With the NHL moving forward beyond the quarter mark and the New York Islanders playing tomorrow against the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s time to take a deeper look into the Isles and see where things could be headed for over the next quarter mark. In the preseason, I went for the Isles finishing anywhere between 100-105 points and making the playoffs. I also stated that the second half of last season, where the Isles finished at a 107 point pace under Islanders head coach, Doug Weight was not a fluke. So far I believe the Isles are on a good pace and that the isles are in fact the real deal. However, I do think they could be better than what their record stands at.
The Isles are 11-7-2 for 24 points and are on pace for 98. Is that good? Well considering that at the 20 game mark last season the Isles were 6-10-4 for 16 points and on pace for 66, I think every Isles fan will take this start. They’re close to the range I had them in and Doug Weights overall record as coach stands at 35-19-6, good for a 104 point pace. How do they match up against the rest of the Metropolitan Division? Well, let’s take a look. I’m going to use the standings from Monday since that was the morning after the Isles 20th game, so with that here are the point leaders:
1. Devils 25 points
2. Blue Jackets 25 points
3. Pittsburgh 25 points
4. Islanders 24 points
5. Capitals 23 points
6. Carolina 22 points
7. Rangers 22 points
8. Flyers 20 points
Now, is this considered a tight race because there’s only 5 points separating 8th and 1st? Sure, but if you’ve been a reader on this site, you know I don’t use just this type of standings yet, not for another 45 games. So Let’s take a look at the standings when we play the percentages and the point pace to end the season (as of Monday morning):
1. Devils 108
2. Blue Jackets 103
3. Isles 98
4. Carolina 95
5. Pittsburgh 93
6. Capitals 90
7. Rangers 86
8. Flyers 82
Now there’s a bigger degree of separation. Suddenly the Flyers and Rangers don’t look as intimidating and with the Capitals loss last night, they’re also a team trying to figure things out. So at the very least, we can say that the Islanders got out of the gate and are in a better place for a playoff push. So how did the Isles get to this juncture?
Well, you’ve now seen the standings above and I would ask you to view my previous article on the current top 10 teams in the NHL and you’ll notice that many of last years top teams that came from this division are not the same teams any more, yet the Isles are 2-3 in their division (loss to Columbus, Carolina, Capitals and a win over Carolina). Out of the 20 games already played, the Islanders have only gone up against teams currently in the NHL seven times, that’s 35%. So for starters, the schedule is a little easier. Having said that, this is what I’m having a problem with the Islanders.
In those 7 games against the top 10, the Isles are 4-2-1. Doug Weight was correct when he said that this team is capable of beating anyone. However, in 13 games against the rest of the NHL the Isles are 7-5-1. Not as dominant as you or I would have liked. So let’s go over more numbers to see where there may be an issue.
First, the overall goals-per-game by the Isles is through the roof this year. The league average for goals scored is 3.05 and the Isles are above that with 3.6. Again though, with someone who plays the percentages the Isles are on pace to score 308 goals. So no, I am not worried about Jason Chimera scoring 20 goals. I would love to see him get that gorilla off his back and he will. However on defense the league average is again 3.05, but the Isles are giving up 3.25 goals a game. Which means the Isles are on pace to give up 267. Ouch!! Now when I think of the goals-against-average, I look at that as an overall team statistic and not just the goalies because other factors come into play, like giving up a league leading seven short-handed goals, or not showing up for games against Columbus, Dallas and Minnesota. So when I look at the save percentages of both goalies, I’m looking at a .900% and the league average is at .911%. That is an issue.
Sticking with the special teams for a moment, the Isles overall powerplay is roughly 20.3% and the penalty killing unit is 80.3% When the Isles face off against the top 10 their powerplay is 27% but the penalty killing unit is at 75%. To make things worse, before the second meeting with St. Louis, the Isles were giving up an average of one powerplay goal a game. It appears to be the opposite when playing the rest of the league. The powerplay is at 17% and the penalty kill is at 83%. So the penalty kill needs to improve against teams in the top ten, and the powerplay needs to be more successful against the rest of the league. Another good point is that the Isles are the 7th least penalized team having been shorthanded 66 times while being ranked 20th in the league in powerplay opportunities with 69.
So how can I sum this up? Simply put, the Islanders were still a work-in-progress as they were figuring out line combinations and thankfully they’ve been able to find and run with two scoring lines that can go up and beat the best. If you’ve watched the games you’ll know that the powerplay did not come alive until around game 10 or so. When the defense finally got involved in the scoring, the Islanders were that much harder to defeat. The goaltenders have each played 10 games in the first twenty. There should not be any complaining about fatigue. Not to put anyone on the spot, but when Thomas Greiss is in net, the Isles are 6-2-2 while going 5-5-0 with Halak. Is it all Halak’s fault? No, but he must show he’s comfortable in the net on a consistent basis in order for him to steal a game if he has to and look like he’s fighting every puck that comes his way.
So what does this mean going forward into the next quarter mark? Ever see when the game starts and the Isles give up that first goal? They’re 4-7-2 when they do. Yet when they score first, they’re 7-0. It’s truly a mind-set and confidence struggle with this team. Even if/when the Isles put in the proper pieces, the players themselves must have the confidence in knowing that yes, they can beat anyone in this league. They just have to show up every game and literally take the reins and stop waiting to play the underdog role. They must follow Weight’s system because after 60 games, he seems to know what he’s doing and when they can execute, they’re dominant. Hopefully the wins against Tampa Bay and St. Louis proves that, but there’s the rest of the league that they need to take care of and it’s time for the Islanders to start playing favorites.
***Three players I would like to quickly discuss as reason for the Isles rise in the standings: Mathew Barzal, Nick Leddy and Josh Bailey
Mathew Barzal: I wrote ten games ago that his name should be thrown in to the hat as a Calder trophy candidate. After twenty games, he’s almost assuredly cemented his name as a nomination. If he stays healthy, he’ll be in the running. However, it may take a long playoff run to secure the trophy.
Speaking of throwing a name into another hat, Nick Leddy has 15 points in 20 games and is also getting better as the season progresses. He is now tied for 8th in points for a defenceman and has been a steady force as a first pairing on this team. If he continues his progress, you should at the very least hear his name as a possible candidate for the Norris.
Josh Bailey: Let me throw you this curveball now. What Bailey did last year does not seem to be a fluke because of what he’s doing this year with John Tavares and Anders Lee. I don’t care if it’s a goal, a primary assist or a secondary assist: a point is a point. Because I’m old enough to remember and having lived through the “Dark Ages” nothing would shock me more if the Isles resigned Bailey to say a 5-year extension. If he continues to play with the same line mates, wins a Cup and with the crop of young players coming into the fold, Bailey could very well end his career 6th in Islanders scoring (roughly over 610) which would surpass Brent Sutter and he might even take a shot at Clark Gillies 663 (perish the thought), which would then make Bailey 5th all-time behind the names of Tavares, Potvin, Bossy and Trottier. Bailey could very well play in over 1000 games in an Islanders uniform, placing him in 3rd (health of course and how long Tavares plays for). Does he become an Islanders Hall of Famer with his name in the rafters with over 1000 games played and more than 600 points? Hmmmm…….you’re welcome!