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Buy, Sell or Hold – December Edition

Thomas Vitkowski is a CPA who is a panel member on CNBC’s Investor Round Table and former longtime Islanders Season Ticket Holder

December was a critical month for the Islanders and they came out flying going 5-0-1 beginning with a 2-1 victory in the SO over the Rangers. They dropped the next 3 scoring only 2 goals in total (both by Brock Nelson) and finished up December going 3-1 for an overall record of 8-4-1 during the month. It’s certainly not the consistency you would like to see, but they captured 17 out of a possible 26 points and finished the month in 2nd place 1 point ahead of the Rangers.

At the same point last year through 37 games the Islanders had 51 points, this year they have 47. While they controlled the play in a lot more games last season, this year the team has more of a Jeykll and Hyde personality, but overall they are right where they need to be.

New York Islanders: BUY

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Johnny Rocket has been hands down the Islanders best overall defenseman this year. He leads all Islander defenseman in points with 14 and +/- at +9. One has to wonder why Capuano only gave him less than 8 min of power play time in the month (in comparison to Leddy (who still hasn’t scored) who was given nearly 38 minutes of ice time on the PP during December.) His shot is too good to be sitting on the bench, especially when the 4 forwards on the 1st unit doesn’t seem to be working well. Boychuk took a nasty crash into the boards in Buffalo on New Years Eve and will begin 2016 on the IR. The Islanders really need him to be healthy and cannot afford a long absence. Let’s cross our fingers it’s nothing serious.

Johnny Boychuk: BUY

I don’t like the 3 on 3, the 4 on 4 was plenty exciting to watch. I would have preferred the NHL extended OT a few minutes or used the AHL hybrid of 4 on 4 for 4 minutes, than 3 on 3 for 3 minutes, but alas the NHLPA was concerned about lengthening the game.  The Islanders evidentially want to go back to 4 on 4 as twice in the month they were saddled with a blatant too many men on the ice penalty in OT (versus the Flyers the penalty actually cancelled out a power play). Fortunately the Islanders won both games in the SO, but these kind of mental mistakes are ones that can really hurt in the end, especially when you consider last year 1 point cost us missing out on a game 7 vs Washington at the Coliseum. On top of the penalties they had a number of horrible line changes in OT. Overall the Islanders are 5-5 in extra time, 2-3 in OT and 3-2 in the shootout. Not bad when you consider they were out played in most of them (out shot 18-9 during December). They were extremely fortunate to win 4 of the 5 in December (3 via the SO) and with more than 1 in every 4 games going into OT so far this year the Islanders need to be better. They can’t just play for KO and Frans in the shootout.

3 on 3 Overtime, especially line changes: SELL

The Islanders Penalty Killing resembles a high flying internet stock. Up big one month, down big the next and back up again. That’s exactly how the Islanders PK has been this year. Look at the breakdown by month:

October PK:                36 of 39, 92.3%

November PK:            30 of 40, 75.0%

December PK:             30 of 31, 96.7%

The Islanders were 1 kill away from having a perfect month which is really incredible when you think about it. When they give up goals they stand around (The Buffalo goal a perfect example) but considering how bad the PK has been under Capuano’s tenure, this has been a big factor in the Islanders success, I really don’t want to imagine where we’d be if we were at an 80% kill rate. When you add it all up the Islanders are 2nd in the NHL at 87.3% trailing only Anaheim at 88%. Let’s hope the pattern ends and we don’t see a January sell off back to the 70% range, but it’s highly doubtful December can be repeated. December was clearly a buy for the PK, but this is a classic sell at the high opportunity.

Penalty Kill: BUY FOR DECEMBER, SELL FOR JANUARY

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The Islanders goaltending this year has been phenomenal and certainly has contributed to the improved PK. Both goalies have been great this year, the Islanders SV Pct is 15 points better than their opponents (.923 vs .908). Both Halak and Greiss won 4 games this month, Greiss in particular was fantastic, giving up only 9 goals this month. He had a 1.49 GAA and a ridiculous .953 SV PCT during December. With Halak’s reoccurring minor injury issues, Greiss has become even more important. Islander fans can be confident no matter who is playing and when is the last time anyone could say that? Roland Melanson comes to mind, but regardless it’s been a long time.

Goaltending: BUY

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I have read a lot of negativity on twitter so far when it comes to John Tavares, he doesn’t look right, he’s not finishing and on and on. This guy takes a beating every night, doesn’t ever seem to get any calls and even during his “poor play” he still leads the team in points at 28 and is the co leader in goals with Frans at 14. It would be nice if Capuano stopped changing line mates on him and gave him more time with Strome as the 2 of them have shown flashes of dominance when they have been together. Last year at this time he played 2 more games and had 4 more points (32 points last year, 28 this year) and then proceeded to dominate the 2nd half of the year. I fully expect him to do the same this year.

John Tavares: BUY

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In October I said Nick Leddy was a buy low candidate, unfortunately he still has not rebounded. Through nearly half a season he still doesn’t have a goal (he lost one on a scoring change on a deflection) but he just hasn’t been the same player this year. He is 1 of 2 Islander defenseman who are minus and I know everyone can guess who the other one is. 0 goals and -5 nearly half a season in? That’s just not cutting it.

Nick Leddy: SELL

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If I told you that Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck would have more goals combined than Lee, Grabovski and Kulemin at this point in the season you would have probably laughed (it’s 16 to 15). I think the “best” 4th line in the NHL is a bit overdone sometimes, but you have to give credit where credit is due and they have been good this year. Clutterbuck has scored several big goals, Martin put up 4 goals in December alone and they do bring energy at times when the Islanders need it. The Martin fight vs Anaheim in the 1st period during a 3 game losing streak and down 1-0 early comes to mind. Who scored the tying goal after the fight? Clutterbuck.  When they play smart and don’t take bad penalties they are important to this team, throw in 16 goals and they look even better.

4th Line: BUY

What’s on tap for January:  A very light 10 games with only 3 road games all in the East. We finally see Pittsburgh to start the month, we see the top 2 teams in the NHL (WSH and DAL) and round 2 vs the Rangers. Happy New Year to everyone!

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