Thomas Vitkowski is a CPA who is a panel member on CNBC’s Investor Round Table and former longtime Islanders Season Ticket Holder.
New York Islanders: BUY
With a busy schedule in February, the Islanders put up a solid month going 8-4-1 to match December’s record. They were excellent at home during the month collecting points in all 5 games with a record of 4-0-1. Impressive wins versus the Kings and Red Wings, the blowout win vs Edmonton on Super Bowl Sunday, a win over Minnesota and an OT loss versus the Capitals where Frans scored late to tie it up. The gap over 5th opened up a bit, but unfortunately we still lost ground to the Rangers who picked up 21 points in the month with 1 extra game. You’d like to see them avoid the blowouts (2 poor showings versus the Red Wings and Hurricanes) and the Edmonton loss to end the month was very disappointing but overall you have to be happy with the month.
John Tavares: BUY
A couple months ago I wrote how I expected John Tavares to pick up his game, and he certainly did during February. He put up 16 points during the month scoring in all but 3 of the games. He recorded 51 shots, averaging just under 4 a game during the month, put up 6 points on the power play and made a fantastic play in OT to set up the game winning goal in Calgary. He certainly has looked like one of the best players in the game and the Islanders will need him to continue to do so over the remaining 22 games to be successful. The Islanders will go as JT goes.
Casey Cizikas: BUY
Raise your hand if you had Casey Cizikas scoring 9 points during February with only 2 other forwards out scoring him for the month (JT and Okposo). Casey was fantastic in the month scoring consistently, putting up points in 8 of the last 10 games in the month and netting the only goal in a 1-0 victory versus the Devils. With most nights only getting 11 or 12 minutes of ice time he certainly has made the most of his opportunities. Considering his previous monthly high for the season was 4 points, you wouldn’t expect it to continue (if he was a stock you would probably be selling here), but hopefully he can keep his hot hand a little bit longer.
Nikolai Kulemin: SELL
No one expects Kulemin to be a top scorer on this team, but watching his play lately it honestly didn’t surprise me to see he had 1 point in the entire month which came in a 8-1 blowout win versus Edmonton. In comparison, all the other forwards who played at least 10 games in the month put up at least 4 points in February. Kulemin did go +4 in the month and the PK continued to be strong so it’s good to see it hasn’t affected him defensively, but he needs to contribute more on the offensive end. After his hot October with 7 points, he only has 8 points since. You just can’t have that little production out of a top 9 forward.
Nick Leddy: BUY
All of us have been wondering where Nick Leddy has been most of this season. We finally saw the Leddy we expected as February was by far his best month, setting up 10 goals with 4 of them on the power play. He’s back to being involved offensively, carrying the puck more and creating scoring chances. I’d still like to see his +/- improve as he’s still a defenseman worst -10 on the team after going +18 last year, but overall it’s encouraging to see him pick it up on the offensive end. The Islanders are going to need him to be productive down the stretch.
Special Teams: BUY
The special teams has continued to play well, the Islanders are 1st in PK, allowing only 22 goals all season (the 2nd closest is 28) and only the Capitals have a better PP-PK differential at +15 versus the Islanders +12 (34 PPG and 22 PPG against). The PP put up 10 goals in the month and was a huge factor in the 4-1 win at Minnesota. I’ll be honest I did not expect the PK to keep up this kill rate, but they have been fantastic and continuing to press teams far more than they have in the past. For all the abuse the special teams have taken in the past from the fans (including myself), you have to give them credit this year, they have gotten the job done.
Jaroslav Halak: HOLD
It was a tale of 2 halves for Halak. The 1st half he simply didn’t play well, being pulled in both blow out losses and while he didn’t get much help in either of those games, some of the goals he allowed could only be defined as soft. He came back strong in the latter part of the month, shutting out the Devils and then only allowing 1 goal in each of the next 2 Islander wins. It looked like he may end the month on a high note but the 2nd goal he allowed versus Edmonton was a back breaker. A poor angle shot where he had no idea where the puck was, he drops it right to Draisaitl of the Oilers for an easy goal giving them a late 2-1 lead in a game the Islanders needed to get points out of. I like Halak, but I have to admit Greiss has been the better goalie so far this year (he went 3-0-1 during the month). The playoffs are not a guarantee at this point especially when you look at the schedule, but if the Islanders want to make the playoffs and finally advance out of the first round, he needs to play like the top goalie we know he can be.
What’s on tap for March – A rough schedule month: 16 games in 31 days with only 6 of them at home. After they complete the last 2 games on the west coast trip they play at the garden for the 1st time this year. They also play 2 big games versus the Penguins who currently only trail the Islanders by a point.