After opening the season with 2 sub par performances versus the Blackhawks with Halak injured, the Islanders did a nice job closing the month 1 point back of the Rangers and Capitals for 1st in the Metropolitan. The Islanders ended October with a 6-2-3 record, sandwiching an impressive 6-1 run between 2 losses to start and end the month (3 in OT/SO). After watching the 1st 2 games I think we all would have signed up for a 15 point month.
New York Islanders: BUY
I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with the Thomas Greiss signing, I was hoping we would resign Nuevirth who has played well with the Flyers (1.91 GAA, .939 sv pct), but Greiss has been impressive so far collecting points in all 5 games he has played in going 3-0-2 with a 2.53 GAA and a .926 SV% most notably recording 44 saves in a win versus Nashville. We all remember how bad last years backup goaltending was mostly with Chad Johnson (aka Ocho Stinko) posting a sub .890 SV% and allowing soft goal after soft goal. It’s a small sample size, but if October is any indication of what we are going to see the rest of the year, Greiss is going to be a huge plus for this team. It’s a huge mental lift for the players knowing you don’t always need to score 4 goals to win a game when Halak doesn’t play.
Thomas Greiss: BUY
The special teams problems in recent years, especially the penalty kill, have been well documented. The last 4 years under Capuano the Islanders have allowed 180 PPG for a pitiful 79.1% success rate mostly using a passive system that relied heavily on goaltending. To my surprise the Islanders have changed philosophy this year attacking the puck and it’s produced results. No PP goals allowed in the last 8 games, killing 26 in a row and going 36-39 during October for a 92.3% success rate. What’s even more amazing with 2 short handed goals, the Islanders only allowed one net goal while shorthanded the entire month. We have seen good stretches before, but hopefully this time they finally figured out that standing around is hazardous to your health. The PP has also been excellent, going 8-28 for a 28.6% success rate with Zidlicky filling the Visnovski role very nicely in the early going. For the Islanders to go anywhere this year the special teams need to be far better than last year. I don’t expect the success rate for either unit to be as high as it was in October, but so far so good.
Special Teams: BUY
Nick Leddy signed a 7 yr, 38.5m extension last season and while he has picked up the scoring these last few games recording 4 assists the last 4 games, his play so far has been less than stellar. Too many poor decisions (the Joel Ward goal versus San Jose flopping on the 2 on 1 comes to mind), no goals and a -2, Leddy needs to pick his game up going forward. I fully expect him to be better as he is a clear “buy low” candidate, but October can only be classified as a sell.
Nick Leddy: SELL
Nikolay Kulemin is having a fantastic start to the season leading the Islanders in plus/minus with +6 and scoring at a far higher rate than he has during his career with 7 points in October (0.64 pts per game this year versus 0.38 last year and 0.45 for his career). Kulemin is a smart player who does a lot of things really well that don’t always show up in the box score. If he can also score at this pace it really helps to balance the scoring out among the top 3 lines regardless of who he is playing with.
Nikolay Kulemin: BUY
Calvin de Haan has played over a year and a half in the NHL (128 games) and has not shown the improvement you would have hoped for. He makes poor decisions, gives away the puck way too much and has too many disaster games like he did versus Boston. If the Islanders expect to make and advance in the playoffs this year, Strait and de Haan cannot be 2 of the 6 defenseman. I hope the Islanders will give Mayfield and/or Pullock some playing time this year and with Hickey out for the next month I hope they take the opportunity to do so. Mayfield is +7 in the early going for the Sound Tigers and Pullock has shown the ability to score (19 goals in 62 games the last 2 years). How de Haan has not been scratched so far is baffling to me, he needs to be much much better. To be perfectly honest I am not sure I have seen anything from him to make me believe that’s going to happen.
Calvin de Haan: SELL
Frans Nielsen is 2nd on the team in points and ended the month with a vengeance scoring 4 goals and 2 assists with a +3 in the last 4, most notably scoring a huge tying goal versus the Devils short handed. Frans is shooting the puck more this year as he is the co leader in goals with JT at 5 and is the team leader in shots for the month with 31. He also has improved his faceoffs dramatically winning them at a 55.3% rate (Frans has never finished a year above 50%). This is the last year of his 4 year deal and as an impending UFA it looks like he is playing for a big contract.
Frans Nielsen: BUY
What’s on tap for November: 14 games, 7 at home, 3 versus Montreal and a 3 game west coast swing and still no Rangers…..
Thomas Vitkowski is a CPA who is a panel member on CNBC’s Investor Round Table