New York Islanders: Seven Early-Season Thoughts
Through six games, the New York Islanders have a record of 4-1-1. Their only loss and overtime loss is to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. In each of those wins, which were against the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Isles have scored four or more goals; proving how lethal this offense is. There elite level offense, combined with their solid defensive play led by Johnny Boychuck, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic, as well as excellent goaltending, has positioned this team atop the Metropolitan Division.
Even though the season is still quite young, let’s take a look at seven early-season thoughts that are, or should be, on every Isles fan’s mind (I really liked Bryan Wojtanik’s article “New York Rangers: Seven Early-Season Throughs” so I decided to make one for the Isles).
7) The Greiss is Nice
The back-up goalie position has never been consistent for the New York Islanders recently, but it looks like those days could finally be behind us. After Kevin Poulin, Chad Johnson, and Michael Neuvirth couldn’t solidify the position, general manager Garth Snow signed free-agent Thomas Greiss to a two-year contract worth #1.5 million AAV. Myself, along with other Isles fans though this was just the next “Chad Johnson;” but boy were we wrong. When No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak was nursing an upper body injury, Greiss stepped up and proved worthy of his contract. In three games started, Greiss has a record of 2-0-1, a save-percentage of .925, and a goals-against-average of 2.64. His play between the pipes has Isles fans everywhere breathing sighs of relief, knowing that we can rely on Greiss to perform when Halak needs rest.
Here’s a proven math equation for you, Enegry = Martin(Cizikas x Clutterbuck). The Islanders fourth line is one of the best in the league. Every shift they’re dishing out big hits, causing turn-overs, and even generating some offense (not much, but some). When your team is down and needs a spark, this line is more than capable of providing it. Matt Martin leads the league (again) in hits with 31 through 6 games. Tied for third is Cal Clutterbuck with 23. These heavy hitting wingers are centered by a young and skilled two-way center in Casey Cizikas; who helps make this line much more than just a checking one.
5) Marek Zidlicky
Wanting to add both a veteran and some depth to the back-end, Garth Snow signed long-time New Jersey Devils’ defenseman Marek Zidlicky in the offseason. Zidlicky is currently on the third pair with Thomas Hickey and playing on the top power play unit. While the veteran hasn’t played the greatest in his own zone (he hasn’t been bad either) it’s his play in the offensive zone that got him a roster spot. In six games, Zid leads all blue-liners on the team in points with one goal and two assists. His ability to quarterback the power play has proved valuable to the team. While I would still prefer prospect Ryan Pulock to the 38-year-old, Zid is earning his spot on the team.
4) The Penalty Kill
The Isles have the sixth best PK in the league with an 87 percent kill rate. This is thanks to a number of reasons; Neilsen and Kulemin are great on the kill, along with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. These four forwards could be considered the best defensively for the Isles which is why they are relied upon to shut down the opposing power play. On the back-end, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan are proving to be a great pair for the Isles who can eliminate opponents scoring chances as well as cause them for their team. Sometimes Matt Martin and Josh Bailey get some PK time, but it is usually up to Neilsen, Kulemin, Hamonic, and de Haan.
3) Anders Lee – JT – Ryan Strome
The Isles top line of Lee – Tavares – Strome is creating magic on the ice. Anders Lee uses his big body to go to the net which creates screens on the goalie and gives him the chance to redirect shots and scored “dirty” goals. We will discuss Tavares shortly. Ryan Strome is the perfect compliment for Lee and the Isles captain. He uses his incredible hockey sense and passing ability to generate offense and set up his line-mates. This line has combined for seven goals and 11 assists (18 points) and will continue to produce as the season progresses.
2) Halak it alot!
Even though An upper body injury sidelined him for the first four games of the season, Jaroslav Halak has looked really comfortable in net. In his fist game back against the formerly undefeated San Jose Sharks, Halak allowed three goals on 25 shots; which I know isn’t the best, but none of the goals he allowed were solely his fault. Two cross-creases and a deflection goal can’t be blamed on him. In the next game, Halak shut-out the now 0-7 Columbus Blue Jackets; recording 37 saves in the win. His play, along with the play of the team in front of him, helped fire Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards (Torts is the new coach!). With a .952 save-percentage, a 1.50 goals-against-average, a shut-out, and a record of 2-0, Halak is back and ready for action.
1) O Captain! My Captain!
John Tavares is at it again! Scoring goals, setting up teammates, and leading this team to the top of the Metro. In six games this season, he’s registered four goals and five assists (nine points) and has a plus-minus of +4. Half of his goals so far have been game winners, proving how clutch of a player he is. JT is currently fifth in the league in points and will certainty continue on this pace throughout the season. His play with and without the puck is nothing short of elite which is why I consider him the third best center in the league.