The light at the end of the tunnel came on pretty quick for the New York Islanders after most had them pegged for a middle-of-the-pack finish in 2018, at best. A ton of talent only gets an organization so far. Bringing in Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz to lead the way here on the Island was a monumental first step out of mediocrity. But the rejuvenation of this proud franchise, as well as its loyal fan base, was a long-term plan; and we, as fans, were cool with that.
Well, here we are, folks. After 49 games played, the Isles are currently (Thursday evening) sitting in second place in the Wales Conference with 63 points — 13 behind the leaders of that aforementioned pack, the Tampa Bay Lightning — and sit three points ahead of the Penguins in the white-hot Metro Division.
Led by the stifling goaltending duo of Robin Lehner — whose .931 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against average lead the NHL by remarkably healthy margins — and Thomas Greiss, who has the sixth-best save percentage in the league (.920) and is tied with Curtis McElhinney of the Hurricanes for ninth-best goals-against average (2.50), the Islanders have been hard-pressed to find themselves out of a ton of games this season.
Consistently solid play in net — no matter who gets the call — is a luxury, plain and simple. Having the defensive chops to keep those proverbial brick walls from seeing 40-plus shots per game is what’s setting this Isles team apart, in this writer’s opinion.
With the right people at the top of the chain, and the right message, preparation, and gameplan set in place by the coaching staff, it’s allowed veterans Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to absolutely flourish. With those two showing the rest of the Isles’ young but incredibly talented defensive corps how things should be done, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Devon Toews, and Scott Mayfield have made leaps and bounds in their progress, albeit some quicker than others.
Anders Lee does what he does — camp out in front of the net, impose his will, and make things happen. Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, and Josh Bailey (who has seemed a bit off lately; hopefully the break helped) have been the spark plugs. Valtteri Filppula and Uncle Leo Komarov have been two of the most pleasant surprises I can remember coming to the Island in quite some time, and the Isles’ vaunted fourth-line of Matt Martin, the resurgent Cal Clutterbuck, and the always exciting Casey Cizikas continues to set the tone.
Things are going great, no doubt. But now is not the time to take that foot off the pedal. This new brand of New York Islanders hockey is refreshing, but, man, would a deep trip into the Stanley Cup Playoffs be rewarding. Never would have imagined myself saying this, but this year — of all years, right? — feels special. Let’s do this, boys.