To all the Islanders fans, I hope everyone had a great New Years Eve. I wish nothing but the best for you as we embark into 2017. It’s a new year and it just quite possibly be a new season of sorts for the New York Islanders. New York responded well after sending former starting goalie, Jaroslav Halak, to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL as they beat Winnipeg Jets yesterday with a convincing 6-2 win. Thomas Greiss started in net and earned his ninth win of the season. He will now resume the number one goalie position for the foreseeable future and the timing could not be any better. As a matter of fact, the entire Islanders team coming together looks like a perfect storm about ready to blow.
The Islanders just never played well with Halak in net. Halak himself never really looked like the goalie from last year or even two years ago. With a goals-against-average of 3.23 and a save percentage of .904, the Islanders were not going very far, more like completely stalled. Reenter Thomas Greiss, the now two-time starting goalie who helped the Islanders take them past the first round in last seasons playoffs and is sporting a 2.45 goals-against-average and has a save percentage of .925, a percentage good for 10th place among goalies with the same or greater amount of games played. The offense has come alive as Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and most importantly Andrew Ladd have found the back of the net and as a team, are on pace for 243 goals. In most seasons, that’s good enough for the Islanders to make the playoffs. I know what you’re saying to yourselves out loud: “Too bad they’re already out!!! Fire Snow/Cappy already!!!” Just allow me to explain why the Isles have the biggest opportunity of their season to make a “surprise” run.
If you’ve read the previous articles, I’ve emphasized the importance of the Islanders winning against teams that are not in the top 10 of the NHL. If you’re also a regular reader, you also know I look at the percentages and not the points, so don’t look at the standings when reading my work. After last nights win the Islanders are 9-3-5 against the rest of the league, good for a 111 point pace in a span of 82 games. Why would I bring this up to begin with? First, it was to show how dominating the Metro division has been against the rest of the NHL and that since the Isles are in this division with so many games played earlier on against them in the season, I had to look further ahead into the schedule to see where the Islanders could catch a “break” and try to rebound from a dreadful 6-10-4 start. Since Anders Lee began to reemerge as a top 6 forward, and the other aforementioned players began getting their games together, the Isles have gone 9-5-2 since then. Enter the perfect storm.
With the offense coming together, the goalie tandem now at 2, proper starting goalie numbers and a renewed sense of confidence in the team, the Islanders play 17 of the next 24 games against teams not in the top 10 in the NHL, that includes two games with Philadelphia who are currently not in the top 10. That’s two months of hockey that will not only define who the Islanders are, but will most certainly decide what happens at the trade deadline or any future decisions about coaching and management. So the 9-3-5 record has now turned into a theory: Can the Islanders, with all the pieces in play, and a schedule that has more than favorable conditions, dominate the next two months and make a serious run? Notice what I wrote again. Make a run, not make the playoffs. I want to see this team shred the rest of the NHL. I want to see the occasional “upset” over some of the other rivals within their own division. I want to see the Islanders do something huge. I want to see the Islanders make a legitimate push to be better than a mediocre team. It’s all there for the taking, all they have to do is take the reins and run with it.
So what is my definition of making a run? Simple, I have written before that the Isles could still rack up 90-95 points this season and not make the playoffs. A strong showing and absolutely devastating the rest of the league over next two months would certainly get them to that kind of pace. At that point, they would need help from other teams that are ahead of them to implode or become injured to the point where they lose significant ground. Make no mistake, this is not going to be easy, but everything is in place for the Islanders to be at the very least, exciting to watch. Could the Isles make the playoffs? My answer to that is wait for the next nine games or we’ll revisit that question at the end of January.
As I was celebrating New Years with my cousins, we watched both Islanders and Rangers games (yeah, they’re Rangers fans) and even since the season started, they’ve stated that the Islanders are better than what their record shows. To be honest, that’s a sentiment I hear quite often this side of the Hudson(and Delaware). The next two months will be able to determine if the sentiments are true. There’s no doubt the Islanders have the potential to be a second half, dominating team. Just because they’re in 7th place in the Metro now, it doesn’t make them a lottery team. The Isles could still end up in the top 16 in the NHL, a playoff team if they were playing in the Western Conference, and heck even a top eight team in the East, but the time for everyone in that organization is now. There are no more excuses left for any of them. The ship looks like it’s been repaired, there’s a steady wind to take them north of the standings and their captain has no intentions of abandoning ship!!! How far they want to make this push is clearly up to them.
As we turn the page that was the early part of this 2016 season, I offer a new page of possible excitement in this second half we’ll call 2017. Happy New Year everyone.