them, good for 56 percent of them. His previous career high in games played (25) was in Phoenix two years ago and his save percentage was .920. This year he ended the regular season with a .925 percentage. With a career year like he had, he’s a big, if not the main reason the Islanders got back to another 100 point season.
There are other factors for the Isles returning for another 100 point season:, the Casey Cizikas line, the young defenseman from Bridgeport (Mayfield, Pulock, Pelech), the other two young goalies in Berube and Gibson, the great penalty killing unit. All this amounts to is one word: depth. The Islanders had it last year and they have it this year. From the looks of things, the Islanders will have plenty of depth coming into the system for a few more years. After this offseason, free agency may get to be a bit boring for the fans and I’ll elaborate about that at a later time. Was it a smart move by Garth Snow to stand pat and not shake up the roster? I’d say yes. There is something that is concerning about this year. With the fall of Tampa, Montreal and the foreseeable slide the Rangers were going to take this year, asking for 105 points and home ice advantage should’ve been attainable. No one really stepped up, other than Greiss. Yes, a repeat 100 point season is a good thing for the Isles because they haven’t done that in over 20 years, but when the Islanders had games in hand and controlling their own destiny, they couldn’t seize the moment. Apparently depth will only go so far with this team, especially when they’re just playing to their averages.
So as the Islanders get set to take on the Florida Panthers, here are a couple of questions that will decide the series: Will the New York Islanders have enough depth to beat out Jaromir Jagr and the Panthers? Is there a player on this Islanders team that could be a catalyst and have a career playoff year in this series to beat the Panthers? Will Thomas Greiss be the same hot goaltender in the playoffs as he was in the regular season? Will the Islanders score more than one power-play goal in the first round? Tomorrow I’m going to go over the rest of the Eastern Conference and discuss my pre-season predictions and dissect each team a little more and find out how the Islanders actually stack up to the Florida Panthers. For now, let everyone make their picks. I’ll do my due diligence first.